Hear ‘Never Here’: Bushwick Book Club sings and dances about a Jonathan Ames book

Novel-ty songs: Susan Hwang, Charlie Nieland, and Jessie Kilguss of the Bushwick Book Club will perform songs based on the Jonathan Ames book “You Were Never Really Here” at Mirror in the Woods in Gowanus on March 29.
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Talk about novel-ty songs!

A slim novel from former Boerum Hill author Jonathan Ames has been adapted into a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, a collection of folk songs, a painting, a dance, and a cocktail. The film version of the thriller “You Were Never Really Here,” about a hitman tracking down a kidnapped teenager, will open nationwide on April 6. For the rest, visit the Bushwick Book Club at a Gowanus arts space on March 29, where Ames, who will read from his book at the event, said he is excited to discover the many different artistic responses to his novella.

“All art tends to be a response to life, but also other pieces of art,” said Ames, who now lives in Los Angeles. “It’s a life-affirming way to conduct a book club.”

The Bushwick Book Club formed in 2009, and each month since it has created musical and artistic responses to a different book, said the group’s founder.

“We create new pieces in response to the book. It’s a little ‘Neerds Gone Wild,’ ” said singer-songwriter Susan Hwang.

The Gowanus event will include musical numbers by Hwang and others, an art exhibit, and a dance performance based on the hitman novel. There will also be food and drinks served based on specific lines from the thriller, including “The Purist,” which is just seltzer water.

One of the musicians performing on March 29 said that having the author present for the show helps to form a deeper connection with the audience.

“It’s an interesting way to engage the readers,” said Jessie Kilguss, who plays her songs on a glockenspiel. “The fans really like it, and it’s a way to bring more to the club.”

Over the last nine years, the Book Club has tackled all sorts of reads, including cookbooks, classics, and Ames’s 2005 comic novel “Wake Up, Sir.” Ames said that he is expecting some heavier tunes for this session than those played in response to his previous book.

“It will almost be like punk rock, I think,” he said.

The songwriters in the Book Club said that writing songs based on an action-heavy thriller proved easy — and that not all the songs will be as serious as the book’s subject.

“The genre doesn’t necessarily dictate the style of music,” said Kilguss, who described the song she wrote as “dark folk.” “This book is pretty dark, but I won’t be surprised if we end up with some comedy.”

For Hwang, the book’s prose, not its genre, inspired her to write some tunes played on her accordion and janggu — a traditional Korean drum.

“I’m focusing on the really beautiful images in the book,” she said. “His writing is so present. Images and even humor find their way in there.”

Bushwick Book Club at Mirror in the Woods [575 Union St. between Nevins Street and Third Avenue in Gowanus, (917) 909–0577,]. March 29 at 7:30 pm. $15.

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.
Updated 5:47 pm, July 9, 2018
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