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January 27, 2012

Book Notes - Keshni Kashyap - "Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary"

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Keshni Kashyap's graphic novel Tina's Mouth is aptly subtitled "An Existential Comic Diary." Written in the form of a school-assigned diary written to philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, the book follows a sophomore in high school through the ups and downs typical of the teenage years, but with the additional conflict that comes with being the progeny of immigrants to this country. Kashyap's Tina is relatable yet unique, a protagonist who grabs the attention of both teen and adult readers.

The book is more illustrated novel than graphic novel, and Mari Araki's simple yet elegant illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Kashyap's prose.

Tina's Mouth is the rare book I didn't want to end, and is a graphic novel I have tirelessly recommended to friends and family of all ages.

SF Weekly wrote of the book:

Instead of just charting the discoveries of a smart kid's adolescence, Tina's Mouth can make you feel them. This is familiar material, yes, but it's familiar the way of philosophy and pop songs can be: At their best, the breathless feelings dramatized by Kashyap and Araki might match up to a corresponding one in you — and then set it off like fireworks.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Keshni Kashyap's Book Notes music playlist for her graphic novel, Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary:

Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary which came out this month is a graphic novel written by me, Keshni Kashyap, and illustrated by my friend and collaborator, Mari Araki. The book is about a fifteen year old Indian American girl who attends a private school in Southern California. For an English Honors class in philosophy, she is given the assignment to keep an 'existential' diary. She addresses the diary to the dead French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and it becomes a treatise, of sorts, that charts her life and times during a particularly trying semester during her sophomore year of high school.

Music definitely played a large role for me in creating this book. I listened to music often – while writing, while working on the visual stuff with Mari, while spending endless hours in front of the computer. Maybe because I'm in my thirties and the protagonist is fifteen, I often found myself listening to songs that were the type of music that I would have loved in my teen years…music that captured the spirit of the book, which is young, sweet, joyful but also portends adulthood. To that end, I’ve compiled this list.

“Around the Bend” by The Asteroid Galaxy Tour

How can you not be happy listening to this song? Asteroid Galaxy Tour is a Danish band that just makes you want to be fifteen and drive illegally around L.A! Also, I love Scandinavia (I lived in Norway last summer) so I'm partial to the weirdness that is inherent to that part of the world and it comes across in these songs.

“And Then I Dreamt of Yes” by The Dandy Warhols

There are several songs by Dandy Warhols (mostly from their album Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia but also from Earth to the Dandy Warhols) that I have listened to non-stop while working on Tina's Mouth from the very beginning. I NEVER tire of this album. I can listen to it over and over and over. It seems to capture the spirit of this book in a deep, mysterious, inexplicable way. A lot of songs by the Dandy Warhols are also just really funny, such as "Bohemian Like You" about young love between two hipster vegans. "And Then I Dreamt of Yes," however, is more sad and makes me think of beautiful things from the past that are now gone. It’s exciting and painful at the same time. I particularly like the trumpet section towards the end.

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young

I wouldn't be able to do this sort of a list without adding "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" by Neil Young because it is featured so much in Tina's Mouth. It is a nearly perfect song, in my opinion. One of my favorite tiny lines from this book is when Su Ming tells Tina that you have to be a 'basically good person to love Neil Young.' I concur!

"The Brandenburg Concerto #2 in F" (Christopher Hogwood) by Bach

I was given this album by a friend who is a film composer, and it has become indispensable. Bach has always evoked pure joy in me, and this album is, indeed, pure joy! Concerto #2 is the pinnacle (in my opinion). Tina takes violin and I feel that the school that Tina goes to is the sort of school that instills an appreciation of classical music so it feels appropriate. The thing is, when I listen to the Brandenburg Concertos – in particular this piece - I have the same breathless feeling as when I listen to a head-banging, modern pop song.

