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March 24, 2019

Bryan Washington's Playlist for His Story Collection "Lot"


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

Bryan Washington's impressive debut collection Lot brings to life the Houston of the narrator while poignantly exploring race, class, and sexuality.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A sensitive portrait of life among Houston's struggling working class.... Washington writes with an assurance that signals the arrival of an important literary voice."

In his own words, here is Bryan Washington's Book Notes music playlist for his story collection Lot:

Honestly, the bulk of Lot was written to Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music for Nine Postcards. Those records informed my life, so they had an outsized influence on the book. But the mood and feel of certain stories and characters were scrambled until I heard other tracks -- chord progressions and choruses and motifs I could connect them to. They’re what I turned to when the process felt convoluted. Which was often.

Ideally, Lot’s progression reads a lot like a record’s. I don’t know if I pulled that off. But it’s the mindset that fueled the book.

Ivy, Frank Ocean

This is probably a perfect song. You know when you meet someone new (like the narrator of this story does), and the electricity of attraction starts to bubble? “Ivy” sounds like that.

Invisible Heartbeat, Helado Negro

Lange’s performances are beyond. Wholly rousing. I kept Double Youth on repeat while I was writing this story.

610 North, 610 West
Luna Negra, Los Cojolites

“Luna Negra” is what I imagine the narrator’s mother danced to in the center of Canino Market on Airline Drive. And with feeling, you know? Los Cojolites are amazing.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Alton Ellis

This song is so sad to me! There’s also a sort of “what can you do, this is life”-ness about it. And I keep hearing that this is a sad story, even though it reads as bittersweet to me. But what the fuck do I know.

Cantileñas de São Victor, Jorge Ben Jor

The guitar riff carrying Jorge Ben’s voice sounds how Houston feels in the summer.

Lover Is a Day, Cuco

“Bayou” and “Waugh” took the longest for me to write. Partly because they are, in their own ways, love stories. Which are tricky. And partly because, at least for this one, I couldn’t nail down the tone I wanted. But once I finally heard this track, I knew it, and the trick became getting that on the page.

Sota Wa Ame, Hiroshi Yoshimura

Yoshimura’s record captures the headspace of Lot’s recurring narrator, but this track sounds like how I imagine he physically felt in this story. It’s hard to describe. Just listen to it (and then Yoshimura’s album, which is gorgeous).

South Congress
Untitled, Isaiah Rashad x Goldlink

Rashad and Goldlink are geniuses. There’s something heavenly about this track. I don’t even know how to describe it. Shit. But it feels like riding around Houston, too late at night, or very early in the morning, full of (potentially fatal) possibility.

Only Trying 2 Tell U, Puma Blue

There’s sex all over this song, and I wonder how much of it comes from the feeling of trying to connect. It’s probably no small amount, and Jacob Allen’s record was deeply important to imbuing that throughout this story, and others.

Peggy Park
Friday Morning, Khruangbin

The recurring melody here sounds how it feels to see the neighborhoods I adore change while the folks living in them roll with the punches, for better and worse, whatever they look like.

Ghost, Lianne La Havas

“Fannin” was the quickest story to write, but its narrator took me a very, very long time to figure out. And I still don’t think I have. But this song (and this record) helped me understand her better.

The Sun, Kim Jung Mi

“The Sun” is truly one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life. I listened to it endlessly writing the final stretch of “Waugh”. So when I think of one, the other eventually comes to mind.

Manchester (from String Quartet Live!), Kishi Bashi

Have you ever heard a more perfect song? You haven’t. And hearing Ishibashi sing about “aliveness” and “proper ends” feels like listening to the ending of something. Something massive. But it also sounds like possibility, and that’s the way this particular story’s protagonist might feel at the end of the book.

Bryan Washington and Lot links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review

All Things Considered interview with the author
Houston Chronicle profile of the author
Houston Public Media interview with the author
Los Angeles Times interview with the author
New Yorker interview with the author
Rumpus interview with the author
Texas Monthly interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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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guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists