Jun 16, 2010

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick is the bass player for a queercore band with ever-changing names. Norah loves music, so naturally she’s at the show. Nick’s night is ruined when he realises that his ex-girlfriend, Tris, is also at the show, and with a new guy – or so he thinks. Norah happens to be sitting next to Nick when he sees Tris walking towards him to say hi, so he does what seems to him the most logical thing in the world – he asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. And so begins a night where between surprise shows by their favourite band, misunderstandings, past significant others appearing when they’re least expected, and long walks holding hands, two people get to know each other.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was satisfying in all the ways I hoped it would be satisfying – which, with my recent track record of books turning out to be completely different than I thought they’d be, was actually a very nice surprise. I didn’t find this story quite was resonant as Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s other joint effort, Ely and Naomi’s No Kiss List, but then again, I didn’t think I would. I wanted a story about music, connections, and that thrill you feel when you’re getting to know someone you suspect is going to matter a lot to you – and that was exactly what I got.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist actually packs a lot for such a short book. I felt that I was truly getting to know the characters (all of them, really – and nothing made me happier than the fact that Tris turned out to be a complex human being and not merely an Evil Ex), in a way that allowed me to understand why what was happening mattered to them, why they hesitated, why they were scared. A lot of miscommunication happens in this book; a lot remains unsaid; a lot is merely implied. And of course, these silences matter as much as the things Nick and Norah are telling each other. You’d think this kind of thing would be hard to pull off in fewer than 200 pages, but somehow Cohn and Levithan manage – mostly due to their expert use of different points of view.

I’ll confess that the fact that from the age of sixteen on I’ve been obsessed with the movie Before Sunrise (I own a VHS tape of it! Remember VHS tapes?) somewhat predisposes me to enjoy stories set in a single day/night and in which two people get close to each other. This is somewhat strange, considering the fact that I keep complaining about how most love stories out there are about the development of an initial connection and not about long-term intimacy and all the work it involves. The reason why I wish this wasn’t so is because I think we’re bad at acknowledging that stories can actually continue once two people get together, and that “happily-ever-after” isn’t really easy or boring. I have seen so many people act surprised when relationships don’t turn out to be completely effortless it’s not even funny. The kind of stories we tell are more of a consequence than a cause of this, of course, but the whole thing has probably entered infinite-loop territory, where the stories reinforce what we believe which in turn causes us to tell more of these types of stories, and so on and so on.

I’m not about to claim that a 200 pages book set in less than twelve hours completely breaks this pattern, but I will say that one of the reasons why I loved Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is because as much as it is about newness and the excitement of getting to know someone, it does acknowledge that intimacy isn’t necessarily easy. Those are some intense twelve hours or so that Nick and Norah spend together, and they have to work through a lot of fear – fear of being vulnerable, of getting hurt, of falling in love, of being rejected, of losing control, and even of being happy.

On what is actually a related note, this book has one of the best make-out scenes I’ve ever come across. Once again, Cohn and Levithan make excellent use of two points of view to show what each of the characters is feeling, and the result is a very emotionally complex scene. It’s also a passionate scene, but what makes it so good is that not only does it get the passion across, but it also acknowledges the huge fear and vulnerability involved in going that far with someone. The fact that Nick and Norah had only met a few hours ago is irrelevant, as the scene takes place at a point where it’s obvious to them both just how high the emotional stakes are.

I’ve been blabbing for this long and I haven’t even mentioned the role music plays in the story. I’ll just say that if you’re passionate about music, and if you love the thrill of seeing your favourite band hit the stage, you’ll find plenty here that will make you smile.

Before anyone asks – not, I haven’t seen the movie. Should I?

Bits I liked:
“I’m confessing I don’t know if I’m reading for this.”
“What is ‘this’?”
Being open. Being hurt. Liking. Not being liked. Seeing the flicker on. Seeing the flicker off. Leaping. Falling. Crashing.
“Norah. I’m not sure if I’m ready for Norah.”
Tony/Toni/Toné smiles, her teeth the same white as her collar.
“There’s no such thing as ready,” she says. “There’s only willing.”

The guitars rampage. The drums batter. Owen O. snarls bastardizations at the world. A bell rings and Pavlov’s dog as a fucking seizure on the dance floor. Since I’m not a part of it yet, I see it: how a group of people can become a blizzard, how all the time spent buying and picking out exactly the right clothes doesn’t mean shit now because nobody is looking at clothes or poses. It’s all about force and pulse and unleashing the giant urges. I am pushing through skin and spike to get to Norah. I am jolting through this human turbulence to catch sight of Tris. I am slamming through this bright, bright darkness to figure out who the fuck I’m looking for, and why.

