Scoring Your Reading: Pairing Books with Music

As I have gotten older, I’ve become more and more of an easily distracted reader. Children, work concerns, people talking within earshot (or even beyond earshot, as if others thoughts could interfere with my own). Headphones and soundtracks have helped combat the what was that? and I really have to- moments. Music has a scientifically proven impact upon our brains, our thoughts, and our emotions, and the listening to music while reading can enhance the literary experience, adding another dimension to our beloved words on the printed or digital page.

Calvin & Hobbes guitar

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ― Maya Angelou

Basically, good books and good music, ebooks and iTunes, go together like cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.

I recently read Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins, and spent at least half of the experience listening to John Williams’s immortal soundtrack to Jurassic Park. Attenberg’s writing is excellent to begin with, but the addition of the music gave even further depth to the desperation, the hollow-filling, that is the character Edie’s compulsive eating.

Right now, I’m reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I started to listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack by Howard Shore, but it’s so of-itself that it became distracting, so I shifted to Howard Shore’s soundtrack to The Hobbit. It’s similar, but not as distinctive to my ear, so it blends well with Quentin’s exploring the magical world of Fillory.

Movie soundtracks seem to be best, as they typically have minimal lyrics to distract, and are designed to pair with stories themselves, so there is a cohesive pattern throughout that can be reasonably paired with something in a similar genre (though The Middlesteins is not actually a science fiction story involving dinosaurs…). Classical music works well as well: beyond the usual suspects, Viktor Kalabis, Ethel Smyth, and Carlos Chavez all composed excellent unintentional soundtracks to books, short stories, and article.

The next time you’re by a computer or record player with a book or ereader, drop a needle or fire up Youtube / Pandora / LimeWire (for you time travelers), and search for some music that would seem to go with what you’re reading. If it works, comment below the combination you came up with.

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