Meredith Myers Interviews Nathan Larson about The Dewey Decimal System
Stand-up Librarian Meredith Myers interviews award-winning film composer/rocker/author Nathan Larson about his new book The Dewey Decimal System and discusses his love for the New York Public Library and the importance of supporting our libraries.
Tags: Nathan Larson The Dewey Decimal System New York Public Library Judy Blume libraries books writing music films
Added: 3 years ago
[scene open with Meredith Myers speaking directly into her handheld camera]
MEREDITH: Hey, it's Meredith Myers with standuplibrarian dot com, and I am here at the LA Times Festival of Books, with an amazing artist and now author. His name is Nathan Larson.
[she points the camera at Nathan, who is sitting on the bench beside her]
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Um, Nathan ...
NATHAN: Hi, how are you?
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Oh my gosh, so obviously a huge fan of "Jealous Gods" ...
NATHAN: Thank you very much, thank you.
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Um, not just because it was on Artemis, which was a PR client of mine back in the day ...
MEREDITH: [from off camera] But um, now you're an author, with this new book called "The Dewey Decimal System" here.
[he holds up a copy of the book]
MEREDITH: [from off camera] There he is.
MEREDITH: [from off camera] So, is writing for a novel much different than writing music? Is it a different process?
NATHAN: I don't think so at all. It's a similar artistic process. You need sort of, your needs are different. Y'know, you don't really need any, like a studio. You don't need any equipment, but you do need time, you need space, and you need relative solitude. And that's something that I found even more difficult to get, than into a recording studio.
MEREDITH: [from off camera] The title of the book, "The Dewey Decimal System" ...
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Now, is that a shout-out to librarians, or what's--
NATHAN: Hell yeah!
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Which we love, yes.
NATHAN: Yeah yeah yeah. No, it's ... the protagonist, it's sort of a, it's been described as a dystopian noir, not by me. But it's about a very damaged man, a veteran, who returns to his hometown of New York City, which has been kinda decimated by some unspecified disaster, and kind of emptied out. And he moves into the main branch library, which I've always, I've had a love affair with that library. And when I was, y'know, a teenager and totally confused and didn't know what to do with myself, I spent a lot of time there and found it to be a very sort of spiritual place ... I mean, you know. It's like a church, sort of, to me. Y'know, it's got all this history, and think about the Thirties and people there without work and trying to better themselves and learning. Y'know, it's an incredible, doesn't matter who you are, you can sit there from when they open till when they close, and you can read whatever they got.
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Mm-hmm.
NATHAN: Y'know, which is everything. So it's a beautiful thing, and it's a gorgeous space, and it's something, I think it's sort of, it's on the tourists', like, their radar, because of the lions and the exterior of the building, but people don't often, if they're not from New York, go inside the library and it's such a beautiful ... even if you are from New York, go in there and go into the reading room, and it's just a wonderful place.
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Can you continue to do things to show how libraries are completely vital and important in today's world?
NATHAN: I just have to say something really, y'know, I was doing a reading at the Baltimore library, the Enoch Pratt Library. Did I tell you this, the other--
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Mm-mm.
NATHAN: I dunno. And it was this absolutely gorgeous building built, y'know, WPA period. Sort of Thirties era. The Enoch Pratt Free Library, I believe it was called. Another gorgeous landmark in Baltimore, and we were in the Poe Reading Room. It was absolutely amazing, but everybody who was working there was furloughed. It was like the city had totally run it, all these libraries are gonna shut, it's just unacceptable in this society. It's unacceptable. Y'know, it's as crucial a part of the fabric of our community as anything else, and it's just, y'know, as we lose these things, we lose so much. We lose so much, and people y'know, and once you lose it, like how do you get it back? So, it's just, we're facing a really weird, really really challenging time.
MEREDITH: [from off camera] Mm-hmm.
NATHAN: Y'know, exciting in a sense, but also really scary. So, support your library and love your library!
MEREDITH: [from off camera] There you go, that's a great way to end it!
It was 2001, and I was working at a public relations firm in New York City, where most of my accounts were music-related, with one being an independent label called Artemis Records, started by the legendary Danny Goldberg. In working with this label over the next few years, I got to know Goldberg and began listening to the various artists signed to the label, my favorite being the music of Nathan Larson. With a background as a rocker in the band Shudder to Think to his solo album Jealous God to eventually composing award-winning music scores for Boys Don't Cry, The Messenger, Choke, and countless other films, Nathan has proven he is nothing but genius when it comes to writing and producing music.
