Author Meg Wolitzer on Music and the “Culture of Intimacy”

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In her Guest DJ Project set, Author Meg Wolitzer selects songs that have the qualities of her favorite literature – from the “authoritative feel” of The Roches’ “Hammond Song” to the descriptiveness of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”, which “opens like a novel”. (She even sings a few bars!)

She also talked about the meaning music holds for us as individuals and about how our relationship with books is changing in the digital age.

I was so moved by what she said in the show that I asked if she would expand on it in an essay I could share with our audience.

Find her full Guest DJ Project set online here and read more below!

By Meg Wolitzer:

In choosing songs to talk about on this show, I rummaged deep into the past, back into some ancient part of my brain that experiences nostalgia and longing for something that’s been gone for decades.  One of my sons, hearing of my choices, encouraged me to add a much more recent track.  “Sufjan Stevens,” he suggested.  Then, like someone talking to a person who’s recently come out of a coma, he patiently reminded me, “You like Sufjan Stevens.”

And I do.  But to me, it seemed right to choose songs that were part of the era in which I came of age.  The acoustic nature of some of the music from that time period is reminiscent of the often “acoustic” nature of my own work as a novelist.

I feel a real connection between the contemplative nature of some of those songs–the intimacy they suggest–and the similar nature of fiction.  In each instance, the song/book is pared down, stripped of either most technology or a faithful adherence to that thing called “fact.”

Because I came of age in a different time, I associate the quiet intensity of certain music, and the quiet intensity of certain novels, with notions of intimacy.  A guitar and a voice seem to exist in a small, enclosed space, which means that maybe there’s only room for the singer and the listener.

And the close-grained worldview of some novels can make you feel that you and the writer are knee-to-knee on a window seat somewhere, with rain battering the pane; one of you dashing off pages, the other instantly reading them.

People talk about the loss of privacy in our current era, but I tend to think of it all in terms of intimacy.  To allow a book to take over your life for a while–to make time and room for it when so many things are competing–is an act that encourages a culture of intimacy.