My heartbeat accelerates. I am in the here, in the now. I am also in the future. I am holding her and wanting and knowing and hoping all at once. We are the ones who take this thing called music and line it up with this thing called time. We are the ticking, we are the pulsing, we are underneath every part of this moment. And by making the moment our own, we are rendering it timeless. There is no audience. There are no instruments. There are only bodies and thoughts and murmurs and looks. It’s the concert rush to end all concert rushes, because this is what matters. When the heart races, this is what it’s racing towards.
Reviewed at:
Everyday Reads, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Rhinoa’s Ramblings, The Zen Leaf, Reading Through the Night, All About {n}, Life in the Thumb, Out of the Blue, Jenny’s Books, A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, Into the Wardrobe

(Yours?)

47 comments:

  1. The movie was fine, not great, but I think if you'd read the book before seeing it (I hadn't), the differences to the book would be too annoying. Particularly the differences in the characters.

    I LOVE Before Sunrise! It's one of my desert island films - or, well, it's actually under debate now whether I'm keeping it or tossing it, because I've met State of Play since making my desert island list.

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  2. Have you seen Empire Records? That's set in one night... (as are many films/books but that one stands out because it sounds quite similar to N&NIP).

    I did love the first part of Paper Towns set during Quentin and Margo Roth Spiegelman's all-nighter :)

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  3. I haven't read this but I have seen the movie. It kind of fell flat with me but I was really sick and not really into anything at the time!!

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  4. I thought the movie sounded silly, but now I'm not sure. The book sounds really good!

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  5. VHS tapes! Goodness! A couple or so posts ago I was talking about tapes (the music kind).

    Glad you liked this.

    And I've seen the film version and glad I read the book first. It was just ok with me and mostly it's because of Michael Cera :)

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  6. I had no idea that the film was based on a book and I'm curious about the idea of multiple authors. When you say that the authors use two different viewpoints, does one write for one character and one write for the other? Or do they both write a consistent narrative together?

    I find your thoughts on the portrayals of instantly intimate relationships very interesting. We all know that the real work in a relationship comes after the honeymoon period but we still crave the fairy tale don't we?

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  7. I am so glad that you finally got around to reading this. I love that it is both playful and deep. It's hard to pull off.

    I agree with you 100% about romance movies (and books) not showing the real intimacy that follows people falling in love. Love is about seeing your partner at their best and worst, and usually we don't get that in films or novels. That would be an interesting list to compile, though, books that illustrate that. Hmmmm.....

    Also, OMG, love love love love before sunset & before sunrise (you've seen them both, yes?) *le sigh*

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  8. Tony and I watched the movie last year and HATED it. It was truly painful to watch - I hated all the characters and everyone seemed so vapid and insipid. I know plenty of people have enjoyed the book, but I have to think you would hate the movie too! I mean, I was obsessed with Before Sunrise when I was a teenager too, so it's not that you and I have disparate tastes!

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  9. I loved this book so much! Far better than their other. I'm glad you liked it too! And I agree with you on the makeout scenes!

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  10. Whenever I look at this book in the bookshops, High Fidelity comes to mind. Not because of any similarity in the story but because of music lists. When I read High Fidelity I added a bunch of songs to my iPod and I always though of Nick & Noah as another potential source of good recommendations.

    Do they talk about their favorite music? Why type of music is it?

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  11. I loved this one too! The characters, the music references, all of it. I saw the movie first (unfortunately) and didn't like it at all. So for those of you who have already seen the movie, the book is so different!

    Also love, love, loved Before Sunrise and I second the Empire Records suggestion. That was one of my favorite movies in high school.


    Here's my review...

    http://avidreader25.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-reviews_31.html

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  12. i seen film didn't realise was a book as well ,i enjoyed film i agree with claire empire records is good also singles from early ninties set in seatle around grunge ,all the best stu

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  13. That is a lot of "love it" recommendations. Yet another book I'll have to pick up! I watched the film and had no problem with it. It wasn't fantabulous, but I enjoyed it.

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  14. I haven't seen the movie either, but something makes me think I would much prefer the book over the movie. I am so glad that you liked this one, as I have been waiting to see a review, but until today, haven't. I think this would be a really interesting read for me, so I will be adding it to my list! Thanks, Nymeth!

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  15. Great review. I have had this one on my tbr list for a while now. I haven't watched the movie either, but I'm really thinking I should get to the book sooner rather than later!

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  16. OK, so as I'm reading your review, I am thinking in the back of my mind "Before Sunrise, Before Sunset"...two of my all-time favorite romantic movies (I think I like the second one a little better because they are damaged and seasoned and finally get together). Anyway, I got goosebumps when you mentioned it. I always viewed this book/movie as one of those movies. And any premise that links people through music has got to work. It was music that was the initial connection between my husband and I. I may need to earmark this one as a Read the Book/See the Movie.

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  17. Enjoyed reading your review! This looks like an interesting book because of the music connection and the similarity to 'Before Sunrise'. I loved 'Before Sunrise' and 'Before Sunset' - both such wonderful movies! I liked all the quotes you have given too - beautiful lines.

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  18. We have the movie waiting in our NetFlix queue... I always like to read the book first whenever I can. It sounds like exactly what I want to read right now.

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  19. I enjoyed this one much more than Naomi & Eli. (Mainly because I wanted to strangle those two!).

    http://bit.ly/cWU5yg

    Did you know they have another collaboration coming out this year?

