5 Wonderful Music and Book Pairings

Some books and songs go together like peanut butter and jelly, or beans and rice. You get the idea. As an avid book reader and music lover, I will be the first to proclaim that reading and listening to music [often] cannot be done in conjunction with one another. But some songs add an ambiance that just fits so well with a book. Music can further draw the reader into the tone and feeling of written work, like a somber tune with a gothic tale or acid rock with a darker novel. Here’s a list of five songs to listen to before, during, or after reading these books.   


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie

 Guthrie was saved from Vietnam by a strange twist of fate: he was once arrested for littering. The imaginative hero of Catch-22, Yossarian, tries endlessly to evade the horrible things that occur in war. But his attempts are thwarted by Colonel Cathcart and his seemingly endless list of missions for his men to do before their service can be considered complete. The satirical book is humorous and frustrating. It will certainly make you say “what the heck?” a number of times, especially in regards to the paradoxical catch, from which the book’s title is referenced. “Alice’s Restaurant” fits with Heller’s book because of the ironic way in which Guthrie got out of the draft for the war in Vietnam. He humorously and lightheartedly recalls the day he littered, the ensuing legal troubles, and how his arrest record got him out of the draft. If only Yossarian had gotten caught littering!


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and “Moonlight Sonata” by Ludwig van Beethoven

The obvious reason Shelley’s Gothic novel and Beethoven’s classic composition work well together is that they were both created in the early 19th centuries, albeit in different parts of Europe–but the two really do compliment one another. While Frankenstein is a horror-thriller about a grotesque monster who murders and ruthlessly seeks revenge against his creator, Frankenstein, the story is also tragic. Frankenstein’s monster is unnaturally forced to life and then shunned by society, thus forcing him into lonely isolation. “Moonlight Sonata” will add dramatic ambiance and an overarching, almost hopeless feeling in conjunction with Mary Shelley’s dreary novel. Although “Moonlight Sonata” was a part of the classical period, you can naturally imagine Beethoven’s piece in the background of a Gothic setting. The melancholy tune compliments the tone and agonizing tale of Frankenstein, his monstrous creation, and the turmoil that arises.


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and “You Can’t Always Get what You Want” by the Rolling Stones

This song could not fit more perfectly with High Fidelity. Not only does the Rolling Stones hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” make an appearance in Hornby’s story, but it also seems to mimic the moral of High Fidelity. Almost anyone who has read the book will concur. With lyrics like “you can’t always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes you just might find/ you get what you need,” the Rolling Stones advise us to do some soul-searching, to never give up, and remind us that love is tough, and not always found in the most obvious of places. Rob Fleming, the protagonist of High Fidelity, re-examines his life and his past break-ups while making us laugh, cry, and of course, encouraging us to put our life on pause and listen to a great record. The high-energy, idealistic Rolling Stones will get you in the mindset of a pop music-lover searching for romance and happiness.


Clockers by Richard Price and “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

Clockers is a crime novel that intertwines the stories of cocaine dealer “Strike” and homicide detective Rocco Klein. The story takes place in the projects of a fictional city in New Jersey and focuses on the complex relationships between drug dealers, police, and the community. Price explores the bleak world of drugs in America’s projects, portraying the endless war within inner-city communities as well as with police. Kendrick Lamar has said that his hit song “Alright” is about empowering black youth and is a hopeful assertion for peace. Lamar is from Compton and often writes about the struggles he faced as a youth in a section of L.A. that faced similar urban disinvestment and police brutality as Jersey City, which the setting in Clockers is based off. “Alright” is a message for the people that lived the tale of Clockers: they can overcome the obstacles just as Lamar did with music.


The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles

Almost any pop song from the late 1960’s could thrust you into the psychedelic world Tom Wolfe writes about. The ethereal beginning which turns into sounds of excitement and controlled chaos in the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” goes nicely with Ken Kesey and his crew of followers between their states of lucidity and acid-induced obscurity.  In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe chronicles Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters during their famous bus tour around the United States, taking the newly popular drug, LSD, or acid, along the way. Wolfe’s historic journalism is considered a great resource for the history of hippies and the counterculture movement. The book, like the song, is colorful, engaging, and honest. And while the Beatles have denied that LSD was an inspirational acronym for  “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” listeners have continuously associated the song with the drug. Furthermore, Paul McCartney, a frontman for the Beatles, said that Kesey’s acid expeditions aboard the bus influenced the trippy Magic Mystery Tour film. 

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