What to read this week (copy) (copy)

In "What To Read This Week,” arts contributor Taylor Worden suggests novels, poetry, articles and other forms of writing, often centering around a timely topic or theme. This week, Worden suggests works where music plays a central role along with an accompanying playlist to listen to the featured songs while reading.

Music can play a central role in many works and novels, often being the way the characters’ can express their emotions, passions and stories more clearly to the reader. Music can be the way to understand someone’s story that much better, by listening to the curated music they chose to accompany their work and life.

The following is a list of books — fiction and nonfiction — where music is an integral part of the story or character and song titles are mentioned regularly. To get a better feel for the story, accompanying each title is a playlist featuring mentioned songs or artists throughout the work to fully immerse yourself in the story and the music. Here are four books and playlists to get lost in another world of music and words: 

“Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time” — Rob Sheffield (2007)

This memoir, written by music journalist Rob Sheffield, is a recounting of not only Sheffield’s relationship with his late wife but how music impacted their love and his life. The memoir focuses on the relationship between Sheffield and his first wife Renée Crist, from their falling in love to her tragic sudden death five years into their marriage.

Their relationship and Sheffield’s life are defined by a love for music, with each chapter title being a mixtape Sheffield created for Renée complete with the subsequent songs. Sheffield’s vast knowledge of music covers practically everything from classic rock to punk as the music aids to help tell the story of his love and loss. 

“Just Kids” — Patti Smith (2010)

Patti Smith, a writer, musician, and poet, wrote “Just Kids” as a memoir to recount her whirlwind relationship with photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Documenting not only the progression of their relationship and artistic careers, the memoir also captures the explosive and changing creative scene in New York City from their first apartment together in the 1960s to Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in the late ‘80s.

Featuring Smith’s conversations and encounters with artists like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jonathon Richman as well as the records the pair would play in their Chelsea apartment for days on end. The story of the duo’s intimate relationship is surrounded by music at every step. 

“High Fidelity” — Nick Hornby (1995)

While this title may seem more familiar as the film starring John Cusack or the newest Hulu adaption, “High Fidelity” began as a book by British author Nick Hornby. “High Fidelity” follows Rob, the owner of a record store and a recently single man, as he recounts his five most memorable heartbreaks to attempt to understand what goes wrong with him and love. A man deeply passionate about how to create the perfect mixtape, Rob uses music to not only express his love but to get over it.

As the owner of a record store, Rob’s taste varies from The Beatles to Al Green, with many of the songs focusing on love, whether it be loathing or the promise of it. Along with the songs featured in this book, both the 2000 film and Hulu’s 2020 adaption, featuring Zoe Kravitz as Rob, are brimming with music suggestions.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — Stephen Chbosky (1999)

Music plays a central role in Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” as the main character Charlie uses his favorite songs throughout the book and in the letters he writes to better understand or communicate his feelings and emotions. A coming-of-age novel set in the early 1990s, the story follows the shy and introverted Charlie as he navigates his first year of high school, developing relationships, and dealing with his own personal trauma.

For Charlie, music is a way to access his emotions that he otherwise may not have been able to describe, as well as a way to show his love for his friends through his curated mixtapes. The movie soundtrack from the film adaption in 2012 became iconic, featuring memorable scenes set to “Come on Eileen” and “Heroes." The music featured in the book is no exception, as Charlie’s music favorites provide a soundtrack for wallflowers and budding extroverts alike. 

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