Have you ever wanted to recommend a book to someone based not on what other books they like, but because of what music they like? So have we! Here are 12 Book Rioters’ book recommendations based on your favorite music, from Tegan and Sara’s Love You To Death to Bruce Springsteen to Kesha’s Rainbow to Erykah Badu to Mumford and Sons and more! Conversely, if you’ve read one of these books and don’t know the musician or album referenced, the recommendations should go the other way too!
My Mexican partner lovingly refers to The National as that “melancholy white people band” that I love, which may be a perfect description. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark has a very similar feel of burning melancholy throughout that I feel in so much of The National’s music. To me The National is beautiful music (and words) about often sad and ugly things and an attempt to capture that sense of beauty and wonder found in the process of creating or experiencing art, even if it’s about sad things. Sophie Stark, the titular character of this novel whose story is only told in the voices of everyone close to her but never her own, is a brilliant, troubled filmmaker also concerned with making beautiful art about ugly things. Her making films is the equivalent of The National’s making music in an effort to combat modern isolation, cynicism, and loneliness. But her attempts to connect to people and emotions through her filmmaking — she says “It’s hard for me to talk about love. I think movies are the way I do that” — backfire. She bases her films on real stories that happened to her loved ones, but her unwavering dedication to making the best art possible regardless of the feelings of her husband, girlfriend, or crush whose stories she has taken leads to deep betrayal.
Gone (mostly) is the angsty rock and alternative folk of early Tegan and Sara albums, to be replaced by the beautifully crafted, often — but not always — bubbly pop of their two most recent albums Heartthrob and Love You to Death. Their newest music is also the most explicitly queer of their career so far. Kathleen Jacques’s “offbeat, queer-femmy comic series” is the perfect book version of poppy T & S. Not only is the comic about queer women in bands, but it’s one of those queer books that spans the L, G, B, and T rainbow. Band Vs. Band has a wonderfully upbeat tone, like Heartthrob and Love You to Death, but also with ample amounts of dating drama and frenemy romance, band tour shenanigans, and band rivalries. It is also damn funny. Actually, I would say this comic reminds me as much of Tegan and Sara’s legendary funny on-stage banter as much as it does their pop music.
I’ve often felt like Florence + the Machine’s music is a series of fantasy stories set to music, and that never felt more true than when How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful came out at the same time I read Melina Marchetta’s epic fantasy trilogy for the first time. I started listening to the album on repeat as I read Finnikin of the Rock, and by the time I got to the darker, edgier, twistier sequels Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn, I was really feeling it. This album has Florence’s trademark angst and darkness, but it revels in it, triumphs in it, and ultimately finds wonder in the darkness–which is what The Lumatere Chronicles is all about. I can’t listen to Which Witch without thinking of Quintana, or Third Eye without feeling feelings about Froi’s emotional journey. Hiding makes me think of Finnikin every single time, and Make Up Your Mind is Lucian and Phaedra’s anthem. Both the album and the trilogy are not-to-be-missed, but together they’re wondrous.
The songs of Death Cab for Cutie are achingly earnest, but leavened with tasteful wordplay and instrumentation. It’s all moving without being schmaltzy. Vikram Seth is an author who also manages this tricky emotional balance. The Golden Gate is especially musical for a Seth novel as it’s written in verse. Its lyricism, along with its amazingly precise distillation of the compromises people make for relationships and contentment, is a good counterpoint to any Death Cab album.
As the name suggests, Lanterns on the Lake make very atmospheric music: sometimes sweeping and orchestral, other times hushed and subtle. It evokes ghostliness and melancholy in lovely ways. Slade House is a ghost story tinged with melancholy, making it a good fit. Both the band and the book are mysterious, gothic-influenced, and ultimately just really well composed.