“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” by Pearl Jam

Speaking of head banging rushes of a modern pop song….I'm going to age myself here and pick a Pearl Jam song. Hardly the most 'head-banging' of Pearl Jam songs (I think that the men's acappella group at Berkeley did a rendition of this one when I was a student), this song, with its quirky title, just makes me feel a whole smorgasbord of clichés, the most obvious one of which is saying good bye to a past self. The song brings up visceral feelings of being a student at Berkeley, going camping in some old mountain in Big Sur, driving around with my four best friends, getting drunk on cheap wine you carried for 14 hours in your backpack. But memories aside, it is just very evocative: 'I change by not changing at all.' It's the essence of being true to yourself which is probably what we were all discussing out there in those mountains anyways. It's also what lies at the heart of Tina's Mouth.

“Minor Swing” by Django Reinhardt

What a Franco-Belgian gypsy has in common with the Indian American Tina M., I don’t know. But, I love his jazz guitar and this piece, in particular, has male voices counting time and even cheering a little in it and you can just see a group of old gypsy guys playing guitars in Paris and drinking coffee and simply having a great time. There always seems to be a sense of humor in Django Reinhardt's music as well as a sort of sad whimsy.

“Aaye Bhairav Bholanath” by Cheb I Sabah

Cheb I Sabah is a famous North African DJ who specializes in Indian and Pakistani remixes. He has spun music on Tuesday nights at Nicky's BBQ in San Francisco for many, many years. In the meantime, he has put out a lot of albums, some to great critical acclaim. This album – called Devotion – focuses on Indian and sufi devotional music. This song is not one of his most famous ones, but I really love it. Like all of Cheb's music, it is at once dance-able and also mystical and takes you to a different state of mind.

"Paper Planes” by M.I.A.

How could I do a list like this without naming a song from Slumdog Millionaire?? I’m not a huge M.I.A. aficionado, but this song is both catchy and intriguing, perhaps due to the combination of a poppy, cheery tune with the locking and exploding of guns in the background, not to mention her menacing words about how she’s 'M.I.A. Third World Democracy.' For a while, I was at a writing retreat in upstate New York. I would go running everyday with my head phones and play this song and it really generated a lot of energy in me. Helped me run from scary upstate New York wild dogs.

"Bonnie and Clyde” by Serge Gainsbourg and Bridgette Bardot

I am a sucker for Serge Gainsbourg. Yes, he's a little sleazy and I don't think I agree with much of Bridgette Bardot's politics. But, there is just an energy to this song that simply makes you want to shut up, get up, dance and sip lillet! And, of course, there is the line in Tina's Mouth where Alex tells the winner of a French teacher that he looks like Serge Gainsbourg.

“A Flower is not a Flower” by Ryuichi Sakamoto

I learned of the plaintive piano music of Ryuichi Sakamoto by listening to Tom Schnabel's famous Sunday world music radio show on KCRW called Café LA. While many of the songs I have picked for this list have a sweet, fun quality to them, Ryuichi Sakamoto's music really evokes melancholia in me, plain and simple. It feels like the denouement of a sad, arty movie where the protagonist learns to accept disappointment as a way of life. For me, listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto is never an upper. Yet, on a good day, when the weather is just right, his music transports me.

“Firecracker” by Frazey Ford

Frazey Ford was one of the founding members of the Be Good Tanyas, and I love how her way of singing is so simple but also very unique and idiosyncratic. "Firecracker" is from her solo album, Obadiah. What is so interesting about this song is that it strikes a very particular balance - a girl who hasn't yet felt true, adult pain but she knows it's coming. I find it to be elegant and also evocative.

“Ego Trip by Nikki Giovanni” by Blackalicious

Nikki Giovanni's poem is set to music by Blackalicious and it’s one of my favorite songs on the generally awesome album Nia. I love Blackalicious and have been listening to them for a long time which means I have a lot of memories associated with their music. Being a spoken word song, however, this one doesn't really evoke memories, but I find that I listen to it often – I think because I like the words. They work on a lot of different levels.

Keshni Kashyap and Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary links:

the author's website
the book's website

A.V. Club review
BermudaOnion's Weblog review
BookDragon review
Hyphen review
Kirkus Reviews review
NYLON review
Republic of Brown review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Satia's Reviews review
SF Weekly review
Stories Are Good Medicine review
The Story Girl review
Tzer Island review

The Contextual Life interview with the author
Hero Complex interview with the author
India RealTime profile of the author
Nervous Breakdown interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists