August 13, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Literary references abound in Tanya Egan Gibson's young adult novel, How to Buy a Love of Reading. Filled with social commentary and dark humor, the book features a young woman, Carley, who has never read a book she liked, so her parents hire a novelist to write a book just for her. This novel-in-a-novel as well as Gibson's clever depiction of Carley's own life and social circle brim with wit and intelligence.
How to Buy a Love of Reading explores the power of books in our lives
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Brimming with literary allusions, commentary on the rich and famous, and the necessary ingredients for a successful novel, Gibson's ingenious debut succeeds on many levels."
How to Buy a Love of Reading references only one band, the fictional Whiplash Bouffant, whose songs—including one called "Party Puker"—I imagine as being kinda bouncy-angsty. In truth, much of the music I blast into headphones while I write is of the bouncy-angsty oeuvre. (A disproportionate number of songs I write to seem to make their way onto the soundtracks of CW shows.) For the sake of variety, however—and perhaps in an attempt to save face—I've tried to stretch slightly beyond that for the playlist below.
"Steppin' Out" (Joe Jackson)
"Steppin' Out," a song that I've found exciting and haunting ever since it was released when I was around the age as Carley and Hunter, the teenage characters in HTBALOR, is about the anticipation of going out. Each section revolves around a party, with the characters hoping/expecting that this event will bring about a change in their lives. Carley, the teenage protagonist, is more entranced by possibility than by reality, and so believes again and again that this weekend things can be different. Hunter, her alcoholic best friend, lives for beginnings—Fridays, the planning of trips, that first sip of that first drink—how perfect things are before he can ruin them.
"You Can't Get What You Want ('Til You Know What You Want)" (Joe Jackson)
HTBALOR is about parents who want to commission a book tailored to their daughter's interests. (She has never read a book she has liked, but they figure that if someone just writes a book about something she likes, she'll have to like a book at last.) But Carley doesn't know herself well enough to know what she'd want to read. And neither, it turns out, do many of the other characters in the book, who are dishonest with themselves about who they are, what (and who) they love, and who they yearn to become.
"Must I Paint You a Picture" (Billy Bragg)
Some of my favorite lines of any song, ever, are: "The temptation/ To take the precious things we have apart/ To see how they work/ Must be resisted for they never fit together again." A number of characters in HTBALOR suffer from a compulsion to analyze things—people, relationships, books—rather than just enjoy them. It takes Carley, the book-hater among bibliophiles, to point out that when you dissect a text to death like a fetal pig, you kind of kill it.
"Complicated" (Avril Lavigne)
Yeah, just when you were thinking I was maybe kidding about the carbonated angst. Well anyway, one of the things that defines Carley is that she doesn't think things need to be complicated. She's the kind of girl who would listen to a lot of bouncy-angsty songs. And this particular song, in which the lyrics are about her a girl who loves a boy who feels the need to put on a facade, sums up Carley's relationship to her Hunter, who she loves as more-than-a-friend: she adores the very things about him that he feels the need to hide.
"Lifetime Piling Up (Talking Heads)
There's a feeling of acceleration and tension in this song—a car crash waiting to happen—that reflects both the action of the book (Hunter drives drunk. A lot.) and the building emotions of the characters who populate it. ("I can see my lifetime piling up/I can see it crashing into yours.")
"Mr. Brightside" (The Killers)
In a scene late in the novel, Carley ends up at a rave without knowing how she got there, and sees Hunter with another girl not hours after he's finally said he loves her—and things go downhill from there. "Mr. Brightside" (which I had on replay for much of the final rewrites of this scene) captured for me that sense of disorientation—of looking at someone you thought you knew through the slow-motion of strobe lights while music beats double time, seeing a stranger, and having no idea what to do next.
"Time After Time" (Cyndi Lauper)
It took me a long time to like this song. For years it struck me as repetitive—but eventually I realized that, in fact, the song changes in wonderfully subtle ways as it progresses. Carley seems to do the same things (forgive Hunter, piss off people who really want to help her, trip over herself) relentlessly, but the truth is that internally she is changing. She's not a girl whose change reveals itself in a grand gesture (Hunter is the "grand gesture" half of their team); she's one whose small changes crescendo slowly but surely.
"Have You Seen Me Lately" (Counting Crows)
Many characters in the novel suffer from having lost their real selves to images that they have created of themselves or images others have created of them—most notably two writer-characters, one of whom has been crowned "The Rock Star of Literature" by a morning news show.
"Save Me" (Remy Zero)
Carley and Bree, the author Carley's parents commission to write a book to inspire in Carley "a love of reading," debate throughout the book the idea that people can "save" each other. Bree, a pomo writer who broke up with traditional narrative structure years ago, believes happy endings are impossible and that people, like traditional "story" will always fail you. Carley, who spends a lot of time watching Joss Whedon-esque TV shows, believes in heroes—and heroines—who can save the world. Or the day. Or at least each other.
Unwritten (Natasha Bedingfield)
Yeah, I know it was used in a shampoo commercial. Which is probably worse than becoming the theme song of a CW show (see "Save Me" above, the theme song for Smallville.). But every time I hear this song, I think of the epilogue of HTBALOR, which is very much about the promise of blank-slated-ness. (Also, there is a fictional novel in the epilogue with the title "Unwritten." Which I probably wouldn't have named "Unwritten" if I'd known at the time that this song existed. But I didn't know, which is probably a good thing, since I have no idea what I would have titled that book otherwise.)
Whataya Want From Me (Adam Lambert)
If this song had come out while I was writing HTBALOR, I would have listened to it on auto-replay for months because it's so bouncy-angsty! Also, it captures the essence of someone who wants to be a good guy—the lover you want him to be—but just can't be that yet. Yet. Yet. But, like Hunter, says all the right things.
To tell you the truth, I'm listening to it on replay anyway now as I write my next novel, which is set in a theme park where the employees are decked out in mermaid and mermen costumes and use a lot of pomade and makeup—sort of Adam-Lambert-glam. Viva la bounce! Viva la angst!
Tanya Egan Gibson and How to Buy a Love of Reading links:
The Book Lady's Blog review
Frenetic Reader review
Girls Gone Reading review
Library Journal review
Life in Denim & Flip Flops review
Literally Booked review
Little Blue Book Light review
One-Minute Book Reviews review
Shelf Love review
What Women Write interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists