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October 29, 2018

Kate Gavino's Playlist for Her Graphic Novel "Sanpaku"


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 Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kate Gavino's graphic novel Sanpaku is a quirky and compelling coming of age story.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Marcine’s desire to find order in the confusing ordeals of adolescence resonates, and her cynical yet naive worldview provides a deadpan humor to a unique coming-of-age story."

In her own words, here is Kate Gavino's Book Notes music playlist for her graphic novel Sanpaku:

Sanpaku is a Japanese word that means “three whites,” and it describes the condition of being able to see the whites above or below your iris. Some people believe having sanpaku is a bad omen and a sign of severe imbalance in one’s body. In my book, my main character, Marcine, a 12 year old girl, becomes obsessed with the idea of sanpaku. She starts to see it everywhere – in her friends, family, celebrities – even herself. She sets out to cure the world of their sanpaku, and in the process, hits a lot of highs and lows in her junior high life. This playlist reflects that, along with the personalities of the various characters in the book and the setting: Houston, Texas in 1995.

Selena - Como La Flor
Selena is the musical patron saint of Sanpaku, which is set the year that she died. I love songs with upbeat, happy melodies and soul-crushing lyrics – “Como La Flor” is exactly that. The song is about a fleeting love that, despite its brevity, leaves a permanent mark. This is essentially what the idea of sanpaku is to Marcine.

Jens Lekman - It Was a Strange Time in My Life
Marcine’s theme song would have to be by Jens Lekman, who is my personal patron saint. Marcine is constantly observing, not always saying much. This song beautifully sums up the awkwardness of shyness and silence. People sometimes see you as a blank canvas and give you a personality based on their own assumptions. These people are usually assholes.

Pavement - The Killing Moon
The original version of this song is obviously great, but I like this cover simply for the “cucumber, cu-cu-cumber, ca-ca-ca-ca-cabbage” interlude. Plus this version sounds undeniably 90’s. The mysterious, eerie vibe of this song is what I imagine playing any time Marcine’s grandmother, Lola, makes an appearance. Marcine spends the book unraveling the secrets of her Lola’s life, and the more she learns, the more the mystery seems to deepen.

Ella del Rosario - O' Lumapit Ka
My dad’s favorite band is HotDog, a Filipino group from the '70s and '80s. He spent many road trips forcing us to listen to their tapes, and we ended up memorizing the Tagalog songs. Ella del Rosario sang lead on some of HotDog’s songs, including this one. The sound could be described as “pinoy bossa nova.” In Sanpaku, Marcine learns the story of how her Lola met her Lolo (grandfather), who was somewhat of a player. I can picture him getting ready for his dates with this song in the background, just dousing himself head to toe in Drakkar Noir.

Beat Happening - Godsend
I realize it’s weird to put an almost-10-minute song in the middle of a playlist, but here it is. In high school I thought this was the most romantic song in the world. Like most Beat Happening songs, the lyrics are super simple but ring true. I had this song in mind when I was thinking about the romance between Vilma, a woman who was about to be canonized into a saint, and Letty, the local nurse she fell in love with.

Weezer - Longtime Sunshine
I won’t lie: I was on the Weezer message board as a teen. This song was just a bootleg mp3 floating around at the time, and I thought it was so deep. Now I think the lyrics are kind of funny, and I can imagine it speaking to Kip, a classmate of Marcine’s who is also desperate to cure his sanpaku. He’s a bit self-indulgent and dramatic, just like this song – just like anyone who was on the Weezer message board, well into the time they released Make Believe.

Fiona Apple - Shadowboxer
When I picture the childhood bedroom I shared with my sister, I smell Bath & Body Works’ “Crisp Orchard Leaves” fragrance mist, and I hear Fiona Apple. This song in particular was my jam, even though I couldn’t relate to it at all. (“Once my lover, now my friend…” what would that line mean to a 12 year old who still couldn’t master long division?) Despite this, the song pumped me up and made me angry, in a good way. I picture it empowering Marcine to do something like shoplift or flip off security cameras. Fiona Apple had that effect on me.

Destiny’s Child - So Good
The book takes place in Houston in 1995, and this song came out in 1999, so I imagine a grown up Marcine playing this song as a (hopefully) better adjusted teen, as she’s driving to the Galleria, on her way to her summer job, folding jeans at Express.

Kate Gavino and Sanpaku links:

the author's website

Publishers Weekly review

The Nerds of Color interview with the author
Paste interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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