Author Playlists

Daisy Florin’s Playlist for Her Novel “My Last Innocent Year”

“I knew when I set out to write a novel set on a college campus in the late 1990s that I would draw inspiration from music.”

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Daisy Florin’s novel My Last Innocent Year is a stunning debut that eloquently captures late ’90s college life.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

“Lands like a refreshing, deep breath… My Last Innocent Year is a heartfelt chronicle of a writer who realizes that her stories about girls with feelings matter every bit as much as the ones written by the guy who annotates The New Yorker.”

In her own words, here is Daisy Florin’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel My Last Innocent Year:

I knew when I set out to write a novel set on a college campus in the late 1990s that I would draw inspiration from music. Even the title, My Last Innocent Year, comes from a song by ’90s singer/songwriter Jonatha Brooke (more about that below). The novel follows Isabel Rosen during her final semester at Wilder College in New Hampshire, as she grapples with the truth of what it means to be a grown up. This playlist–an expanded version of which you can find on Spotify–leans heavily on ’90s tunes but also includes modern songs that capture the wistful feeling of remembering your youth and wondering how you got from there to here.

Right Through You by Alanis Morissette

I was surprised to see that Jagged Little Pill came out in June 1995, the month I graduated from college, because in my memory it was a key part of my college experience. But alas, no. Regardless of the timing, Alanis’s scorching album tapped into something I didn’t know I needed when I was 22. It was female anger packaged for female listeners, and I was all in. I probably didn’t focus much on this song at the time, but I recently heard it during (of all things) a Peloton ride and knew I had to include it. While I don’t have a Professor Connelly of my own, there are men in my past–older men, men who knew better–to whom the lyrics might apply.

Water With the Wine by Joan Armatrading

This track, from Joan Armatrading’s self-titled 1976 album, wasn’t exactly popular in the ’90s, but I remember hearing it as a college student and loving it. The upbeat orchestration contrasts perfectly with a song about a, shall we say, questionable sexual encounter. Its lyrics reflect, perhaps, an earlier generation’s feelings about such encounters, placing them in the context of bad decisions and a promise to do things differently next time. At one point in the novel, Isabel, who is struggling to understand a sexual encounter of her own that did not feel entirely consensual, plays the song while getting ready to meet friends for a night out.

The Life You Chose by Jason Isbell

When I first heard this song from Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free, I felt like he was talking to me. The idea that someone from your youth, who remembered you from days when “you were reading The Bell Jar” might know you better than someone from your proper grown up life resonated deeply. And who among us (over the age of 40, that is) isn’t “a victim of nostalgia” who might be tempted to “throw your life away”?


I had completely forgotten about this song until a friend sent it to me. Ubiquitous in the late ’90s, it was a staple at parties and college bars. And, like many things from that time period, it is firmly a relic of the past; none of my three teenage children had ever heard it. Big sigh. In any case, I dare you to play it and not tap your toes. 

Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Ray

This song, from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrman’s film The Great Gatsby, came out in 2013, the year I turned 40, which accounts, perhaps, for my obsession with it and its central lyric: “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” Nothing sums up, for me at least, what’s at stake as we grow older. 

Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover by Sophie B. Hawkins

Later in the novel, Isabel goes to a party at Agora, a co-ed Greek house she calls “the most subversive thing about Wilder College.” When this song comes on, her friend Debra grabs another woman’s hand and pulls her onto the dance floor. A male classmate watches the two women dance lasciviously. “I forgot this was why some straight boys came to Agora,” Isabel observes, “because they thought the girls who partied there were kinky.” “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” isn’t really a great song to dance to, but I can picture all the girls on the dance floor shouting along to that very excellent chorus.

Fuck and Run by Liz Phair

Before Alanis, there was Liz Phair. But unlike Alanis, who hit the top of the charts, Liz felt like a dirty secret passed among friends. It is hard to convey just how shocking Phair was to someone like me: I wasn’t a prude, but she blew my everloving mind. This song, about waking up after a one-night stand and wondering “What ever happened to a boyfriend?” perfectly captured the feeling I had as a young woman of simultaneously wanting to exert my sexual agency while also wanting “all that stupid old shit/like letters and sodas.” I suspect Isabel wants the same thing. Also, for someone who thought it wasn’t worth doing anything if you didn’t do it perfectly, Phair showed me that there was more to creative expression, that you could actually get by on the sheer power of your ideas. Imagine that.

Shotgun Down the Avalanche

Shawn Colvin broke out in a big way with her album A Few Small Repairs, which cleaned up at the 1998 Grammys, but I loved her long before that. This song, from her 1989 album Steady On about a faltering relationship, was the go-to track after a breakup. I remember once, after a particularly bad one, driving my father’s Honda Accord from New Hampshire to Manhattan, this song on repeat, as I sobbed the whole way down I-91.

Silent All These Years by Tori Amos

Amos’s music, which I listened to obsessively in college, was rooted in the female experience in a way most music at the time wasn’t. This song, about finding your voice, spoke to me on a foundational level as I struggled to find a way to communicate my thoughts both publicly and privately. “I got something to say you know but nothing comes” pretty much sums up late adolescence for me. 

Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police

You know I had to include this track, the classic teacher-student affair song, written at a time when such relationships were cast in a very different light than they are today, especially when Sting is the teacher in question. And the lyrics! “Wet bus stop, she’s waiting. His car is warm and dry.” An entire novel compressed into eleven words, one I’d read in a heartbeat.

Give me one reason

I’ve always loved this song from Tracy Chapman’s 1995 album New Beginning. A line from it–”this youthful heart will love you”–inspired the original title for the novel before it was replaced with My Last Innocent Year. It still plays a cameo role though: it’s the title of the short story Isabel is writing for Professor Connelly’s class, the story that ultimately becomes her debut novel.

right where you left me by Taylor Swift

No question: I would have been a Swiftie in college. This song, about being unable to move on from a love affair, might describe (spoiler alert) how Isabel feels at the end of the novel when she has, on paper, moved on from her affair with Professor Connelly, but we can see the ways in which she is stuck in the past. “Everybody moved on/I stayed there, dust collected on my pinned-up hair.” And to those who think she should get a life, the following may apply: “They expected me to find somewhere/Some perspective, but I sat and stared/Right where you left me.”

Last Innocent Year

I like to say there’s a microgeneration of ’90s women who loved Jonatha Brooke, me among them. I first started listening to Brooke in the early 90s when she was part of a duo called The Story. She went solo in 1994, and her music became the soundtrack of my 20s. “Last Innocent Year” is from her 1997 album Ten Cent Wings, and while there’s nothing in the lyrics that makes it clear it’s a young woman singing about an older lover, I just have that feeling. 

I Wish I Could Go Back To College from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Avenue Q

This song might seem like a strange choice to end this playlist, but go with me here. When I first heard this song in 2003, I had just turned 30 and was starting to feel the pull of time, that despite how young I still felt, there were many, many people younger than me. This feeling would not change. There are so many lines in this song–about starting out in the world and wishing you could return to the safe harbor of your college years–that ring true for me, but perhaps the most powerful is the simplest: “I wish I had taken more pictures.” It is possible I wrote a whole novel about college because I didn’t take enough pictures. 

Daisy Alpert Florin attended Dartmouth College and received graduate degrees from Columbia University and Bank Street Graduate School of Education. She is a recipient of the 2016 Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College and was a 2019–20 fellow in the BookEnds novel revision fellowship, where she worked with founding director Susan Scarf Merrell. A native New Yorker, Florin lives in Connecticut with her family. My Last Innocent Year is her first novel.

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