How the Mistakes Were Made: A Novel
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How the Mistakes Were Made: A Novel

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  222 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Laura Loss came of age in the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s. The jailbait bass player in her brother Anthony’s band, she grew up traveling the country, playing her heart out in a tight network of show venues to crowds soaked in blood and sweat. The band became notorious, the stars of a shadow music industry. But when Laura was 18, it all fell apart. Anthony’s own...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by St. Martin's Griffin
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Kelly Sundberg
This is one of the best books I've read all year. The story is engaging and moves along quickly. The main character, Laura Loss, is rendered heartbreakingly--the narrative feels like having direct access into the brain of a complicated, female who has been unjustly accused of "breaking up the band." What I enjoyed most, though, is that the book truly captures the zeitgeist of 90's grunge. As a teen of the 90's, as well as someone who grew up in the West, I couldn't help but draw parallels betwee...more
Really closer to two and a half stars. Points added for relatively non-cheesy treatment of the music and the music scene, points subtracted for never making me believe in the love story and for the single worst sentence I have ever read in a sex scene.
How the Mistakes Were Made aims high: document from the inside out two nascent punk scenes--DC hardcore in the early '80s and Seattle grunge in the '90s--through the lens of a single person who experiences both. Two things stood out: Laura Loss, the main protagonist, is a tough customer. She does a lot of things that make hier difficult to like but she's rendered in a way that it's impossible not to empathize with her. Second, McMahon can flat out write. Band books are hard and McMahon double do...more
How the Mistakes Were Made by Tyler Mcmahon is the story Laura Loss as well as the punk music scene in Seattle in the 1980s-90s. The story of Laura is vividly told, that of the music scene itself functions more of a background and is given less detail than I would have liked. However, the writing is crisp and flows easily.

The story is told in the first person (Laura's) point of view. As a young teen, Laura was a part of her brother's band. The music industry is strongly described in some of thes...more
I won this book for free through a Goodreads giveaway...

Just started reading this last night. Quick impression, I like Laura. The tone, and narrative up to this point have kept me intrigued, I'm really curious about what's going to happen to this gang of mistfits.

I was slightly confused when the story initially jumped to the SCC storyline, but it only took one jump for me to figure out what was happening and now that I get it I like the idea of seeing what's happening with The Mistakes, and what...more
Larry Hoffer
I'm guessing that I love to read books about bands or the music industry because I'm such a huge music fan. Novels like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad or Tom Perrotta's The Wishbones, or nonfiction like Peter Guralnick's books about Elvis, including the terrific Last Train to Memphis, have an added appeal because music truly captivates me. Tyler McMahon's How the Mistakes Were Made is a great addition to this genre, a tremendously compelling (if not entirely original) look at the po...more
Kelly Hager
When she was a teenager, Laura was part of an indie punk band in DC (SCC). They achieved no small measure of notoriety but it ended badly after some mysterious incident that destroyed her brother (also in the band). A decade later, she's still playing music but now in Seattle. She becomes part of a grunge band, The Mistakes, that takes the country by storm. It's all fantastic until The Mistakes implodes like nobody's business and Laura becomes the most hated woman in music since Yoko Ono. This b...more
Laura Loss was in her brother's punk rock band, Second Class Citizens (SCC), in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the band and they broke up. It's now the early 1990s and Laura is living in Seattle working as a barista in a coffee shop and playing bass in a little band called Cooler Heads. She meets Nathan and Sean, two young aspiring musicians who live in Montana, at a Cooler Heads show. They are huge fans of SCC and Laura offers to help them if they ever find themselves in Seattle...more
This review originally ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:

It may be hard for someone who bought a copy in 1991 to believe, but Nirvana’s Nevermind turned 20 in September. To mark the occasion, the band’s surviving members gave the album the full commemorative treatment, releasing a trove of archival material to satiate the faithful. And they’re not the only ones: Pearl Jam is celebrating its own 20-year anniversary with a similar merchandising victory lap.

Laura Loss used to be the bass player for Second Class Citzens (SCC). A band that Laura’s brother, Anthony and his friends formed. That was years ago before the fans turned on them.

Now, Laura works at a coffee shop and bassist for the Cooler Heads. It was during one of the Cooler Heads shows that Laura first met Sean and Nathan. Laura tells Sean and Nathan that if they ever want to get serious about their music than give her a call.

