Music + Books = Delightful Synergy

Music and reading are subjects that, separately, many people are passionately enthusiastic about.  transatlanticism_cover_thumbBut what about great music-book pairings for those of us who love them both?  A way to soundtrack our reading, if you will.  For my own personal love match, there is something about the Death Cab for Cutie album Transatlanticism that I feel goes perfectly with the novel A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami, even if I can’t describe exactly why.  How about you?  Do you ever feel like a band, or an album, perfectly ties in to and accentuates the reading of a particular work?  To get you brainstorming, here are some books that use music to help tell their stories.

In Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, music and pop culture critic Greil Marcus uses The Sex Pistols’ album Never mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols to tell the history of the 20th century, tying the punk movement to other cultural revolts such as the Dadaists and the May 1968 French student uprising.  It is impossible to read even the introduction without an intense need to hear the songs described.

Nick Hornby, an English author, has two books that feature music heavily.  In High Fidelity (you may remember the movie with John Cusack), his narrator is obsessed with music and music matters, and structures his life by it, endlessly composing top-five lists (top five Elvis Costello songs; top five albums) as he works at a record store and tries to overcome a breakup.  This is a book that begs for a playlist to accompany it.  Another of Hornby’s books, Songbook, is an enthusiastic description of his thirty-one favorite songs, and comes with its own mix CD of eleven of the song, so you don’t have to do the legwork.

33 1/3 is a series of short books written by journalists, musicians, and fans image of stack of 33.3 books courtesy of jgarber on flickrthat focus on specific albums.  The range here is terrific: you can read an oral history of the Magnetic Fields triple album 69 Love Songs as told by participants, fans, and imitators in LD Beghtol’s 69 Love Songs: A Field Guide (and for those who like pictures, check out graphic renditions of the album at this blog); hear about Colin Meloy’s teenage discovery of the band The Replacements in Let It Be; and in Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste Carl Wilson makes a year-long, good faith effort to love Celine Dion, asking along the way why we love the albums we do.  Those are just three of the twelve books we own in this series.

Short Stories – all the narrative you want, now condensed!

There comes a point during summer – usually toward the end – when my reading momentum begins to flag and I find it difficult to muster the energy required to pick up the next 400 page book.  The answer, for me, is short stories.  Done well, a short story does everything a novel does: there’s narrative, an engaging cast of characters, a conflict or source of emotional momentum.  Plus there’s the chance to opt-out: I can read just one story, and then put the book down for 6 months without worrying I will have forgotten the characters or plot when I come back to it, or I can continue to read story after story.  A book of short stories can be just the ticket when reading time is scarce, or you simply feel like something quick yet complete, like watching a half hour TV show instead of a two hour movie.

Many authors who write full-length novels also write short stories, so you can look to see if your favorite writer also has a book of short stories out.  If St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolvesthey don’t, or you’re looking to discover something new, here are some suggestions to get you started.

Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves tells beautiful, resonant stories, mostly about children and teenagers accidentally discovering independence, and all the twisted, complicated emotions that come with it.  “Haunting Olivia” is not to be missed.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain presents, among other stories, an American trying to plan a golf course in the war-torn mountains of Burma, and an ornithologist who discovers a near-extinct species of parrot while held captive by Columbian rebels.  Each story explores a different vividly Continue reading “Short Stories – all the narrative you want, now condensed!”