Literary Mixtape: Richard Papen from 'The Secret History'


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: The Secret History‘s straight-man narrator, Richard Papen.

In Donna Tartt’s cult novel, small town classics scholar Richard Papen attends a prestigious rural Vermont college, where he meets five other eccentric youths. Bacchanals, murder, and dubious sexual encounters ensue. Richard is the straight-man of sorts in a group of bizarre characters — Camilla and Charles, the effervescent, secretive twins, the bouncing, boozy, bellicose Bunny, the refined, ominous Henry and the elegant, eccentric Francis. Richard just wants to fit in. That’s not to say he’s without his share of problems, or at least he seems to inherit some when he gets in with this crowd. The swirling snow and over-read, burgeoning adults conspire to create chaos and eventually murder, which leaves Richard both intrigued, desperate to be included, and horrified. As such, we think Richard would be into a little bit of sad-sack music, with a healthy spattering of the “cool” bands, and some ominous, moody music for the late, fraught nights. Here’s what we think he would fall in love, scheme, and find out the worst to.

Stream the full mix here.

“The Fox in the Snow” — Belle & Sebastian

A staple for any group of sad, troubled teenagers living in rural Vermont, this song is about being lost — “it’s not as if it’s fun / at least not anymore…”

“Look Up” — Stars

Although we’ve been told that only girls like Stars, we’re willing to bet that our Richard is sensitive enough to be into them. This song feels like the beginning of college, like meeting new friends, like half-falling in love with a wispy blonde, like finding a new home.

“Killer Parties” — The Hold Steady

The obvious titular joke aside, this song is about the letdown after a good time, the post-Bacchanal suicide Tuesday. We’re pretty sure Richard would identify with that. Plus all middle of the road hipster boys love the Hold Steady.

“It’s A Curse” — Wolf Parade

For glorifying dark deeds, the gruff sexiness of Wolf Parade.

“Twin Peaks” — Surfer Blood

Even these cooler-than-thou Greek scholars would need to take some time off to watch some television. Obviously, it would be cult early-’90s television created by David Lynch, because, well, they have to keep up appearances. And then they would need to listen to indie rock songs about it.

“Bad Bad Love” — Alexander Ebert

For wishing that girl would love him back. No matter that she’s sleeping with her brother.

“The Killing Moon” — Echo and the Bunnymen

Richard might find some sick satisfaction in listening to this group, but this ominous track could be the soundtrack to him and his friends running through the woods.

“Monologue About Bermuda” — Jonathan Richman

We think Richard would be into Jonathan Richman — the kind of safe, unapproachable artist that is quirky and weird yet no one can fault you for enjoying, because he’s just that awesome.

“Heart Is A Beating Drum” — The Kills

“A look of wild living / bound to crack…”

“Easy Way Out” — Elliott Smith

We couldn’t finish a playlist for a distressed youth in and out of deep despair without a little Elliott Smith. Plus, it seems like everyone is Richard’s life is always trying to escape by the simplest way possible. Bunny, Henry, Richard himself. It’s the way of confused teenage boys, we suppose.