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March 30, 2020

Sara Rauch's Playlist for Her Story Collection "What Shines from It"

What Shines from It

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Sara Rauch's impressive story collection What Shines from It was awarded Alternating Current's Electric Book Award.

Eric Shonkwiler wrote of the book:

"Complex, tender, and deeply human."

In her own words, here is Sara Rauch's Book Notes music playlist for her story collection What Shines from It:

Music has always been an experience for me—I am sensitive to sound and mood, words and notes—and I can’t listen to anything while I write or revise. Mostly I listen when I’m walking or driving, times when I can absorb songs, allow them into my body, where they live, almost like ghosts. A lot of these songs make appearances in the book. Some of them are part of me the way family stories become part of a person—they’ve accompanied me through life, informing how I see the world. There is so much that changes as time goes by, but a beloved song remains constant.

“Wildewoman” by Lucius
My female characters tend toward the feral, and I think of this song as their collective anthem. I love the incongruousness of gorgeous harmony and gritty intention here: the woman they’re singing about defies all notions of femininity, but “you love her anyway.”

“Maybe Sparrow” by Neko Case
There’s something so appealing about Case’s soaring, rich voice, and this is one of my favorites of hers. It’s at once tender and cautious and mournful... and yet, stormy and hopeful? No matter how many times I listen to it, I can’t put my finger on her intention, but something about her keening makes me not mind.

“Is This Love” by Bob Marley
My first love was a devoted Bob Markey fan, and through him, I absorbed Marley’s musical oeuvre. For a long time after we split up, I didn’t listen to Marley at all, but then, slowly, in my early 30s, his songs started trickling back into my consciousness. “Is This Love” has an easy beat, and a sweet declaration, but at its center is a question—one that can be so hard to answer, especially when young. I wrote “Secondhand” before casting around for the Marley lyrics I wanted to include in it, and when I got to this one, I nearly laughed at the coincidence of lyric and image.

“Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin
The myth of the tragic female artist that Janis Joplin embodied captivated teenage me, but I definitely didn’t know then what “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” actually meant. Audrey sings it in the opening of “Free,” getting on Calla’s nerves, and there’s a hint in it. Calla, of all of my characters, might understand Joplin’s sentiment best, but she keeps quiet about it. She’s like that—a secret keeper—and that’s maybe her biggest tragedy, but it’s also a big part of her charm.

“Tamburitza Lingua” by Ani DiFranco
I’ve always admired Ani DiFranco’s ability to synthesize seemingly disparate topics in her songs, and here she’s approaching one of my longstanding obsessions—how the past, present & future are in constant communication with one another. Linear time is useful for capitalist culture, but the truth is, time is much groovier than that, a feedback loop on endless repeat.

“Esther” by Phish
A disorienting song for a disorienting story (“Free” was originally called “Esther,” after the central infant character, who gets her name from this weird-o, slightly sinister song). When I first wrote “Free,” back in 2013, I got a lot of kickback about the plot. But for me, the story was about more than two teenage girls grappling with an unexpected turn of events; it’s a story about the strange things fate burdens us with—like the doll in the song, the baby in the story becomes both curse and blessing.

“The Body Breaks” by Devendra Banhart
I listened to this song on endless repeat the summer I wrote “Kintsukuroi.” My personal life had just exploded, and I was living alone after many partnered years, and the story pretty much flew out of me. It was one of those moments of grace as a writer: everything around me was a struggle, but here was this story, fully formed, like a gift. I can see Christine’s pain, and I can see her mouthing “one tiny spark, that’s yours and mine” to comfort herself, long after the story ends.

“Holiday” by Weezer
I thought a lot about this song as I wrote “Slice”; poor Emmeline, she just wants a holiday, and escape, and she can’t even get a proper one. But it’s hard to be sad when you listen to this song—it’s too noisy and wide open and exuberant for all that. It’s the perfect expression of what Emmeline wants to feel, even if she never quite gets there.

“A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” by Andrew Bird
During the two years that I wrote What Shines from It, I worked at a wonderful shop in Northampton, MA, called Pinch, which sells handcrafted, artisan goods. Being inside the shop is an incredibly tactile experience, and the atmosphere buoyed me. But, for some reason, one summer, the internet went out constantly, and we had to fall back on the owner’s iTunes collection for music. We listened to a lot of Andrew Bird that summer. And this song wormed its way into my consciousness: “What happens when two substances collide?” That’s a central question in my work, and Bird’s ethereal, slightly trippy song is so silly and serious about it.

“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
I was named after a Fleetwood Mac song. And their music was a constant backdrop to my growing up, spinning on the record player while my mom cooked dinner. That line about the loneliness “like a heartbeat drives you mad in the stillness of remembering what you had and what you lost” is just so simple and so perfect for what heartbreak feels like. A lot of my characters are caught in that stillness, not quite able to breathe their way out just yet. It’s a terrifying place to be, and yet, it’s so fertile for creation.

“Fever Dream” by Iron & Wine
There’s something quiet and plaintive about this song (and much of Iron & Wine’s early music) that burrows deep beneath my skin—the images and phrasing are poetic and spare and a little bit strange. I wanted What Shines from It to set a similar tone—for my readers to feel the sadness rippling beneath a seemingly calm surface.

Sara Rauch is the author of What Shines from It: Stories. Her writing has also appeared in Paper Darts, Split Lip, So to Speak, Hobart, and other literary magazines. She lives in Massachusetts with her family. Find her online at and on Twitter at @SaraRauch.

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