June 16, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Lindsay Lerman's novel is beautifully complex and inventive.
Alex DiFrancesco wrote of the book:
"Lindsay Lerman gives a sense that the author and the reader are on the run together, foraging a path of discovery as they flee. With prose both beautiful and relentlessly shifting with experiment, this book meets the reader at not-knowing and carries them forward, scouting the territory just one step ahead."
In a recent interview, I confessed that although What Are You is experimental in some senses and although it’s been a hell of a challenge to describe it in market-friendly terms, I don’t think it’s really that experimental, and I think of it more like an album than a book. That is, I think it behaves more like a long piece of music than a book—which should make putting together a playlist very easy, but paradoxically, it’s not!
The book has six sections (or movements), so I focused on the mood of each section. What I have here is a playlist that I hope can feel like an album, which I hope can feel like spending time inside my new book, which I hope is a meaningful experience for anyone who picks it up.
Prologue: ars poetica
This song is quoted early in the book (with permission), and it functions as kind of an ars poetica. “Like the church, like a cop, like a mother, you want me to be truthful / but then you turn it on me like a weapon and I need your approval.” Joni saw every trap—personally, professionally—and even if she could not avoid them, she was going to let you know she saw them, and she was not going to let any of it stop her from traveling, expanding, going, doing. She’s on another level. She always has been.
Part 1: the mood for this section is angular and angry, defiant, confused, heartbroken, and a little sad
2. Teenage Whore by Hole
3. I Am Here by Savages
4. In the Night by Bauhaus
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Tori Amos
Part 2: in this section, a new kind of darkness emerges for the narrator
6. Tabula Rasa: I. Ludus by Arvo Pärt
7. O Frondens Virga by Hildegard von Bingen (the Karen R. Clark performance)
8. God Gave Me No Name by Lingua Ignota
Part 3: new dimensions of the darkness appear, and the narrator begins to understand their allure, their undeniable pull
9. Ugly and Vengeful by Anna von Hausswolff
10. Sri Rama Ohnedaruth by Alice Coltrane
Part 4: the darkness begins to recede as the narrator’s knowledge of what the darkness can and cannot make possible emerges
11. Inayaat by Arooj Aftab
12. I Live Now as a Singer by Julie Byrne
13. White Ferrari by Frank Ocean
Part 5: in this section, the narrator begins to understand her power and her complicity with the darkness, so the mood is resigned but hopeful and a little wild—awareness sharpening
14. Blood on Me by Sampha
15. Two Weeks by FKA Twigs
16. Hanoi 7 by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
17. Rome (Always in the Dark) by Low
Part 6: opening onto a new horizon, this section finds the narrator at home in the unknown
18. The Dancer by PJ Harvey
19. Memory Gongs by Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd
20. Turn the Light On by Julia Holter
indsay Lerman's first book I'm From Nowhere was published in 2019. Her essays, short stories, and poetry have been published in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Entropy, Hobart, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She is currently adapting her short story Real Love--which first appeared in NY Tyrant Magazine--for the screen. She is represented by Abby Walters at CAA.