Emily and I often agree about books, but one where we didn’t was NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, the first Rachel Cohn – David Levithan collaboration, which became a movie with Michael Cera. Emily liked this a lot more than I did, and I’ll let her say why, but one reason I didn’t is that Rachel Cohn’s chapters in particular, especially early on, felt way too self-conscious.* I should have loved it — it’s all about my life! They even had a character from Emily’s and my high school (Hunter from Hunter)! — but it just felt like name-dropping to me.
And I think one reason is that even though it was supposed to be So Very New York, it didn’t really capture New York as I experience it. (Possibly this is because I was not really connected to the private school scene, but hey; there are reasons I’m grateful for that, and some of them I was reminded of reading this book.) What makes New York what it is, for me, is not the fact that you can apparently go see stripping nuns at 3 AM in midtown should you so desire. It’s littler stuff.
Like, Emily and I and everyone else we know from high school all had a problem when we got to college and realized that for normal people, interrupting them is not a sign of enthusiastic engagement with what they’re saying. It’s just… rude. And instead of riffing off our interruption to escalate the intensity of their storytelling, they would politely fall silent and wait for us. It was terrible! We started interacting with others and realized we were all That Guy.
Since I moved to Madison two and a half years ago, I recognize New York less by seeing its absence in other people than by seeing it lacking in myself. Like, when I was home for Christmas I found myself waiting for the light to change to cross the street in the second place, and doing so on the actual curb instead of a third of the way into the street in the first place. It’s like I don’t even know myself!
So how would you guys want a book set in New York to establish its world? Any you think do it particularly well?
Bonus question: How would you convey being in Madison? The only kids’ book I can think of set around here is Betty Ren Wright’s THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS, which I like for a lot of reasons. Here’s how I would start setting a book in Wisconsin: with the observation that my entire state suffers from a bizarre conceptual difficulty. You’ll hear even the most intelligent and thoughtful of Madisonians say things like, “…a high of -12.” Am I the only one who sees that -12 degrees is, by definition, not high?!
* ReviewerX, whose reviews I generally quite enjoy, agreed with me on Cohn’s early chapters being particularly weak, and has a pretty funny review dramatizing one complaint I didn’t have — maybe because I, too, curse like a motherfucker.