The top three most played songs in my iTunes library are by Missy Higgins and Where I Stood is number one. As I was reading these books and having my heart torn into pieces by the triangle of Will, Tessa, and Jem, these lyrics kept ruminating in my mind, “I don’t know who I am without you, all I know is that I should. And I don’t know if I could stand another hand upon you, all I know is that I should. Because she will love you more than I could, she who dares to stand where I stood.” The song applies to any combination of duos between the three characters and the pining is palpable in both the song and books. Higgins is a brilliant lyricist and Clare is a brilliant writer. Brilliant combination.
Kestrel is quiet and strategic, going from a well-cared for general’s daughter to rebel strategist. Jes is also a general’s daughter, a quiet girl who can follow twisting plots and think quickly to respond to them. Both stories show us quiet girls using their brains to disrupt oppressive governments. The Big Moon is a British indie rock band writing songs about young womanhood, including themes of supportive friendship, and feminism (I mean, they are The Big Moon) The combination of the guitar-and-drums rock and singer Juliette Jackson’s low, velvet voice makes this a perfect match for both Kestral and Jes. Soft-voiced but unrelenting. “Nothing is going to take me down./I am not invisible./I’m on your side./I’ll be formidable.”
Laia is a slave in the militarized country where Elias is an unhappy elite warrior, training to become a Mask. She is desperate to save her brother after a night time raid on their home by the Masks. Laia and Elias narrate alternate chapters throughout the book, reminding me so much of the way The xx’s Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim sing opposite each other. Two different voices that blend to make a beautiful and complete story.
Jane is a YA adaptation of Jane Eyre where “Mr. Rochester” (his actual name in the book is Nico Rathburn) is a rock star, and musically Nico is obviously modeled after The Boss. The book’s epigraph is a quote from “Factory,” and Nico’s lyrics are full of night and fire and city streets, the type of blue collar romanticism that characterizes Springsteen’s work. You can just tell Lindner’s a fan.
Kesha’s much anticipated new album, Rainbow, came out in 2017 on the heels of a legal battle with her former producer in which she accused him of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. The album addressed Kesha’s trauma in a way that was empowering and hopeful, focusing on self-love and letting go of the past. Wild Embers is a poetry collection from writer Nikita Gill that similarly turns trauma into personal growth and hope. Her poems are fiery and feminine, full of mantras for self-love that focus on rewritten fairy tales, goddesses, and the the vastness of the universe.
Music plays a major role in Wintersong. The main character Liesl is an aspiring composer and some of the most beautiful and atmospheric descriptions in the book are about writing music. There’s a video of Ludovico Einaudi, literally floating in front of a glacier, playing a piano piece called “Elegy for the Arctic” and it’s exactly what I picture Liesl composing, ethereal and haunting, as she dreams of the Goblin King and his wintry realm. The second book in the series, Shadowsong, comes out in February.
If you love Tori Amos, then read Fragile Things and Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, because the two creators work in tandem. Neil wrote Blueberry Girl for Tori after she had a baby, and he also covers vignettes for each of the songs covered in Tori’s album Strange Little Girls. Their styles flow together seamlessly.
The Americana folk style of Mumford and Sons’ first album, Sigh No More, reflects the tone of Steinbeck’s fiction. Lead singer Marcus Mumford based the song “Timshel” on the characters and themes of East of Eden, his favorite book. The song “Dust Bowl Dance” also parallels themes from Steinbeck’s work, particularly the plight of migrant farmworkers portrayed in The Grapes of Wrath.
Panic at the Disco’s dreamlike lyrics line right up with the uncertainty about what is and isn’t real in Belzhar, where it might as well be “nine in the afternoon.” The book has a surreal beauty that has a similar feel to Panic’s Pretty Odd album in particular.
Although Erykah Badu’s neo-soul is not particularly reflected in we are never meeting in real life, the sassy, matter-of-fact lyricism definitely is. Badu’s most commercial hit “Tyrone” opens with the lines, “I’m getting tired of your shit. You don’t never buy me nothing.” That sentiment totally threads throughout meeting in real life, in which Irby reflects on bad dates, Craig’s List dudes, and beauty standards to name a few topics.
Now it’s time to share your book recommendations based on your favorite music!