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July 20, 2006

Book Notes - Ned Vizzini ("It's Kind of a Funny Story")

When I tallied my favorite books from the first half of 2006, I was amazed not only at the amount of young adult fiction I had read, but also its overall quality. Where once teens only read about wizards and mysteries, authors like Michelle Tea, Frank Portman, and Ned Vizzini offer new and interesting insights into teen life, warts and all.

Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story follows its Brooklyn protagonist from his high pressure high school academic life and shady friends into an adult psychiatric ward. Depression is a serious topic, but the book is refreshingly funny as Craig attempts to deal with his problems. Vizzini's own time in a psychiatric hospital makes the writing believable and incredibly personal.

In his own words, here is Ned Vizzini's Book Notes essay for his book, It's Kind of a Funny Story:

Here's the playlist for Book Notes essay for his book, It's Kind of a Funny Story:

Soundgarden - The Day I Tried to Live
Well, if you're depressed, you're trying to live every day. And you make all these promises to yourself that today will be different, but then you fall back into some crap and you find yourself sleeping too late. Chris Cornell is a pretty depressed guy, clearly (I can't confirm or deny the ubiquitous drug rumors) and when he wants to tap that vein, he knows how. "Doesn't Remind me of Anything" by Audioslave is a nice counterpart to this.

The Wowz - Happy Today
I hate for the second band on the list to be one that people probably haven't heard of (hello Pitchfork) so I'll introduce the Wowz -- they're a folky acoustic duo on Recommended if You Like Records. "Happy Today" is as simple as Afroman's "Because I Got High" and has a much better message. I don't know if it's my job to specify which songs go with which parts of my book, but this works nicely with the end of It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth
This is a beautiful and hopeful song about starting over. I know that too much has been said about this band so I'll tell a story. I am working on a new book called Rocco Cracker. The titular character is a bass player and I wanted him to have a short stint in CYHSY when the actual bassist gets in a Vespa accident. I was thinking I could write the band into the novel with their permission--pretty much everyone in Brooklyn knows those guys and I could definitely ask. Of course the standard thing to do is to come up with a fake name suggestive of "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah," but I thought that was lame and had been done to death--putting in the actual name would be more contemporary. Then Todd Zuniga of Opium Magazine suggested I call the band in the novel Slap Your Knee and Say Ouch. I immediately begged for permission to use his idea, got it, and went forward with the story. He will be thanked in the special thanks at the front of the book.

Weezer - December
This is an old favorite, as is Weezer itself. It wasn't a hit but it's Rivers, which is always quality. Rivers Cuomo clearly has a lot of problems and I'm not sure if depression is one of them but it certainly could be responsible for his decision to live in LA and not have a car. "December" has been described as a souped-up prom theme (, and I'm paraphrasing); the lyrics "Only trust can inspire / Soggy lungs to breathe fire" always got to me. Goes with the "Day I Tried to Live" pick-yourself-up-and-try-again mentality.

Ben Kweller -- Commerce, TX
I hate songs whose titles have nothing to do with the lyrics (EXCEPT Nirvana) and I wish that Kweller had named this after it's chorus: "It's gonna take / A lot of time / Before I can cross that finish line." "Finish Line" or "Lot of Time," whatever. When you're 80 pages into a novel and it doesn't seem like it'll ever get done, this is a great song to listen to. From his 2002 work.

Scissorfight -- Jaggernaut.
Well this just kicks ass. The best kind of stoner rock. And it came out in 2006. And it deserves your support. The singer is named Ironlung, the band has been around since 1995. I suppose I could connect it to IKOAFS because of the, uh, stoner rock thing. There's a fair amount of pot in my books.

Bongzilla -- 666lb Bongsession
Any Bongzilla song will really do, but this one has the most fantastic title. On their seminal 2002 album Gateway, Bongzilla has two different track listings (good job, guys) so it's not even clear precisely which song this is, but I'm pretty sure it's the one with eight minutes of crushing riffs with bong rips over it. Bongzilla, like Scissorfight, has been around for a decade with a dedicated following.

Eminem -- Love You More
A lot of my writing covers bad relationships, and when I consider the trials and travails of my current love, I always turn back to Eminem and Kim. A crazy woman (Jim Morrison and Pam, Catullus and Lesbia) can be a great inspiration, and while most people would favor the shocking "Kim" from The Marshall Mathers LP, this cut from the far inferior Encore album has the line "But at least we know that we share this common bond / You're the only one I can f*ck without a condom on." That's it precisely!

Nusrat Fateh Ali-Khan - any
This guy, who's been dead for almost ten years, was played out by Pearl Jam in the mid-90s when he adopted a sort of Ravi Shankar role for the band, particularly Eddie Vedder. If you've never listened to it, or you were turned off initially by the throat singing, you need to check it out again--it's like nothing else. This isn't really related to the Umm Kulthum music that Craig gets for Muqtada in IKOAFS, but I'm a stupid American--they're all Asians, right?

Miles Davis -- Ife
This cut is off of Big Fun. My book is about a crazy person, and this music is crazy. The sound of a brain Cycling, although I couldn't say if Miles is depressed or not.

see also:

The author's website
The author's Livejournal
The author's Myspace

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)