Reviews > Published on November 11th, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Annotated Mixtape' by Joshua Harmon

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Annotated Mixtape

Who wrote it:

[Harmon] rides the fine line between self-aware and self-involved, which I'm sure he would argue is what young people do best.

Joshua Harmon, an essayist, playwright, poet, and novelist. His poetry collection Le Spleen de Poughkeepsie received the Akron Poetry Prize, and he has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. He teaches creative writing and American Literature.

Plot in a Box:

This collection of essays explores Harmon's past through the lens of his music collection. Each essay is named after a song, and he uses the music as a springboard to explore personal memories, political issues, and his sense of place in the world.

Invent a new title for this book:

Staring Out the Window on a Rainy Day

Read this if you like:

First person essays by your writing professors.

Meet the book's lead:

Young Joshua Harmon lives out a rather storied adolescence in Massachusetts. He falls for U2 before he falls for girls, takes walks in the rain, and spends his spare cash on records at a shop called Al Bum's.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

A young Tom Hiddleston or Cillian Murphy.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Small-town Massachusetts and New Hampshire? Sign me up.

What was your favorite sentence?

Like every teenager - though possibly to a greater extent than most - I walked through rainstorms until my sneakers squished, photographed the smokestacks and spires of my city at dusk, discovered the bottomless cup of coffee, wore out the horizon with watching.

The Verdict:

I found myself sighing and rolling my eyes an awful lot while reading this collection. It could be Harmon's prose or it could be the fact that so many of his clichés rang true. Mixtapes, penpals, coffee shops, vintage clothing, trench coats — the moody "alternative" persona too many of us thought we invented is presented in full view. He was born in 1971, and if you're in his age range, you know his landscapes, his pastimes, his hangouts. Harmon romanticizes that part of adolescence most people consider the best time of their lives, or the part they would most like to forget. He rides the fine line between self-aware and self-involved, which I'm sure he would argue is what young people do best.

Then there's the music. Or, as I think of it, The Collection. He may have attended some shows, but Harmon's relationship with music is overwhelmingly curatorial. The Collection serves as a reflection of who he is, or who he would like people to see. The entire chapter U2: Boy is about Harmon's love of, and collection building around, the band U2. True to form, when the band gains mass appeal, he sells his U2 collection. Groan. It probably goes without saying that The Collection is comprised of vinyl records. Harmon acknowledges other sound formats, cassettes in particular, but vinyl is the official collection, the true documentary evidence, of his personal journey.

Some things surprised me. I gasped out loud when Harmon revealed his dislike for the White Stripes. Really? Who doesn't like them? But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Harmon and I share similar feelings about that awful instrument the saxophone, i.e., the instrument that  ruined too many songs to count. Stylistically, The Annotated Mixtape has an oddball chapter — Shuggie Otis: "Aht Uh Mi Hed" - which is written mostly in footnote. 38 footnotes and a little text.

Seriously, professor?

About the author

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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