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June 20, 2014

Book Notes - Ariel Schrag "Adam"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ariel Schrag's Adam is one of the year's most original fiction debuts, a compelling coming-of-age novel that impressively explores themes of gender and sexuality.

School Library Journal wrote of the book:

"This unexpected and entirely original love story is laugh-out-loud hilarious, tender, and insightful—an all-around brilliant romp of a coming-of-age story."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Ariel Schrag's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Adam:

"Gillian had given Adam a mix CD, and every night he wasn't with her, he had a routine of listening through all twenty-one tracks in bed, in the sleeping bag, with his headphones on. The CD case cover said "Adam's New York AdventureCFV in typewriter print, and Gillian had cut out a construction paper New York City skyline and pasted it over a blue paper background. Little fake jewels were glued to the sky for stars.

Adam had never thought much about music before. The gang at EBP all listened to rap—T.I., 50 Cent, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas. Adam thought some of it was cool, but he never cared enough to actually buy anything. Brad and Colin were always quoting Jay-Z, talking about being a nigga with ninety-nine problems like they really related to it. It was basically not acceptable to listen to anything other than rap though, and while Casey always had some girl band blasting out of her room, it never occurred to Adam to like what she was playing, only to yell at her to close her fucking door. Listening to Gillian's mix, however, made Adam want to run up to every person he saw and say, ‘Hold up, wait, did you know about this thing called music?'"— (Adam, pg.224)

One of the things that amused me the most in writing a novel about a cis teenage boy that passes for a trans man, is the idea that this boy, whose culture would normally be limited to whatever was cool in Popular Straight Teen Boy World those days would suddenly be exposed to lesbian/trans subculture tastes and in his own unique way really connect.

In the novel, Adam describes what seven of the tracks on Gillian's mix mean to him and how he believes each song contains a secret message about their relationship. Here, I will tell you what the songs mean to me personally, and how I see them relating to the themes in Adam.

"Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful
When I was growing up my parents told me that this was "their song." They dated in high school in New York City, and I used to listen to the lyrics and imagine my dad imagining himself as a teenager, reminiscing to lyrics like: "But at night it's a different world / Go out and find a girl." The lyrics and tone felt right for Adam's coming-of-age as well. Also, as a Northern California kid, like Adam, I never really understood what The Lovin' Spoonful was talking about when they went on and on about how hot and sticky summer was: "All around, people looking half dead / Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head." Summer could be hot but it was never that bad. When I turned 18 and moved to New York I finally understood what a hot city summer is and the delirium that can bring.

"How Does it Feel" by Avril Lavigne
Many of the songs on Gillian's mix come from mixes made for me by my girlfriend when I was twenty-five—songs that will always have a special power for me. I remember telling my girlfriend how much I loved this song with its lyrics like, "How does it feel to be different from me / Are we the same?" and she said, "Yeah, I think it's about wondering how it feels to be different, as in, boy/girl. But I love it too." This felt like an especially apt song for Adam's gender/sexuality quandary.

"Several Arrows Later" by Matt Pond PA
Another song from my girlfriend's mix. I used to listen to this song on repeat around the time I was reading Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo, and now always associate it with loneliness and a desperate search for identity. I'm still not sure what the song is actually about, but it breaks my heart every time I hear it. I always thought Matt Pond was singing "They should not want a son like they do / 
They should want a son like you" expressing the expectations and projections we put on other people and other people put on us. In reality, the lyrics are: "You should not want to sound they like do / You should want to sound like you,"—similar, but a different sentiment. I gave Adam my misinterpretation—often the lyrics that resonate the most are the ones we misunderstand.

"So Jealous" by Tegan and Sara
It's not a mix CD made by a lesbian without a Tegan and Sara track. I think this song is gorgeous. It's also featured in an episode of Season 3 of The L Word, the first season I wrote for, giving it particular resonance. Most of my teens and twenties were spent believing there was no feeling more painfully romantic than jealousy. I'll probably always believe that to some degree.

"Rebellion (Lies)" by Arcade Fire
Funeral is one of my all time favorite albums. I was in the middle of writing Adam, in the stage where anytime I spaced out during daily activities it was to imagine what Adam had just done or could be doing on future pages, and one time I was riding the subway, listening to Funeral on headphones when this song came on and the lyrics "Every time I close my eyes / Lies lies" gave me this perfect image of Adam lying in his pitch black closet-room with his headphone on, eyes squeezed shut, and desperately connecting to this song. No song has ever made lies feel so passionate and grand.

"Do You Realize??" by The Flaming Lips
I love that the title of this song insists on the use of two question marks. It's a revelatory song, but more than that, it's the burning desire to share your revelation with someone else. This was the song my girlfriend had close out one of the mixes she made me, and the end song always required the most analysis and lyric deconstruction to reveal hidden secrets or future promises for our relationship. Adam uses this song to go into a sex reverie about Gillian—the line "Do You Realize / We're floating in space" always makes me think of that mindless, weightless feeling sex can give you.

"Drive" by The Cars
This song was put on a mix for me by a girl I dated when I was twenty-nine. Good god is it tragic. After a series of romantic songs that allow Adam to revel in the thrill of Gillian, this song represents his hovering knowledge (and probably Gillian's) that their first-love summer can never last. "Who's gonna tell you when it's too late? / Who's gonna tell you things aren't so great? / You can't go on / Thinking nothing's wrong."

Ariel Schrag and Adam links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Daily Beast review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review

The Arty Semite interview with the author
Brooklyn Magazine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Likewise
Marie Claire interview with the author
Other People interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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