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September 14, 2006

Book Notes - Pamela Ribon ("Why Moms Are Weird")

I have a litmus test for books featured in this Book Notes series. Every book (regardless of genre) sent my way gets read to the 100-page mark, and if I am not enjoying it, I move to the next. The books that I read from cover to cover get invited to submit a Book Notes playlist. Why Moms Are Weird passed the test from the first page.

I have to admit to not reading much fiction labeled "chick lit," but was actually looking forward to reading Pamela Ribon's Why Moms Are Weird. A friend had raved about her debut novel, Why Girls Are Weird, calling it "the perfect beach read, smart and funny." I was locked into Why Moms Are Weird from the first page, Ribon's family comedy captures the dynamics between Benny Bernstein, her sister, and her mother perfectly. Having two sisters and a mother myself, I could relate to the book, and it often had me laughing as I read the book in one sitting.

Ribon also coordinates the Dewey Donation System (one of my favorite causes), a charity that sends books to needy libraries.

In her own words, here is Pamela Ribon's Book Notes contribution for her novel, Why Moms Are Weird.

I don’t write a word of anything without something going on in the background. Usually it’s my iPod. I wrote Why Moms Are Weird during a number of late nights and weekends, sometimes after hours of writing for a sitcom, so I had to find a way to change my mental rhythm into something with a little less ba-dum-bum.

This is a novel about finding you’re nowhere near the smarty-pants you once thought yourself to be. As soon as you’ve got everything figured out, the world throws something at you to show just how dumb you really are. It’s about how a person in your life – a mother, a sister, a confidant, or a lover – is, at the basis of everything, just another human being. So the mistakes we make in life all add up to the things we do for love.

The main character, Benny, has the neurotic ability to make the entire world somehow be about her. A great song feels the same way. No matter what it was written for or whom it’s really about, the lyrics and the beat join forces to speak only to you. I love it when a song feels like something I’ve known my entire life, or when it conjures up a memory so vivid there’s no way the song and the moment could ever be severed.

My iPod is seven thousand electronic memories, and they’d often resurface while I was writing this novel, so some of the stories ended up in these pages. Some of the songs just keep me moving, and help keep things in perspective.

That being said, when I flip the pages of this book, here’s what it’d sound like if I could affix a mix tape to the words.

“Home Again” – Carole King

I must have been six, and I was in my mom’s bedroom, in the dark, as she was on her back, smoking a cigarette, listening to this song. I knew she was feeling profound sadness, and I swore to myself that I was always going to be there for her, to shelter her from anything that would make her that sad. And as I’ve grown up, the songs in Tapestry have taken on new meaning, and changed from songs that make me want to protect my mother to words that remind me to protect myself. Whenever I hear “Home Again,” it reminds me of the first moment my mother hugs me after we’ve been separated for a long time. I feel her exhale in my arms and everything will be okay.

“Idioteque” – Radiohead

It’s hard for me to have a favorite Radiohead song, but this one can really pull up all the yearning and passion in me and focus it somewhere. An instant mood changer, and by that I mean I feel all the moods, all at once. I think I somehow refrained from mentioning Radiohead in this novel, only because I referred to it in my last one. So instead, I made a dig at Coldplay. There you go, Thom. I love you.

“This Is Such A Pity” – Weezer

I couldn’t resist a Rivers Cuomo reference in the book, so I did it. And now he’s married, so the reference to him being celibate is outdated. I mean, I’m guessing he’s no longer celibate. It’s not like he’s telling me anything. But this song is about the anger two people in love can feel for each other, and how they’ll set the world on fire in order to make the other one feel anything like the rage they can feel at how much they hate how much they f*cking love each other.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler

If you ever want to see me dork out in public, it’s when I’m listening to this song. While it might be socially acceptable in a Karaoke setting, the fact that it still happens even when I’m listening to headphones means I’m both incapable of controlling myself in public, and I’m completely powerless to this song. “We’re living in a powder keg and givin’ off sparks!” Come on! That’s awesome. “Forever’s gonna start tonight!” It’s so on.