Months go by before Laura receives that call. Soon afterwards,...more
Sabrina Edgington
When I downloaded this book, I was pretty skeptical. It goes back and forth between a woman's experience in the 80's hardcore punk scene and the 90's seattle grunge seen. The book is one of those that have a "strong female lead." Her band, SCC, an 80's hardcore band from DC has become kindof legendary in this fictional underground punk scene; like Minor Threat status. Every other chapter references events during the 80's that lead to a tragedy involving her brother (and front man for SCC)who was...more
Kelly Sundberg
This is one of the best books I've read all year. The story is engaging and moves along quickly. The main character, Laura Loss, is rendered heartbreakingly--the narrative feels like having direct access into the brain of a complicated, female who has been unjustly accused of "breaking up the band." What I enjoyed most, though, is that the book truly captures the zeitgeist of 90's grunge. As a teen of the 90's, as well as someone who grew up in the West, I couldn't help but draw parallels betwee...more
I won this on First Reads.

I enjoyed this book so much. I so desperately wanted to write a proper review that highlights what I feel makes it so great, but I can't seem to do anything other than gush about how much I liked it.
And then I realized that the reason why I was having such a hard time talking about the book is that it had become part of my relationship with music. I had taken this wonderful story and internalized it into something that is so much a part of me, that I can't extricate i...more
Oct 17, 2011 Shauna rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Christy
Shelves: first-reads
I won this on a Goodreads Giveaway. I just stated it last night. So far, intriguing. I just finished reading Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire and have been visualizing Laura in much the same way I visualze Lisbeth. Haven't decided if this is a good or bad thing.

This book was like reading a script for "Behind the Music". It would really help if you could have some early '90's music playing softly in the background. You know, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc. This would definately set the moo...more
Someone asked me recently what this book is about. I said it's about a band called The Mistakes and how they were made. At the time I'd only just started it and to me it was nothing more than a clever title. But having finished I now realize it's much, much more. On the surface it is indeed the story of a band formed from the ashes of 80s underground hardcore and in the fledgling days of the Seattle grunge scene. But digging deeper it's a story of family, love, and loss. McMahon takes his reader...more
Carol  MacInnis
I won this book from a contest on Goodreads.

Laura began her career as a punk rocker in the early 80's in a band called SCC along with her older brother Anthony. But the unfortunate demise of the band ended when Anthony's own fans destroyed him.Laura would never let go of this.

The novel takes place in the early 90's when Laura Loss meets two guys from Montana, Sean and Nathan. The two were playing on stage at a bar and recognized Laura. When they went over to meet their idol, Laura gave them some...more
The novel is the story of the rise and ultimate demise of the fictional grunge band called the Mistakes. We see it through the eyes of Laura Loss, who in the 80’s was in a successful band in with her brother. Now in the 90’s, she is a barrister in a coffee shop and meet two best friends who convince her to start a new band.

This is more than a story about the underground music scene and the struggle to make it big time. Tyler McMahon has captured the essence of the music scene and the grittiness...more
I do love this book, and I didn't know that until halfway through. At first I dreaded some kind of generic retelling of the grunge scene I grew up next to, but it did not dwell on any of tired old adages and it did not disappoint in its dedication to the kind of youth, energy, carelessness and culture that creates an underground scene and how that scene gets exposed to the garish light of the 'real world.'

It has that pervasive book world that sticks with you 3 days after you finish it. You keep...more
I didn't think I would make it four days in a row with a book read, but I did. I have not read a book with a music backdrop in awhile and I know I will be reading another soon. McMahon's tale takes me back to the early 90's and the music that was hitting it big at the time. All eyes were on Seattle and it was fun to hate Courtney Love and blame her for Kurt's death.
I wasn't sure how I felt about Laura at first. She seems to just be drifting, but as the story goes along, you get the sense why. I...more
A bittersweet story about a musician, Laura Loss, and her band, The Mistakes, at the beginning of the grunge scene of 1990's Seattle. Tyler McMahon, the author writes this story with a clarity and a verite that the book reads as memoir, rather than fiction.

