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November 30, 2015

Book Notes - Audrey Niffenegger "Ghostly"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ghostly, edited by Audrey Niffenegger, is an eclectic collection of ghost stories from Edgar Allan Poe, P.G. Wodehouse, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, and others.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Audrey Niffenegger's Book Notes music playlist for her short story anthology Ghostly:

This is a playlist for Ghostly, an anthology of ghost stories I edited and illustrated. All of the stories feature houses, lovers, children or cats: things that are frequently haunted. The stories are not especially grotesque or frightening. They are quiet and they linger, as good ghosts should.

"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe.... Black Cat, Hoot Owl Blues, Gertrude ‘Ma' Rainey
This is a genuinely spooky song to go with a story of a man's cruelty to animals and women. "If one black cat don't cross me, another black cat will," pretty much sums it up.

"Secret Life, With Cats" by Audrey Niffenegger.... The Lovecats, The Cure
A song of insouciant, affectionate lovecats, to go with a house full of deceased but very loving cats. "We missed you, hissed the lovecats..."

"Pomegranate Seed" by Edith Wharton... Bizarre Love Triangle, New Order
In the story, a second wife is discomfitted to discover that her husband is receiving letters from his dead first wife. As one does.

"The Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions.... Creep, Radiohead
This is one of those Turn of the Screw-type stories that can be read in two somewhat contradictory ways: is the protagonist crazy or is his lovely apartment haunted? Either way, he's not very kind to his lady friend, poor thing.

"The Mezzotint" by M.R. James.... Sussex Ghost Story, John Wesley Harding
These are two ghost stories that are funny and frightening, both very English, but only one of them has jokes about playing golf.

"Honeysuckle Cottage" by P.G. Woodhouse.... I Put a Spell on You, Screamin' Jay Hawkins
I was delighted to discover this Wodehouse story of a hardboiled thriller writer whose romance-writing aunt dies and leaves him her seriously girlishly lovely cottage, in which everything he writes becomes infested with sentiment. And nothing is less sentimental than Screamin' Jay Hawkins. You could use this song to exorcise Honeysuckle Cottage, but then there would be no story.

"Click Clack the Rattlebag" by Neil Gaiman.... The Staircase Mystery, Siouxie & the Banshees
Most of this story takes place whilst the two characters are slowly ascending a staircase in a large dark house. And it's a properly atmospheric song, sweetly chilling, like a child's hand clutching yours in the dark.

"They" by Rudyard Kipling.... Lullaby for an Anxious Child, Sting
This story is sad and entirely without irony, a story of lost children by a man who had lost his child. The story is sunlit and wistful, the song is winterish and wary, but they are both weighed down by early loss.

"Playmates" by A.M. Burrage.... Dear Prudence, The Beatles
This is a strangely cheerful story about a girl whose imaginary friends turn out to be less imaginary than her guardian imagines. The Beatles cajole Prudence to come out and play; in Playmates no one needs any encouragement, it's all very congenial.

"The July Ghost" by A.S. Byatt.... Boy With a Problem, Elvis Costello
"The spirit is willing but I don't believe in miracles." A boy ghost anxiously hangs around the house his mother still lives in, hoping to somehow return to her. Unfortunately, she doesn't know he's there, and her lodger isn't being very helpful, though he understands the problem.

"Laura" by Saki.... Instant Karma! John Lennon
A story of vengeful reincarnation and otters. I am confident that John Lennon would have been a Saki fan, they share an appreciation of the absurd.

"The Open Window" by Saki.... The Girl Stands Up To Me Now, Jonathan Richman
Two tales of girls who need no further encouragement.

"The Specialist's Hat" by Kelly Link.... Ghosts, Japan
 A spooky, delicate song to compliment the greatest spooky babysitter story ever written.

"Tiny Ghosts" by Amy Giacalone... Mind Games, John Lennon
 This story was my favorite find; it has not been previously published and it is marvelously quirky. A house is invaded by miniature ghosts, it looks as though they will never leave, and then the humans defeat the ghosts by exploiting their one really weird weakness.

"The Pink House" by Rebecca Curtis... Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered, Ella Fitzgerald
The Pink House is somehow Lorenz Hart's lyrics in another form, the one echoes the other strongly. In The Pink House a woman doesn't realize she's being haunted until things have become way too intimate; "horizontally speaking, he's at his very best."

"August 2026, There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury.... The Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades), Timbuk 3
A mechanical house in a future war-ravaged city goes through the motions of its day, long after its humans have ceased to require its services. This is not strictly a ghost story, but it is haunted by lost chances and pointless luxury. "Things are going great, and they're only getting better..."

Audrey Niffenegger and Ghostly links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Gapers Block review
Guardian review
Independent review
Publishers Weekly review

All Things Considered interview with the author
BookPage interview with the author
Columbus Dispatch interview with the author
Word of Mouth interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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guest book reviews
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