While we had never met, nor worked together during our experiences with Artemis, it seems odd, yet somehow fitting, that ten years later Nathan and I would cross paths, however, not at a music event, but at book festival. With Nathan a new author, and me a librarian - career fields we both probably never pictured for ourselves in 2001. Another example that anything can happen in this journey called life if you are open to what opportunities it offers us.
With the release of his new book, The Dewey Decimal System, Nathan can now add published author to his long list of credits, and having read it, I have no doubt he will be exceptionally successful at it. Plus, debuting a book featuring a lead character living in the main branch of the New York Public Library is a smart way to get me into doing PR again since here I am talking about it.
So for my first-ever post about a book on this blog, I hope you will enjoy this interview with rocker/film composer/author Nathan Larson and The Dewey Decimal System, as we discuss his love for the New York Public Library, the importance of supporting all libraries, his experiences in writing, and his latest project, doing the musical score for the film adaptation of Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes, directed by her son, Lawrence Blume.
For more information on Nathan Larson:
To purchase The Dewey Decimal System:
*And FYI, you have no idea how much great footage I have with Nathan as we talked about everything from Warren Zevon & Carl Hiaasen to the children's and YA books of our youth to his numerous other projects in the works. Perhaps I will share more at a later date but I know I only have your attention for so long. I tell you, it never gets old to see how the love of books brings people together!
After a flu pandemic, a large-scale terrorist attack, and the total collapse of Wall Street, New York City is reduced to a shadow of its former self. As the city struggles to dig itself out of the wreckage, a nameless, obsessive-compulsive veteran with a spotty memory, a love for literature, and a strong if complex moral code (that doesn't preclude acts of extreme violence) has taken up residence at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.
Dubbed "Dewey Decimal" for his desire to reorganize the library's stock, our protagonist (who will reappear in the next novel in this series) gets by as bagman and muscle for the New York City's unscrupulous district attorney. Decimal takes no pleasure in this kind of civic dirty work. He'd be perfectly content alone amongst his books. But this is not in the cards, as the DA calls on Dewey for a seemingly straightforward union-busting job.
What unfolds throws Dewey into a bloody tangle of violence, shifting allegiances, and old vendettas, forcing him to face the darkness of his own past, and the question of his buried identity.
In his groundbreaking post-hardcore outfit Shudder To Think - particularly the band's 1994 masterpiece, Pony Express Record - guitarist Nathan Larson helped push rock music into places it had never ventured before. Since then, he's made his name composing film scores, from Boys Don't Cry to Dirty Pretty Things. What possessed him to wander into genre fiction is anyone's guess-but if his frustrating debut novel, The Dewey Decimal System, is any indication, he has a long way to go before rising above the level of enthusiastic dabbler.
Larson launches The Dewey Decimal System on a solid platform: In the near future, a barrage of catastrophes ranging from economic collapse to pandemic flu has reduced New York City to a husk with a population of 800,000. Against this tattered backdrop, the book's hero-Dewey Decimal, naturally-lives the half-life of an “off-the-grid nonperson.” The amnesiac veteran of an indeterminate war, Dewey does odd enforcement jobs for the city's corrupt district attorney. He dwells among his fellow scavengers at the main branch of the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, granted the vague task of cataloguing the already-catalogued books-hence his nickname.
After such a promising setup, Dewey Decimal grinds gears into a hardboiled-detective/science-fiction pastiche that sadly never clicks. Much of the problem lies in Larson's inability to shape coherence out of his thrown-against-the-wall elements; Dewey is given a laundry list of crippling quirks (including germaphobic OCD and a cryptic moral code) that feels cobbled together from mid-list cable TV, and he's surrounded by a suffocating cast of clichés, from sinister Ukrainian mobsters to a stream of overexplained pop-culture tags that feel forced and borderline-anachronistic. Granted, clichés are the raw material of the genres in which Larson traffics-still, he's rarely able to elevate them beyond the shallowest, clumsiest pastiche.
At points, though, the book delivers on the intrigue of its initial premise. Amid the fumbling, blustery internal monologue of the first-person protagonist, rare patches of roughhewn poetry emerge-and the re-imagining of 9/11 as a Valentine's Day terrorist attack adds a symbolic underbelly to an otherwise rote chunk of workmanship. The Dewey Decimal System is billed as the first installment in a series, so there's a possibility Larson will someday have the chance to transcend the stilted, self-conscious Dewey Decimal with the same dexterity he brings to his music. Until then, the book stands as an occasionally enthralling, naggingly annoying genre mash-up that could use an infusion of raw storytelling skill to match its voice and vision.