As The Mistakes' stardom rises, Laura's relationship with her bandmates evolve and is quickly complicated by a romance with Sean, the genius guitarist. In the end, like many of the grunge stars of the nineties, Laura's story doesn't exactly h...more
Julie F
I would recommend this book to anyone who was into punk rock in the 80s and the grunge scene in the 90s.

The author does a great job of navigating the confusion of many indie rock fans when grunge/Nirvana hit it big. Was it ok to make money or do the big label windfalls undermine the music?

I thought it was interesting that the main addiction issue in the book was alcohol. In my version of the grunge 90s the scenesters were dropping like flies from heroin addiction.

It is so rare to read a book ab...more
Sarah Altmann
I got this book from FirstReads and really enjoyed it. It's a chronicle of the rise & fall of a grunge band in Seattle. Narrated by Laura, the drummer (and the one who the press/fans blame for the fall of the band), her side of the story is interspersed with vignettes of another band she was in that led to the destruction of her older brother. Typical rock plot points abound: booze, drugs, selling out etc., but the writing and the language are superb. You can see how the story is likely to e...more
Misty Wright
I won this book as a first reads giveaway and really enjoyed it. It details the rise and fall of a Seattle grunge band in the early nineties. One of the members had previously been a member of a successful hardcore punk band in her youth, and the book goes back and forth from that band's origination in the eighties to the story of the present band. This book goes through the highs and lows of the bands and the relationships within them. I thought it was a really interesting way to tell the story...more
John Luiz
A great story about a woman, Laura Loss, who plays a pivotal role in two bands at the forefront of two major movements in rock history – hardcore punk and Seattle grunge. MacMahon does a great job of giving an insider’s look at the music scene. The main story is about how Laura hooks up with two musical prodigies to form a grunge band, The Mistakes. The back story is about her younger days as the little sister of a pioneer punk rocker. In both cases, Laura has to deal with the self-destructive i...more
Tiffany Hickox
As a music afficianado, I was pleased to receive this book. It follows a band that is signed to an indie label during Seattle's infamous grunge scene after which they immediately begin touring and ultimately break up. The female drummer, Laura, who was also a member of the revered 80's hardcore punk band SCC, is blamed by the world for the bands demise. The story is told after the fact from Laura's point of view.

The chapters alternate between first person narrative as Laura tells "how the mistak...more
Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. Fast paced and frenetic as the music it's based around, this book is beautiful, perfect (and perfectly flawed), and absolutely heartrending. If you are or ever were a real, genuine fan; if a lyric or bass line ever shook you all the way to your soul and pulled your body inside out; if you ever cared even an inch about the fates of your fallen heroes... this book is absolutely for you. Oh man.
This was a fast read. It was full of fast-paced action, drama, rowdiness, and music. I really enjoyed Laura being the narrator, but I liked how Mcmahon switched it up and let the reader feel like he/she was part of the story when it came to the flashbacks. The story is good and it encompasses the roller coaster rides of bands that shoot into stardom and fame overnight.

I read this on my beach vacation, totally worth it! I highly recommend it if you want a good, fast, and interesting read.

The dr...more
Given that I loved in the Pacific Northwest during the time of grunge, this book felt vaguely like I was reading the diary of a friend. A sad, sordid diary, but familiar nonetheless. Not for everyone--there's swearing, sex, and the seedy side of the music industry but told from a female voice so interesting. And made me want to dig out a flannel and listen to some Pearl Jam.
I won this book through the website. It is an uncorrected proof edition. I thought this book was great. I loved the writing style and found that I couldn't stop reading it. It was a very interesting topic and kept me interested. I would recommend this book for sure and will be ledning it to my fellow book club members with a high recommendation.
Mysti Zumach
For sure a wild hair-brained ride, intrigued from the first page and loved Laura's punk rock attitude and voice. I became invested in the characters and had to know what would happen next. Writing is spot-on, well-paced, well structured. Super fun read that kept me up late at night. I knocked it out in a week.
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Tyler McMahon was born and raised in the Washington, DC area. He studied English at the University of Virginia and received an MFA in fiction writing from Boise State University.
He's the author of the novels How the Mistakes Were Made (2011) and Kilometer 99 (2014).
He lives in Honolulu with his wife, food writer Dabney Gough. Tyler teaches classes in Writing and Literature in the English Departme...more
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