“La Dispute” – Yann Tiersen

This is from the “Amelie” soundtrack, something I play whenever I need to get out of my own head and into someone else’s. It feels like writing, to me. I don’t know how to explain that better. It takes me out of reality and into whatever world I’m trying to create. Also, when I saw “Amelie,” as the credits were rolling I turned around in the movie theatre to find every single person had paired off, and there were rows and rows of couples cuddled together, holding each other, watching the movie come to an end, happy to have shared that moment together when they remember the most beautiful things about love. I can only hope to write something one day that makes an audience feel something that powerful.

“Does He Love You?” – Rilo Kiley

Oh, this song. It gets better the more you hear it, because once you know the ending, you can hear all of the emotion in the earlier lyrics, the hints she gives at what’s going to happen. That’s when Jenny Lewis wails on the words that make it all so painfully pathetic. Getting wrapped up in a no-win situation when love is on the line – there’s nothing you can do but get hurt, and take the pain as something you deserve.

“The Denial Twist” – The White Stripes

I think I listened to Get Behind Me Satan about fifty times while I was working on this novel. While they’re playing their instruments, I’m playing the computer keyboard, and we’re all jamming together. This is because I drink about sixteen cups of coffee while I work, and a case of the jitters seems to go well with Jack White.

“Gotta Love You” – Samantha Mumba

I mention this song in the novel as one of those songs that you’d normally either hate or never notice, but when you hear it at the grocery store at a vulnerable time, you’re suddenly convinced the world has conspired to have you hear that song at that moment, so that you’ll buy it on iTunes and email it to the one who broke your heart. I read a review of this novel that said, “Who does that?” That’s when I’m like, “Just me? Oh. Sorry. Never mind.”

“Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson

I don’t want to live in a world where this song doesn’t exist. I’ve never seen a second of American Idol, and I was ignoring the hell out of it on pop radio, and somehow it ended up on my iPod and I heard it and then everything changed. You don’t need him, but you do. That concept comes up often in this book.

“Touch the Sky” – Kanye West

While I heard “Gold Digger” six thousand times last summer while I was writing this book, it was this song that I played over and over again, while I was driving to work, running on a treadmill, or procrastinating. Which I did. Often.

“Toxicity” – System of a Down / “Bullet In the Head” – Rage Against the Machine

There are two bands that put me in the Dark Place where the writing comes fast and furious. One day I was at my desk listening to “Toxicity,” lost somewhere in a chapter. I hadn’t noticed a co-worker had entered my office and was staring at me. When I looked up, he asked what I was listening to. I told him. “You looked scary,” he admitted. I like that.

“Square Dance” – Eminem

There seems to be a moment every time I’m listening to music with my sister that she ends up discussing how much she loves Eminem. In writing the sister character in this novel, I tried to keep her musical tastes in mind. While I think she leans a bit too country, she finds me a bit too “sad and whiny.” It’s an important dynamic between the sisters in the novel, even if their musical tastes aren’t discussed to that degree.

“This Modern Love” – Bloc Party

This song reminds me of John Hughes movies, where the best friends who might be perfect for each other if they’d just think about it for a second spend ninety minutes torturing each other because they’re so in love. Nowadays this concept is called “Chick Lit.” People often ask what I think about the moniker, particularly now that it’s become incredibly derogatory. I wonder what would happen if it could be called Modern Women’s Humor. You know, I think it’s the font on the covers. Why does Chick Lit need both italics and the flitty, thin font? Like it’s being whispered by a girl who giggles that she doesn’t know the first thing about cars or math. Anyway, Bloc Party. This song sounds like the unspoken love between two people who belong together but are afraid to find out what happens when they say it out loud.

“Not About Love” – Fiona Apple

At the beginning of the novel the main character has lost all faith in the concept of love. She has decided she will no longer wait on anyone, no longer change her plans for someone, or define her life by what another person sees in her. What gets frustrating for her after making this declaration is seeing this quality in her family members. Fiona’s always good for getting angry at love, or for wallowing in heartbreak to become stronger.

“The Luckiest” – Ben Folds

I can’t even write about this song or I will cry.

“You Go To My Head” – Billie Holiday

When love takes the form of a beautiful obsession, a fantastic distraction, there’s a pain that itches around your heart like mast cells to a wound. This song sings to it so well, it’s hard to listen all the way through without breaking down into the ugly cry.

“I Will Follow You Into the Dark” – Death Cab For Cutie

And then when you surrender to that love, there’s nothing you won’t do for it.

see also:

the author's website
the Dewey Donation System

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)