Even if you don’t listen to music as you read, the creative realms of fiction and music are deeply intertwined––look no further than an author’s Spotify playlists. It’s hard to pin down what makes the atmosphere of a book so captivating, but I find that a musical analogue is often the perfect basis for comparison. This week, I thought I’d offer up four recent favorites and their echoes in my music taste: enjoy!
Why I Love the Book: Emily Henry’s starry-eyed tale of star-crossed lovers is rich in metaphor and even richer in place. In Five Fingers, Michigan, lakes, pine trees, and bracing night air hide “thin places”––where the boundaries between the ordinary and fantastical are weaker, and the magical substance of local lore creeps through. Using fabulism as a backdrop for a thoughtful love story, Henry turns a clear eye on human foibles while keeping wonder close at hand.
Why I Love the Album: Metaphor is bread and butter for the Michigan-based Crane Wives, whose folksy but modern instrumentation makes wistful songs of love and loss unfurl like fairy tales. They make the perfect compliment to Henry’s fantastical Americana, a night of summer stargazing embedded in their chords.
Why I Love the Book: The Vanishing Season is a paranormal that isn’t really about the ghosts. Following small-town transplant Maggie through her restless last year of high school, it keeps melancholy company: the loneliness of winter, the pain of growing up, the ache of unrequited love. It’s the fact that it’s both stirring and quiet that makes Jodi Lynn Anderson’s novel so powerful––and a lingering fog that won’t soon lift.
Why I Love the Album: Sarah Jaffe‘s Suburban Nature is the softer cousin of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, a deeply personal and raw chronicling of white-picket-fence discontent. The unsettled longing of its most famous track, “Clementine,” is only the tip of the iceberg––the rest of the album boasts soaring yet remarkably simple love songs, and arrangements that are a whisper only and until they creep up on you as a roar.
Why I Love the Book: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful puts a name to the unease that accompanies news of developments in tech, offering a glimpse into a world where profit, automation, and unexamined utilitarianism are dialed up to extremes. As an anthology, it’s free to go weird places without having to commit to them for a full novel, and the result is something that unnerves as much as it enthralls.
Why I Love the Album(s): Big Data explores the annals of technology with richly synthesized pop music and powerful featured performances. Social media’s exploitation of our impulses becomes a soaring anthem in “The Business of Emotion,” and the replacement of human labor becomes an ominous bop in “Put Me To Work.” The off-kilter sorrow under some of the slower songs mirrors the darker implications in Arwen Elys Dayton’s anthology, for a sardonic but cautious finish.
Why I Love the Book: Neal Shusterman’s surreal, reality-bending Challenger Deep uses interweaving storylines to explore mental illness––one follows a teenager as he seeks treatment for his disorder, and another plunges us deep into the ocean on the deck of a pirate ship as it seeks the lowest point in the sea. The book’s disquieting reading experience gives way to many a dark night of the soul, but its frankness is ultimately key to its careful emotional resolution, the last page a heavy weight lifted.
Why I Love the Album: On the surface, Picaresque‘s folksy, nautical aesthetic is a perfect fit for Challenger Deep‘s fantastical elements, but beyond that, it’s layered with irony, tragedy, and catharsis, and in joining them together, the album makes meaning out of multitudes, with a full-bodied picture much like the one that lends Challenger Deep its breadth and thematic prowess.