July 11, 2019
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Julie Zuckerman's novel-in-stories The Book of Jeremiah is a poignant, endearing, and unforgettable debut.
Anna Solomon wrote of the book:
"Jeremiah Gerstler delighted, enraged, and moved me, sometimes all at once. In The Book of Jeremiah, Julie Zuckerman has created nothing less than a life. These stories shimmer with tenderness and truth."
In my current day job, I have the dubious pleasure of sitting in open space. Between the work-related conversations and the side chit-chats / gossip / jokes, I can’t make it through the day (or get anything accomplished) without tuning into a playlist. The playlist depends on my mood – anything from “Chill Classic Rock” to “Dave Matthews Band and More” to “50 Most Played Songs.”
When it comes to writing, I prefer cafes and libraries over sitting at home. In addition, often try to use my 35-minute commute on the train for writing. As I can never be sure of the reception on the train, I’ve purchased some of my favorite songs and created my own playlist on my phone, which I call “Writing Zone.” I start it with Tom Petty’s "Wildflowers." Always. I must have listened to Wildflowers thousands of times, and – no surprise – many of my recent stories feature wildflowers. Supertramp’s "Even in the Quietest Moments" often comes second. Once I’ve heard those songs, I’m in the zone, away from the people around me and back with my characters.
Mother Child Reunion – Paul Simon (Story 1: A Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm)
We meet Jeremiah Gerstler for the first time at age 11, when his misbehavior threatens to unravel the achievements of his immigrant parents and even tests the strength of their marital accord. His mother, Rikki, is easily exasperated by him, constantly questioning her parenting skills and decisions. A better relationship for the two of them is “only a motion away.”
Even in the Quietest Moments – Supertramp (Story 2: The Book of Jeremiah)
The book’s title story shows Jeremiah at the culmination of his career as he contemplates whether he’s “done enough” and whether his father would approve of his life. In a 1977 interview with Supertramp, singer-guitarist-pianist Roger Hodgson said the song is about “a guy who’s searching,” which is what Jeremiah does throughout the novel and in this story, in particular.
Free Will – Rush (Story 3: Clandestiny)
Clandestiny is a word I made up. In this story, Jeremiah is in his mid-twenties, and despite trying to “choose free will” about the course of his life, there are “powers [he] cannot perceive, the stars aren’t aligned, or the gods are malign.” At the end of this story, one door has closed for him, but another, perhaps better one, has opened.
I Feel the Earth Move – Carole King (Story 4: Birthday Bash)
Jeremiah’s wife, Molly, is a piano teacher and musician. Shortly before turning 60, she gets an electric guitar; the family is aghast. Who is this person they thought they knew? They’d always thought of Molly as a fan of Carole King and other singer/songwriters, and now she’s strapping on a Gibson Les Paul guitar and jamming. The specific references to Carole King songs didn’t make it into the final draft of the story, but not before I’d purchased the entire “Carole King and James Taylor Live at the Troubadour” album and added it to my “Writing Zone” playlist.
“Hey Brother” – Avicii (Story 5: Signals)
It’s July 1945, Jeremiah’s 19th birthday, and he’s on leave from his unit in the U.S. Signal Corps. The mood is festive in liberated Paris, but Jeremiah feels no joie de vivre. Enter his brother’s wartime girlfriend, and Jeremiah, far from home, feels his sky “falling down.”
Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen (Story 6: Three Strikes)
Lenny, Jeremiah’s older brother, is a baseball nut, the type of kid who knows all the box scores, who can recite the batting averages of the entire New York Yankees lineup. There is no greater glory for him when his beloved Yankees sweep the Series.
Fortunate Son - Creedence Clearwater Revival (Story 7: Gerstler’s Triumpant Return)
At the tail end of the Vietnam War, Jeremiah understands he’s been a chump, “fallible in his raw human need for hope.” His propels himself into action, despite knowing deep down it may thwart one of his dreams.
Mother, Father – Journey (Story 8: Transcendental)
Jeremiah becomes a bit unhinged as his daughter’s wedding approaches. The unlikeliest member of the family – Jeremiah and Molly’s son, Stuart – is dispatched to deal with his father, despite their fractious relationship. The message Stuart is trying to get across to his father are like the lyrics in this song: “Don’t you know that I’m alive for you?”
I Belong to You – Lenny Kravitz (Story 9: Tough Day for LBJ)
Jeremiah is confident his career shift to academia is a good one, but then comments and chatter at the welcome cocktail derail his certainty. The only thing he’s sure of at the end of the story is that Molly is his rock, his grounding.
Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds (Story 10: Emeritus)
In “Emeritus” as in other stories once Jeremiah hits his 70s, he’s burdened by the fear that he’s becoming invisible, an “an obstacle in some younger person’s way.” Unrelated to my writing or to this story: as a teenager I was obsessed with The Breakfast Club. I watched it too many times to count and could recite most of the lines by heart. Still can.
Something Just Like This – Coldplay & The Chainsmokers (Story 11: The Dutiful Daughter)
Hannah, Jeremiah’s daughter, is taken by surprise during a trip with her parents when she’s in her forties. She takes in the scenery and the people – the “legends and the myths” – with a sense of wonderment; it’s the first time she understands she’s been searching for “something just like this.”
Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits (Story 12: Awakening)
In “Awakening,” Jeremiah and Molly go through a major crisis, causing Jeremiah to realize he’s been a lovestruck Romeo for most of their relationship. All he does is miss her and the way they used to be.
One – U2 (Story 13: MixMaster)
MixMaster is the final story in the collection, though it’s the one I wrote first. The lyrics in One mirror much of what Jeremiah is feeling in the final story of the collection. Has he “come here for forgiveness?” or “come to raise the dead?” At 82, he’s still full of life, holding fast to his belief that “love is a temple, love is a higher law.”
Julie Zuckerman and The Book of Jeremiah links:
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)
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