On July 1st, 1979, Sony released a revolutionary piece of technology: a portable cassette player. This was the first time you could take music on the go without a bulky device, and though we’re now accustomed to our phones holding all of our tunes, I know I still have some nostalgia for my neon purple Walkman MP3. As an avid writer and reader myself, one of my favorite pastimes was putting together playlists for my favorite books — or my own overwrought fanfiction. I love my books and music.
As it turns out, plenty of authors, publishers, and fans write and read with playlists in mind, too. Listening to music can help a writer get into the headspace of their characters and can aid a reader’s visualization, making the experience almost like watching a movie with a soundtrack. Read further for the songs that inspired some dazzling works — or just fit the vibe, like, really well. We’ve linked the Spotify playlists, too, in case you want to check them out yourself!
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones is what most people picture when you think of California in the ’60s — a beautiful, free-spirited rock-n-roll groupie. But Daisy’s got a knack for singing, and when she crosses paths with the up-and-coming band The Six, magic happens. But with stardom comes love, sacrifice, and drama.
Random House curated this awesome playlist that fits the setting so well: Fleetwood Mac’s hippie era, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and of course, Bruce Springsteen are all well-represented here. Music is integral to the plot of this novel, and listening to this playlist makes it easy to picture Daisy and The Six performing the songs themselves. Transport yourself back in time with this book and its selected tunes.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
With all of its critical acclaim, there is nothing new to say about The Hate U Give. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock: Starr Carter is struggling to reconcile her background with the wealthy prep school she attends. It all comes to a head when her best friend Khalil is killed, with Starr being the only witness. Her two worlds are pulling her in different directions, and Starr has to decide whether she’ll do what is easy, which means staying quiet and allowing the world to create its own judgments about the tragedy and Khalil, or doing what’s right and possibly putting herself in danger. This is a contemporary, political, riveting, honest piece, and its importance to our world today cannot be overstated.
Angie Thomas herself spoiled us with this one: this is her personal playlist. Just like her best-seller, these songs highlight the beauty of the Black experience but make no bones about the struggle. 2pac and Kendrick Lamar are major features on this list, but Cell Therapy by Goodie Mob could have been the only song on it, and the playlist would still have been a perfect fit.
11 Paper Hearts by Kelsey Hartwell
Kelsey Hartwell’s 11 Paper Hearts is a light-hearted mystery-turned-love-story. Ella’s perfect life is forever changed after a car accident that wipes her memory. She can’t remember the past eleven weeks, including the reason she broke up with her boyfriend. But a year later, that doesn’t seem to matter so much. Although she hasn’t recovered her memory, she’s moved on from the accident and is relatively happy. That is until she starts receiving paper hearts from an anonymous admirer who might have answers. This may seem like a straightforward mystery romance, but don’t be fooled — Ella is a relatable teen, struggling to find her place in the world, trying to be a role model for her sister, and wishing for true love.
This is actually a fan-curated playlist, but this Spotify user has the vibe down pat. These songs vary in genre and era, but they share the same message: love is sickening and sweet in the best and worst ways. Whether you’re a die-hard 2010’s alt fan (We The Kings is the first entry on this list) or prefer soft and sweet folk-pop (see: Ed Sheeran), you’re sure to fall in love a little harder listening between this playlist and its companion novel.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
If you’re like me, you read mostly for fun. But before you groan at this collection of essays, hear me out. Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror is a thoughtful, brilliant, and brutal take on the self-obsessed nature of our culture, how we’ve shaped it, and how it shapes us. A common criticism of American and Western culture, in general, is how individualistic and self-serving it can be. Women especially fear aging, social media faux pas, and personal and professional incompetence. This is Tolentino’s well-researched take on it all.
Although this playlist was published by Random House, it was curated by Tolentino herself! Whether you’re ready to change your life or just reading about it for now, this playlist is as thoughtful as Tolentino’s prose. Featuring Mitski, Tame Impala, and Frank Ocean, you’ll somehow feel lost, grounded, and inspired all at once.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
John Green is a master at gripping the emotions of young teens because of his easy-to-follow prose and his good-natured depictions of young adults. Turtles All the Way Down is no exception. Like Hartwell’s story, this one involves mystery and love, but our main character Aza struggles with her mind in a different way — she suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which affects her daily life.
From her friendship with her sidekick Daisy to her love life to her physical health, nothing is untouched by her compulsive thoughts and behaviors. When she and Daisy embark on an adventure to solve a billionaire’s disappearance, it seems like a great distraction for Aza (and the prize money doesn’t hurt). But when she starts to fall for the billionaire’s son, Davis, her investigation and her compulsions get in the way of her budding romance and her friendship.
Although her mental struggle is not the plot, you can’t help but feel it bleed into every part, and Aza feels quite alone in the world. Penguin Teen’s playlist is cerebral and sad, featuring Death Cab for Cutie and Lord Huron, artists renowned for their fervent and weighty works. The human experience is hardly esoteric, but be warned: wearing headphones while listening to these picks will all but force you to imagine yourself in a rainy music video. Which, if you’re familiar with Aza Holmes, is spot-on.
Books and music go hand-in-hand; after all, they’re interrelated art forms. Whether you’re looking to deepen your connection to a book you’re reading (or writing), or you want to step back into the world of a well-loved story you’ve already finished, it’s worth listening to these hand-selected playlists — or creating your own!
Craving more book and playlist combos? Click here.