Music and reading are subjects that, separately, many people are passionately enthusiastic about. But 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 that 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.