In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Ryka Aoki’s novel Light From Uncommon Stars is a moving and poignant book of friendship and love.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“Aoki’s novel is an exciting, wild web of an adventure, an unputdownable book about music, found family, and identity. Diving into the tough subjects, Aoki’s book emerges with a joyful, queer, radical ballad of a story…”
1. “The New World” – X
Very few songs do a better job of putting you in Los Angeles. Also, whenever I face a blank sheet of paper, this is one of the songs that makes me look forward to the trip.
2. “Capriccioso Rondo and Introduction” – Camille Saint-Saens Shigatsu Wa Kimi No Uso Soundtrack
“Your Lie in April” was one of my main emotional inspirations for writing this book. Watch, but have some Kleenex ready.
“The Trololo Song” actually had lyrics. But in 1976, in the Soviet Union, certain lyrics got censored, especially if they involved cowboys from the United States. Eduard Khil decided to perform the song with nonsense syllables, believing that the melody would touch people, anyway. Somehow, he was right?
Oh, I love the Mad Planets theme. It used the limited technology of 1983 to create its own sort of distortion, and it was one of the first video game songs that really sounded like good music.
Of course, video game music has come a long way. This is not only classic music, but classic Lindsey Stirling.
6. “Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow)” – Fritz Kreisler, Shigatsu Wa Kimi No Uso Soundtrack
This is the first song on the playlist that’s actually in Light from Uncommon Stars. Katrina first performs this piece as an imitation. Perhaps now, if she played it, she’d understand it more deeply.
Until Light from Uncommon Stars becomes a movie, this is the closest I’m ever going to get to seeing Katrina Nguyen immersed in her violin, floating in her holographic studio. Just beautiful.
8. “Harajuku Iyahoi” – Kyari Pamyu Pamyu
In case anyone wants to know what goes on in my mind when I’m writing—when the writing is going well, this is how I feel. Exactly.
9. “Pavane pour une Infante defunte (piano)” – Maurice Ravel, his own recording
I imagine that Lan Tran’s thoughts might resonate with this when her family is safe and asleep on a midnight starship, and she lets herself wonder if there is anything to be done with the Endplague all around them.
This is what Shirley Tran feels when she has her first sleepover with Katrina. It’s like any minute, she might break from her memories, but she’s not going to because she’s so happy and grateful.
11. “Caprice no. 5” – Nicolo Paganini, various performers
I’m not naming a performer here on purpose. Paganini is super freaking hard. You don’t get to Paganini without sacrifice. Listen to a few recordings. Understand how so many of these musicians are striving for immortality.
12. “All is Full of Love” – Björk
Who decides who can love whom? This is how I want it to feel when one goes through a stargate to discover uncommon stars. It’s also how I feel when I take the first bite of a great donut.
“Dragon, Astrid. Dragon.” When Shizuka and Astrid watch this, they realize that their studio needs an upgrade.
This song feels like Shirley Tran’s past…coming from nonexistence, never being accepted as a sentient being, doubting her own identity. It’s exquisite, but possibly the most fatalistic song on the playlist.
15. “Nanpasen” – Nakamori Akina
The song title literally means “shipwreck.” Watching Nakamori Akina singing this, I see how an artist can keep it together, albeit barely, when her life is falling apart around her. I wrote much of Light From Uncommon Stars this way—broken, but needing to continue the song no matter what. Artists can be pretty terrifying sometimes.
16. “Sonata for Solo Violin” – Béla Bartók
I can’t seem to find Shizuka Satomi’s recording anywhere, but Viktoria Mullova’s is excellent. I wrote the first draft of the performance scene in real time, listening to Mullova.
17. “Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso” Ending – Orange 7
This is the saddest song in anime. I don’t care what anyone says. This is the saddest song in anime. This is a song for when you know you’re doomed and all you want do is play one more time…but goodbye. I think of Shizuka Satomi contemplating her life and its end. All she wants to do is play one more time, but…
18. “Hopes And Dreams” and “Save the World” – Undertale OST
Undertale. One of my favorite soundtracks ever. Do you know that if you play Undertale, you don’t need to kill anybody? You can make friends with those who you meet and save them. In fact, that results in the best ending of them all.
This is an example of black MIDI. Composers use millions and millions of notes to create pulsing, almost psychedelic combinations. When I think of all the songs in the world being played, and somehow sounding like this, I wish I could just disappear into the music forever.
20. “Handel-Violin Sonata in D Major Op. 1 No. 4” – Isaac Stern
This is so beautiful and so reverent, it feels holy. It’s slow and almost mournful in places, but since it’s played in a major key, we always feel hope. It’s the perfect piece to listen to while contemplating the end of everything you have loved, and maybe for the first time wondering what it would be like to love once again.
21. “Letters from Heaven” – Violet Evergarden Soundtrack
Listen to this as you read the end of the book—from Chapter 38 through the Epilogue. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to spoil anything.
Ryka Aoki (she/her) is a poet, composer, teacher, and novelist whose books include He Mele a Hilo and two Lambda Award finalists, Seasonal Velocities and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. Ryka’s work has appeared or been recognized in publications including Vogue, Elle, Bustle, Autostraddle, PopSugar, and Buzzfeed. Her poetry was featured at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and she was honored by the California State Senate for “extraordinary commitment to the visibility and well-being of Transgender people.”