In celebration of the Penguin paperback release of her debut novel, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, Carey Wallace has released a 5-song EP, Songs About Books: a group of waltzes, lullabies, and country rockers she wrote about some of her own favorite books.
The books “covered” by the record include a rock and roll homage to Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; a waltz about Shaun Tan’s masterful picture book The Arrival; a lullaby for Ender, the title character of Orson Scott Card’s classic Ender’s Game; a country come-on based on the Tennessee Williams play Sweet Bird of Youth; and a delicate piano waltz inspired by So Long, I’ll See You Tomorrow, a slim but powerful tome by William Maxwell, former fiction editor of The New Yorker.
The recording is a family affair. Her brother Mark provides bass, guitar, and lush string arrangements, with her father Rick on trombone. This isn’t Mark’s first outing in a literary-inflected musical production: a decade ago he was one part of a two-man band, ‘The American West’, along with a young “Johnny Foer.”
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a novel loosely based on the true story of the invention of the typewriter, which was created in 1808 by an Italian count for a blind woman so that she could write him letters. At the time of their correspondence, they were both married to other people. On the surface, the book tells the story of their romance, but at heart it’s about invention of every kind: lies, dreams, technology, imagination – and the ways it fails us. It received positive notices in The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Publisher’s Weekly, and was an Indie Next pick and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.
Songs About Books celebrates The Blind Contessa’s New Machine’s June 28 paperback release with a group of songs that reflect Wallace’s own wide-ranging taste in music and books. In her songwriting, Wallace plays with elements from the stories that inspired each song, punning on character names like Sweet Bird of Youth’s Chance Wayne, who asks a girl to “take a chance” on him in a track called ‘Heavenly’. Sonically, the album also mirrors the images in the literature that inspired them. In ‘New World Waltz’ a trombone mimics the sound of a foghorn on the boat that carries a character away from his family toward the new world. In ‘Ender’s Lullaby’ the hiss and thump of the grand piano pedal eerily imitates the sound of a pod door opening and closing.
Wallace’s first love is books, and directing a band with a literary vocabulary provided some unique challenges for her brother, a classically trained musician. “Carey would come in saying things like, ‘It starts with the urgency of a come-on that then collapses into agony by the final verse.’ And I’d have to tell her, ‘Those are called quarter notes.’”
In June, Songs About Books will be available on iTunes, and also as a gorgeously produced album featuring a collection of antique photographs of people posed with books from Wallace’s own collection. The album is not for sale: Wallace will give it as a gift to readers at personal appearances and through literary blogs, and any proceeds will benefit Fount of Mercy, an organization that works with vulnerable Ugandan women and children, where Wallace sits on the board.
Wallace hopes that her readers and the world of letters will receive Songs About Books as a gift: her way of saying thanks for the warm reception to The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, and to the many authors whose work has both shaped her own and comforted her. “Songs About Books is a thank-you note, and a love letter,” she says. “It’s my way of saying ‘no writer works alone,’ and of offering something back to the writers and the readers who have touched my life.”
|Want a copy? Songs About Books is a gift, so it's not for sale. (Any proceeds generated on iTunes and bandcamp will go to benefit vulnerable African women and children through Fount of Mercy.)
So how can you get one? By making something.
It doesn't matter what you make: a snapshot, a handmade book, a song you wrote, a picture your child drew, a piece of handmade jewelry, a tray of brownies. Just send it to me, and I'll send you back a CD -- and post an image of whatever you've created on this site. (You can get a mailing address by emailing me.)
Check out the album art, with antique photographs and the stories of the songs, by clicking on the cover.
Or, just use the player below to listen to or download songs for free.