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Capitol Hill Books owner recorded album 'Death of the Novel' in the bookstore


And now for a slice of life here in Washington, D.C., that's not about politics or policy. Capitol Hill Books is a neighborhood bookstore in an old row house overflowing with books. You can see them piled up in the windows. When the pandemic began, the store closed for browsing and remain closed for 14 months. During that time, co-owner Kyle Burk revisited an old hobby.

KYLE BURK: I started playing guitar a bit more than I normally do during the pandemic. I would begin to write songs just to, like, make my girlfriend laugh or whatever. I guess I wrote a couple of songs. Then I wrote one, and I thought, hey, this is pretty good. Maybe I should record these.

RASCOE: But where?

BURK: Since the store was closed, I thought that would be a great place to do it. So I set up some gear there, and it worked out great.


BURK: It's a pretty tight space. Every nook and cranny has books in it, so that means there aren't a lot of flat reflecting surfaces, which is great for recording a record because all that paper acts a bit like acoustic panels and absorbs a lot of sound.


THE FAILED POETS: (Singing) Said all those little books of yours don't pay.

RASCOE: And so he made an album. It's called "Death Of The Novel." Burk recorded under the band name The Failed Poets. He drew musical inspiration from bands like Guided By Voices and The Strokes and lyrical inspiration from...

BURK: People I know in D.C., friends.


THE FAILED POETS: (Singing) Take the train down to the east side...

BURK: One of the songs is about a friend of ours who passed away a couple years ago, who was the co-owner of the bookstore. Others are just inside jokes that we have, you know, among the staff at the bookstore. My entire life is books and talking about them with - my best friends work the bookstore, too. So it's everything - you know, customers that we come into contact, other booksellers and the books that we're always reading and talking about.

RASCOE: In the tracks you can spot references to Engels and Proust and Poe and Rushdie.


THE FAILED POETS: (Singing) Paperbacks and pills are all I need to feel all right. She said thanks for the invite, but I'm staying in tonight.

BURK: When I was writing "Paperback & Pills," that was probably the song that I wrote that was - that made me laugh a lot. And one of my main goals was to amuse myself because that was what we had, right? We've been in a pandemic for almost two years, so you've got to find a way to amuse yourself. And if there's a lyric that I write that makes me chuckle a few weeks later after I've written it and I still think it's kind of amusing, then I dig it.

RASCOE: He told us he sees making the album as a part of being a good bookseller.

BURK: The role, first and foremost, is always to find great books for people and get them in the hands of people in your community, giving them what they want and showing them things that they didn't know they wanted. And I hope that one of those things is they didn't know they wanted songs about books and booksellers.


RASCOE: "Death Of The Novel" is available online at Bandcamp and soon in store. Burk tells us he hopes to press the album to vinyl.


THE FAILED POETS: (Singing) Sit behind that desk like you don't care, reading those prose poems by Baudelaire. When I asked for novels, you pointed upstairs and used a pencil to tie up your black hair... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.