Literary Mixtape: Harriet the Spy


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 eponymous character from Louise Fitzhugh’s ’60s classic, Harriet the Spy.

11-year-old Harriet M. Welsch is a spy. Or, really, she’s a curious, precocious kid from New York City who wants to be a writer, and spends a ill-advised amount of time scribbling “observations” in her notebook about the people around her: cat fanatic Harrison Withers, teacher’s pet Marion and her followers, The Boy with Purple Socks, and even her best friends, Scout and Janie. Of course, Harriet’s friends find her notebook and, reading all these terrible (and probably too true) things about themselves, cast her out and form a “Spy Catcher’s Club” devoted to making Harriet’s life miserable. It’s only when she becomes editor of the school newspaper and retracts all her previous statements that her friends forgive her (plus they were pretty tired of hanging out with Marion anyway). As an 11-year-old girl, Harriet wouldn’t be into anything too heavy, but she is quite a bit ahead of her time, so we think she’d be into any kind of music that fed her spying and consoled her when she felt all alone. Here’s what we think Harriet would make her spy route rounds, lose her notebook, and get covered in ink to.

Stream the mixtape here.

“The Outsider” — Marina and the Diamonds

Not only would Harriet totally dig Marina’s sweet but slightly weird vibe, we think this song would make her feel a little bit better when everyone she knew was ostracizing her.

“Pablo Picasso” — Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

This was one of this writer’s all-time favorite songs when she was eleven (and yes, perhaps still). It has just the right amount of intellectual absurdity and gratuitous bad words to delight a precocious little girl.

“Spy” — They Might be Giants

They Might Be Giants is one of those bands that’s perfect for just about every age group there is. Goofy and fun, but still totally sneaky, we can imagine Harriet tiptoeing around corners with one earbud in, blasting this track. Spy! Spy! Spy! Spy!

“I Hate My Friends” — Sebastien Grainger

Half of this is a song about the kind of girl Harriet will inevitably grow up to be, and half of it is a song about the kind of girl she already is.

“Valerie Plame” — The Decemberists

Valerie Plame is just one of Harriet’s many alter egos. Obviously.

“Watching the Detectives” — Elvis Costello

Every precocious little New Yorker has at least a working knowledge of the Elvis Costello back catalogue. And for some reason, we think this song might just have some particular appeal to our Harriet…

“How to Save a Life” — The Fray

All else aside, she’s an 11-year-old girl whose friends all decide they hate her on the same day. This is some age-appropriate cry-your-eyes-out music. Not that she would.

“Undercover” — Kid ‘N Play

Because every 11-year-old likes Kid ‘N Play, no matter what year it is.

“Loser” — Beck

Yeah, we think Harriet’s definitely cool enough to be into Beck, even at her young age. She’d totally dig the wordy lyrics and slacker vibe, and hey, when all of your friends are giving you a hard time and you feel like a loser, there’s really nothing better.

“Secret Agent Man” — Devo

She’d have to be humming something to herself to make her feel better about hiding for hours scrunched up in a dumbwaiter. This song would probably do the trick.