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November 7, 2017

Book Notes - Louise Miller "The City Baker's Guide to Country Living"

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Louise Miller's novel The City Baker's Guide to Country Living melds food, music, and small town life into an unforgettable debut.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"Miller elevates the story by turning it into a Pinterest fantasy of rural America. . . [Her] visions of bucolic Vermont landscapes, cinnamon-scented kitchens and small-town friendliness make this reverie of country life an appealing one."

In her own words, here is Louise Miller's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The City Baker's Guide to Country Living:

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living is a love story. It's about all sorts of love: the romantic love you find with another person, the deep understanding and acceptance you find with friends, the sense of belonging you feel in a community, and the warmth and comfort you receive when you are with those who become your found family. Writing this novel was in large part an excuse to write about some of the things that I love best: dogs and dairy goats, baking and banjos, and the wonderful state of Vermont.

You might guess from the title that there is a fair amount of baking and dessert description in the novel (and you wouldn't be wrong), but music—old-time fiddle and banjo in particular—plays an important a role in the story. Many of the tunes I have included in my playlist are in the book, while others served as inspiration.

"New England" by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

No song expresses my love for New England better than this Modern Lovers number. Its infectious cheer is something that I tried to put into the voice of my main character, Olivia Rawlings.

"Big City" by Iris Dement

Something that sparked the writing of The City Baker's Guide was my own persistent daydreams about living in the country. I've always lived urban areas, but I harbor serious dreams about raising dairy goats and starting a flower farm. This Iris Dement version of Merle Haggard's "Big City" is my secret anthem. It's the song I would sing at karaoke, if I were ever brave enough to ever sing karaoke.

"Angeline the Baker" by Crooked Still

Livvy is a pastry chef, and she mentions having learned to play this traditional tune about a baker who refuses to marry. This is the first of many traditional tunes on the playlist, and in the novel. I love Aoife O'Donovan's vocals on this version.

"Sugar Maple" by Noam Pikelny

The Sugar Maple is the name of the Vermont inn where Livvy accepts a job as pastry chef. Here is a lovely bluegrass banjo tune by the same name, by the super-talented Noam Pikelny.

"Love Shack" by The Knitters

Livvy and her contra dance bandmate Martin McCracken used to play in bands inspired by both punk rock and traditional country music. What better band to represent the marriage of these two genres then The Knitters, seminal punk band X's side project country band? This is an excellent break-up song.

"Bristol Cone Waltz" by The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers

Martin McCracken's father Henry is also a fiddle player, and "Bristol Cone Waltz" is a tune I imagine Henry would have written for his wife, Dotty when they were young.

The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers was a band formed by former Jayhawk Mark Olsen, and his wife Victoria Williams. Their first three albums have been a huge inspiration to me. The Creekdippers made music that sounded handmade. They didn't shy away from writing songs about small joys—three-legged dogs, childhood crushes, old neighbors, dear friends—at a time when anger and outrage were the fashion. When I struggled with writing The City Baker's Guide, when I was filled with doubt that anyone would ever care about this little world I was making, I would come back to those early Creekdipper records, and be reminded that there is value and beauty and truth in every story.

"Sheehan's Reel" by Rodney Miller

Rodney Miller, master fiddle player, fiddle maker, and contra dance enthusiast was my inspiration for the McCracken style of fiddle playing. Mr. Miller can't keep his feet on the ground when he plays. Listen to this tune. It will make you want to get up and dance.

"No Time to Cry" by Iris Dement

This Iris Dement song about grieving a father's death came out the same year my own father passed away, and I still can't listen to it without tearing up. Livvy lost her father, too, when she was sixteen. Even though she is thirty-two at the start of The City Baker's Guide, her grief is always just under the surface.

"I'll Fly Away" by Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch

The McCracken family plays this tune while waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey to cook, while Livvy listens in. A wonderful old gospel tune.

"Wayfaring Stranger" by Tim O'Brien, Dirk Powell & John Herrmann

This traditional gospel tune is played at a funeral in The City Baker's Guide. There are many beautiful recordings of this tune, but I highly recommend this version from an album called Songs from the Mountain, which was inspired by the novel Cold Mountain. Tim O'Brien's vocals give me chills every time I hear it.

"Mystifies Me" by Son Volt

"Stay awhile and work it out with me." This song has always been my theme song for Livvy and Martin's relationship. Not about instant love, or simple love, but something truer—it captures the feeling of recognizing the person you want to build a life with. I listened to this song hundreds of times as I wrote, especially when I was writing a scene with Livvy and Martin. Jay Farrar, the lead singer of Son Volt (formally of Uncle Tupelo) inspired Martin McCracken's singing voice.

"When We Sing Together" by Victoria Williams (with Mark Olsen)

"Through the sorrow and circumstance

Fine jewels and unpaid rent

A day in the sun, a year in the dark

Holding to the fire we had

And there was nothing but a spark

Spun our wheels

Paid our deals

Nearly we broke our hearts"

Like "Mystifies Me," another wonderful song about real love, the kind that changes, falls apart, grows and comes back together. This is the song I always imagine playing when the (fictional) movie credits roll.

Louise Miller and The City Baker's Guide to Country Living links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

Dead Darlings interview with the author
Fort-Worth Star Telegram profile of the author
HuffPost interview with the author
Shelf Awareness interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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