Alejandro Zambra’s Literary Mixtape

Music to Guide You Through the Author’s Mind & Work, Sort Of

I don’t think I ever decided to be a writer. I mean, it wasn’t really something I thought about, at least not the way I always dreamed of becoming a musician. When I was ten years old I was an amazing guitar player, but I got stuck, and now I play the guitar like a ten-year-old.

  1. Why Don’t You Write Me, Simon & Garfunkel
  2. Drivin’, The Kinks
  3. Too Much on My Mind, The Kinks
  4. Spanish Rose, Van Morrison
  5. Por amarte, Los Prisioneros

I’m not an envious reader. When I’m truly loving a book, I don’t feel I would have liked to write it, I just remain a lighthearted fan. I would like to say the same thing happens to me with music, but that’s not always true — there are certain songs that awaken a specific kind of envy in me. I’m not talking about my favorite songs, necessarily, but rather certain songs that make me think how much better it would be to be up there on the stage and not here in front of the screen. Sometimes when I’m listening to these songs I find myself daydreaming that I’m the one playing and singing them and having lots of fun doing it. (I’m not saying I don’t like being a writer. I’m not saying I do.)

6. Necesito poder respirar, Jorge González

7. Zamba del arriero, Nutria N.N

8. Como eran las cosas, Babasónicos

9. Rompecabezas, Colombina Parra

10. Virginia, Os Mutantes

Here is a ludicrously brief selection of the probably endless list of songs I would love to have written and performed. You’ll see that they are not necessarily the so called best songs from each artist. Some of my favourite artists are here, but there are many others I listen to all the time — David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Beck and Violeta Parra to name a few — who aren’t listed here. If I chose “Why Don’t You Write Me” instead of so many other, better Simon & Garfunkel tunes, it’s just because whenever I listen to it I feel that joyful kind of frustration. “I Am a Rock” is certainly one of the songs of my life, but the deep emotion I experience every time I listen to it is quite different from what happens when I picture myself as the unsophisticated guy who pleads “Why don’t you write me/ I’m out in the jungle/ I’m hungry to hear you.”

11. Jokerman, Caetano Veloso

12. O Leaozinho, Beirut

13. Sacar la voz, Anita Tijoux

14. How Could I Be Such a Fool, Frank Zappa

15. Is That All There Is?, Peggy Lee

Now that I think about it, I realize I picked up some covers, which probably means I am not only wishing I was the one who made those songs but also the one who remade them.

16. Ballata dell’amore cieco, Fabrizio de André

17. Gracia, Gepe

18. Antártica, Leo Quinteros

19. Any Day Now (My Beautiful Bird), Chuck Jackson

20. Shake Sugaree, Elizabeth Cotten

I know this playlist was supposed to somehow relate to my new book, Multiple Choice, but I don’t want to translate it into songs. That would feel like betraying it. So I thought I would choose the songs I was listening to when I wrote it, but that was three years ago and honestly I don’t really remember what was I listening to at that time.

Of course, I could always lie.

Okay, I will: these were exactly the songs I was listening to when I wrote Multiple Choice.

About the Author

Alejandro Zambra is the author of Multiple Choice, My Documents, Ways of Going Home, The Private Lives of Trees, and Bonsai. His stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Harper’s, Tin House, and McSweeney’s.

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