Sunday, October 26, 2008

Carpe Libris

Last week, Rob and I went to see Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Honestly, I was expecting it to tank, and for Rob to walk out of the theater refusing to ever let me choose a movie again, but both he and I laughed out loud way too many times for this movie to be considered a loss in any way. It had a strong first half, and unraveled a bit at the end, but was redeemed by Vampire Weekend's "Ottoman" playing during the credits.

A few days later, my mom saw the movie and tried to warn me against seeing it. Too late, I told her; plus, I liked it. Then the usual exchange commenced over the portrayal of teenagers in the media. My mother is of the belief that teen movies should represent teenagers as they should be, not as they actually are. In fact, she's of the belief that every movie should represent people as they should be, not as they actually are. I don't hold this against her. It's very optimistic. It's very silver screen. I, on the other hand, recognized so much of myself -- especially my former teen-aged self -- in the movie, that I applauded it for keeping it (mostly) real. I'm of the belief that there's nothing wrong when literature or film holds up a mirror to its viewers. We're so far from the days of Beach Blanket Bingo...well, sort of. High School Musical seems to be keeping that outfit alive and well, but ask any teenager (not a tweenager) if these characters reflect them realistically, and the eye-rolling (and possible expletives) will be your answer.

It's a good thing my mom didn't read the book (by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan) that the movie is based upon, because she'd be shocked to find that it is far more "real" than the movie, and far more problematic when it comes to the politics of representation.

The movie is enjoyable, but the book is on a whole other level. A lot of the lines from the book made it into the movie, but the movie lacks the first-person narrative voice that made me fall hard for the book. Oh, and the book is packed with not-so-gentle language that the movie mostly avoids, and flouts a bunch of grammatical rules, making it far more controversial and definitely more representative of real teenagers' voices (at least, the teenagers that I knew and know, and the teenager that I was).

There's so much to love in this book, like...
  • the opening line: "The day begins in the middle of the night."
  • heartsick Nick: "I am stumbling through the notes and Dev is onto the next verse and Thom is playing a little faster than he should, so I have to catch up as she leans into this guy and rocks her head like I'm making this music for her, when if I could, I would take it all away and give her as much silence as she's given me pain" (2).
  • brilliant, heartstick Nick: "I think Tris will like this band, and the fact that I know this stabs me again, because all the knowledge of what she likes is perfectly useless now" (5). I totally remember feeling this way, post-breakup.
  • oh-so-witty Norah: "There are certain things a girl just knows, like that a fourth minute on a punk song is a bad, bad idea, or that no way does a Jersey-boy bassist with Astor Place hair who wears torn-up, bleach-stained black jeans and a faded black T-shirt with orange lettering that says When I say Jesus, you say Christ, swing down boy-boy alley" (9). I so dig this girl's mouth and her angst.
  • the language: "...and we're all seven years old again and dancing like we spit out the Ritalin while Mom wasn't looking" (22).
  • the music and the metaphor: "I shouldn't want the song to end. I always think of each night as a song. Or each moment as a song. But now I'm seeing we don't live in a single song. We move from song to song, from lyric to lyric, from chord to chord. There is no ending here. It's an infinite playlist" (174).
So if you're up for a "real" good read, then I highly recommend this book. However, if you're of the school of thought that holds that books about teenagers should be didactic, teaching moral lessons rather than holding up a mirror to experience, skip it...or not. Maybe this book won't change your mind, but it might just offer a different perspective.

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