When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who asked our class to think of songs related to The Scarlet Letter, one of those nineteenth-century novels that’s included on every high school curriculum. We tried to think of songs that already existed and that shared similar themes, narratives, tones, etc. with the book (my suggestion was R.E.M.’s “Losing my Religion”). It was such a fun and logical assignment because books and music share a common goal: to tell a compelling story.
Some pieces of music tell a story with only instruments, while others make use of evocative lyrics. Music can enhance so many everyday experiences, from driving in a car to playing basketball to reading a book. There’s a reason movies have soundtracks: music brings out nuances in a story and heightens emotions that the artist is trying to elicit. Haven’t we all had those moments of joy, nostalgia, or perhaps triumph, when a certain song plays in our head, or we can’t help but feel that the moment would cross the line into a cinematic experience if only there was a soundtrack playing in the background?
Last month, I was again reminded of the special link between books and music while reading All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Serendipitously, while in the midst of reading this emotional story, I became obsessed with the song “Where the Night Goes” by Josh Ritter. I don’t usually listen to music while I’m reading, but sometimes it helps me to focus, and in this particular case, the song reminded me so much of the story that I just could not stop listening or reading, or rather, listening and reading. All the Bright Places is about two teenagers, Violet and Finch, who are grappling with really heavy issues, including mental illness. They forge a beautiful relationship, a relationship that grows as they work together on a school project that has them “wandering” across their home state of Indiana to discover the “natural wonders” around them. Josh Ritter’s nostalgic lyrics about driving through “back roads and boneyards,” and the feeling of freedom that comes with “long nights/ old cars,” “the pull of the American darkness/the mountains/the rivers/ the fields at harvest,” and just seeing “where the night takes us” made me feel like I was riding around with Finch and Violet, watching them fall in love.
There are so many ways in which authors and readers draw on music to fuel their literary love. Given the popularity of Spotify, some authors are using the streaming service to create playlists to accompany their latest releases. “The Best Mixtapes in Fiction” highlights playlists from David Nicholls (One Day) and Stephen King (Doctor Sleep). According to the article, some Spotify users have taken it upon themselves to develop their own playlists inspired by books, including but not limited to Fifty Shades of Grey and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (who knew those two books would have something in common?). In this way, our favorite books can lead us to discover new musicians, new songs, or new sounds. Two authors with whom I’m familiar, Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park and Carry On) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight), are well-known for using music as inspiration while they write and then sharing their playlists with readers. In the case of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, music is such a huge part of the story that Forman kindly put together a playlist of some of the songs mentioned in the book, in the order in which they appear. If you’re interested specifically in YA books and corresponding playlists/soundtracks, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) made a wiki compiling over two dozen.
When books are adapted into films (as are four of the books mentioned above: One Day, Fifty Shades of Grey*, Twilight, and If I Stay) the soundtracks of these movies will often make it impossible to ever disassociate the film (and therefore, perhaps, the book) from certain songs. True story: Whenever I hear “Come on Eileen,” I can’t help but think of one of my favorite movies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (three words: “the living room routine”), and then, I’m reminded of Stephen Chbosky’s book, which I’ve read twice. I never gave the song a second thought until I heard it in the movie; I like it more because I associate it with Charlie being brave, getting out there on the dance floor and making friends.** Mashable put together a list of 14 soundtracks that they feel “made film adaptations come to life.” Included are Into the Wild, which features music composed by Eddie Vedder, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (remember that amazing opening sequence set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song?”), and of course, The Graduate, a classic film with a classic Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack (yup, that’s based on a novella by Charles Webb).
So you see, music can help us connect more deeply with the books we read, while also introducing us to music that may never have crossed our auditory paths. We have an extensive music collection here at the library, including soundtracks. The next time you watch your favorite book-to-movie adaptation and you can’t get a song from the soundtrack out of your head, or like me, you stumble upon a fated pairing of song and book, come to the library and track it down.
Which songs help to make your reading a richer experience? Are there any songs that you connect with your favorite books? If you could make a playlist for a book you love, what songs would you include? I’ve shared a track, now you share yours.
*A bit of Oscars trivia: The song “Earned It” by The Weeknd is nominated in the Best Original Song category at this year’s Academy Awards.
** If I can go on a quick rant: Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie is incredible. I just look at his face and start crying; every thought, every emotion, is etched right there. Does anyone out there love this movie as much as I do?