Book Review: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006)

nick and norah's infinite playlist

I’ve been pretty scattershot with my book reading choices these days. I’ve given up on the pre-planned Ambitious Reading Lists this year and have just been grabbing things willy nilly from the ol’ to-read pile and my growing collection of Kindle ebooks. In the case of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which I’ve had in a bin for three or four years, it jumped to the front of the pack for one simple reason: it’s short.

Back in 2009, my wife and I checked out the film based on this book co-written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I dug it and when I saw a copy of the novel on sale for a few bucks, snatched it up. But, I knew nothing about it going in, so the fact that the book is actually split between two POVs was a surprise. Basically, Nick gets a chapter, then Norah gets one written by Levithan then Cohn respectively.

The story itself finds Nick, a bass player in a band playing in New York City, asking a stranger to be his pretend girlfriend for five minutes so his ex won’t think he’s a lonely loser. As it happens, the girl is none other than Norah, a young woman who’s also recently broken up and trying to figure her life out. The two weave in and out of each others’ lives for the rest of a long NYC night filled with bands, secondary characters, exes, cab rides, burlesque nuns, Yugos and failed sexual advances as told by the two primary members of this burgeoning couple.

I really enjoyed the back and forth nature of this book and how it relates to relationships. From a writing perspective, it was nice to see each writer give the character such a unique and personal-feeling voice even if Norah gets a little Juno-y at times. But the approach also works well from a storytelling perspective. Obviously, in the real world, you only have your own experiences to go on, so it’s fun in fiction to explore this kind of story where you’re living the same events through two different, very articulate brains. While the movie got more into the adventure of the night by way of finding their favorite band Where’s Fluffy? and a few other devices, this one just gets into their heads and rides out the evening.

Aside from the dual narration and dual authorship, I was surprised by how graphic the book is. I wouldn’t say it’s lude or anything like that, but it’s filled with F bombs and a wide spectrum of sex talk. I wasn’t offended by any of this, mind you, it just wasn’t what I was expecting from a young adult book. Then again, I’ve had very little experience in that realm since I stopped reading Christopher Pike books.

I was also surprised with how the movie informed my reading of this book and at times worked against me. The filmmakers nailed it when they hired Kat Dennings. My mental concept of the actress perfectly reflected this character in my mind. In fact, her 2 Broke Girls character seems even more in line with Norah than my memory of the film. But, Michael Cera as Nick just wasn’t working for my brain. He’s described as tall, dark haired, disheveled and kind of muscular. It wasn’t until I finished the book that an actor really came into play in my head to fill the Nick role: a young, lean Jason Segel with the intensity he brought to the role of Nick on Freaks and GeeksOddly, when Norah’s ex Taj came into the picture, I was kept thinking of Superbad-era Martin Starr because I thought he played the part in the film, but it was really Jay Baruchel.  

Anyway, I not only enjoyed the tale told within the pages of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but also appreciate the reading momentum it gave me. It seems like I start and lose interest in books pretty quickly, even if it’s something I really want to read by a favorite author, but finishing a book always makes me want to read another. I’m hoping I can ride this wave back into Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and finish that sometime this month. We’ll see though, I’m always getting distracted by something whether it be a trade or Candy Crush.

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