    The movie's actually pretty decent as well.

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  20. I saw the movie first and quite enjoyed it, but I liked the book so much more.

    The passage you quoted is one of the things I loved most about the book-the way the authors were able to capture the feeling, the experience of music.

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  21. I haven't read this yet but I'm not at all surprised that you enjoyed it. ;) Sounds good!

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  22. and I had to sign in so I couldn't sub to comments.....so now i am

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  23. That does sound like a good book, you may have convinced me to give it a try :)I often don´t like to read teen relationship books, because they are often too romantic and dreamy.

    I´ve been thinking of watching the movie, Michael Cera is in it, so the music´s bound to be good :D

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  24. I enjoyed the movie, but I also don't know how it compares to the book. I love the soundtrack to the movie! I downloaded the whole thing to my iPod, which I had never done before and which I have not done since.

    I LOVE this phrase in your review: "that thrill you feel when you’re getting to know someone you suspect is going to matter a lot to you." YES YES YES. And really, it doesn't even matter if it's a romantic connection. I feel that way about girls I meet for friendship, too.

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  25. I have read way too many good reviews of this book to ignore it anymore. I do have Ely and Naomi’s No Kiss List which Melody sent me :)

    I might just watch the movie though, i'm too impatient

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  26. I've this book in my pile! Now I'll to move this book up after reading your review! :)

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  27. I feel very strongly that you should see the movie first (my review: http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com/2008/10/see-movie-first.html). Unless your curiosity is killing you, I wouldn't see it after reading the (much better) book.

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  28. I loved this book :) I watched the movie first and enjoyed both, but I'd say I liked the book more. It's the way it's written, I think :)

    (Review here.)

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  29. I haven't read the book but I really liked the movie--actually I emailed you right after I watched it several months ago. :) Not knowing what kinds of movies you like I'm not sure but I think if you liked the book you'd like the movie (although would it be tough watch them as separate pieces?). I loved the music connection in the movie and I loved the characters.

    I think I need to read Levithan!!

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  30. PS--scrolled through the comments quickly and saw reference to Empire Records. Yes, you need to watch.

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  31. I've been wondering whether I wanted to delve into this book and movie for a while. Based on your review, I'll definitely give the novel a go.

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  32. Another fellow lover of Before Sunrise here! :)

    This sounds so sweet. I really wanted to see the film when it came out and need to get it on DVD. I always look for those movies to find good music you know.

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  33. Great to read a nice thorough review of the book. I have been wondering about it since seeing the film. I was not impressed with the movie, partially because it doesn't compare with the brilliance of Juno, which came out not too long before it, and partially because, while it had nice moments, it wasn't the best of films. Makes sense that the book would have a bit more substance, even at 200 pages. Over the last few years I've come to really like stories set in a single night myself. More recent examples of ones I've loved are After Dark by Murakami and Enchanted Night by Steven Millhauser.

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  34. I liked the movie way more than the book. I was turned off by the numerous use of the f*bomb. if they had toned that down a bit then I am sure my enjoyment would've increased.

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  35. I never did see this movie and I still haven't gotten around to reading the book. I'm glad you liked it though!

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  36. I liked the movie a lot--sound like I need to read the book as well.

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  37. I want to read this now! Great review :)
    'that thrill you feel when you’re getting to know someone you suspect is going to matter a lot to you'<- I like the thought of that.
    I like the movie Before Sunrise too...and I still own several VHS tapes, I cant part with them.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  38. "I wanted a story about music, connections, and that thrill you feel when you’re getting to know someone you suspect is going to matter a lot to you – and that was exactly what I got."

    I need to read this. I admit to skimming the rest of your post, except for the reference to music lovers at the end, because I don't want to spoilt it if I read it sometime.

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  39. Thanks for a great review (as always). I haven't read the book but I do remember enjoying the movie. If you watch it let us know what you thought of it in comparison to the book.

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  40. I love both of those novels. And I could have sworn I reviewed Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, but I can't find it. :(

    Oh, Before Sunrise ... <3 <3 <#=3

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  41. I saw the movie but I haven't read the book. My guess is that it was dumbed down or simplified quite a bit ... but the bare bones of the story you described seem to be there. It would be interesting to see what you thought of the movie if you watch it.

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  42. Add me to the chorus of people who also love Before Sunrise (and Before Sunset)! I like those movies where people make a connection in a short amount of time. 'Once' is another good movie in the same vein. Like you however, this fondness juxtaposes weirdly with my desire to read / see more stories that show the amount of work that must go into a relationship in all of its stages.

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  43. I watched this movie a while back, and really liked it, but I was so dissatisfied with the ending it made me not want to read the book, unless I was sure that the ending was different.

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  44. I watched this movie a while back, and really liked it, but I was so dissatisfied with the ending it made me not want to read the book, unless I was sure that the ending was different.

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  45. I watched the movie a while back on a whim not sure I would like it. I was oddly mesmerized by the characters. I wonder if I would like the differences in the book or not.

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