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Adam Levin's exclusive essay about The Instructions

A scrappy young character from a Chicagoan's debut novel tells us how to start a successful uprising in five easy steps.


WHAT Adam Levin’s debut novel, The Instructions
WHEN Oct 22

Adam Levin’s debut novel, The Instructions, is a 1,100-page epic about a ten-year-old Chicago kid who is booted out of just about every school in town for fighting and insurrection. Young Gurion Maccabee ends up in “The Cage,” a wing of Aptakisic Junior High for troubled kids, and eventually leads a revolution. We had Levin craft a five-step manifesto in Gurion’s voice. The result also happens to be a solid primer for The Instructions.—Jonathan Messinger


THINK SMALL. Don’t think too much, if at all, about uprisings. Bind yourself to human beings. Have good friends and fall in love. Girl or boy, you need to learn good jokes and how to kiss well. Tell your jokes, use your kissing skills generously, protect your friends and the person you’re in love with. When I fell in love with June Watermark in Brodsky’s office, the last thing on my mind was starting an uprising, and yet, had I not fallen in love with June, there never would’ve been any Damage Proper, let alone any Gurionic War.


THINK BIG. If you think small, as described in Step 1, others will also, and the world will move that much closer to perfection. Better jokes will develop, better kissing will ensue, and justice will spread. You might not be the messiah, but you can help bring him.


EMBRACE ENMITY. Anyone who gets in the way of justice is a villain. Villains are, by nature, your enemies, and enmity is always reciprocal. Keep this straight: To be the enemy of villains is not just a “necessary evil.” To be the enemy of villains is good. Coach Desormie, for instance. The way he’d always make the girls who wore spandex sit in front during stretches. How could being his enemy be other than good? It couldn’t.


KNOW THE THREE KINDS OF DAMAGE. There’s good damage, bad damage, and damage whose goodness or badness you can’t ascertain. My good friend Scott Mookus has Williams Cocktail Party Syndrome, which is a kind of mental retardation. When this kid called Kyle made Mookus cry in Main Hall by mimicking his singing, Kyle was no doubt inflicting the bad kind of damage. When I, on seeing this, grabbed hold of Kyle by the backpack-loop to keep him in place while repeatedly jamming my knee into his tailbone till he understood never to mess with Mookus again, I was no doubt inflicting the good kind of damage. But what about the damage inflicted on me just a few months earlier? What if I’d never been shunned by my people, kicked out of their schools, and sent to suburban Aptakisic Junior High, where they put me in the Cage, which was run by a despot from the land of Australia with only one hand? The goodness or badness of that damage cannot be ascertained with any measure of certainty. On one hand, I might have still been studying Torah with my peers, and my dad wouldn’t have gotten so worried about me, but then on the other hand, I’d have never met Mookus, let alone been able to protect him. I might not have even invented the pennygun, and what would you have to shoot with, then?


DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. Don’t lead any uprisings. You aren’t equipped. “How to start a successful uprising in five easy steps?” The subtitle’s apt, I suppose, if we allow for slick language—if we let the stress fall most heavily on start—but you’ve got a thousand-some pages of book to read yet, and by the time you’ve done a tenth of it, you won’t want to be starting any uprisings anyway. If you’re not joining mine, you’ll be trying—and failing—to put it down.

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