Taylor Swift has surprised us again! Not content to release only one surprise album in 2020, she’s gone ahead and released evermore, which she describes as a sister album to her bestselling July drop folklore. As I did for folklore, I’ve compiled a list of books like evermore for your reading pleasure. If folklore feels like changing leaves, summer turning to fall, fading beach days, and wandering in the forest, evermore is an ode to taking a wintry walk and drinking wine while thinking about your past (a real 2020 mood). It’s perfect for the quarantine winter we’re all facing.
So here’s a list of 15 books like evermore to keep you busy this winter. And make sure to check out the list of books like folklore if you missed it. You’ll be cozy and deep in a book all winter long.
The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
The album opens with this song that sounds like a celebration of new love (“I’m begging for you to take my hand / wreck my plans, that’s my man”). Kind of a sister song to “invisible string” from folklore. I’m delighted to kick off this list of books like evermore with one of my very favorite novels, Carol Shields’s The Republic of Love. Shields was a fan of Jane Austen, and that shows in this gently witty, generous novel about Faye, a folklore scholar (oh hey, folklore reference), and Tom, a radio DJ, who meet after a series of coincidences and near misses. Tom has been married three times before and Faye has had her own problems with commitment. They fall in love as satisfyingly as any Austen couple, but sometimes love takes more work than we expect. This refreshingly clear-eyed view of romance is woven together with Faye’s research on mermaid traditions, a blend of superstition and academia that totally fits with lines like “Head on the pillow, I could feel you sneaking in / As if you were a mythical thing.”
Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
This song is about a couple who have very different ideas of their future—the man proposes, the woman says no. The two are college sweethearts, so the end of their relationship also marks the end of an era in their lives (“How evergreen, our group of friends / Don’t think we’ll say that word again”). So we’re looking for a story about a woman who makes a life-changing decision other people have trouble understanding, even though she knows it’s the best thing for her. Enter Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. This 2020 novel is about a young woman in 1960s Iceland who wants to have a life different from the conventions she sees her friends bowing to, including marriage and motherhood. Hekla wants to be a poet, not a common dream for a young woman in a literary scene dominated by men. With the support of her friend Jón John, himself an outsider, Hekla has to figure out a way to achieve the life she wants.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
This song seems to be about someone struggling with being in love with someone everyone else wants. “I don’t like that anyone would die to feel your touch,” the narrator says. “Everybody wants you / everybody wonders what it would be like to love you.” The singer resents the object of the song for being so damn beautiful and desirable. Relatable! I think of this as a very Jane Eyre dynamic. That pull-toward-the-beautiful-people thing is also a large part of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter. Tess arrives in New York as a naive outsider and gets a job at a high-profile restaurant. There, she’s indoctrinated into a world of intoxicating flavors, expensive alcohol, and sex and drugs, with the help of two restaurant staffers she finds irresistible. Simone and Jake are aloof and beautiful, and Tess feels a pull toward them even as they remain mysterious.
“’tis the damn season”
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Swift gives us the moody, melancholy Christmas song of our dreams in “’tis the damn season.” This song pairs with “dorothea.” Both are about a woman who leaves her small-town love behind for dreams of stardom. In “’tis the damn season,” it’s years later, and she’s visiting her family for the holidays and thinking about what might have been (big “the 1” feels here, too). This is pretty much the plot of most Alice Munro stories, and you can’t go wrong with any of her collections, but I’ve picked Dear Life to pair with this song. Even more than her other books, this collection features stories about characters being drawn back to their hometowns, sometimes against their will, where they collide with past versions of themselves and the judgments of the people they left behind. Munro’s stories aren’t so much about the one that got away as they are about the life that got away—the version of your life you might be living in a parallel universe if you’d made a different choice. And as Swift sings, “the road not taken looks real good now.” But does it always, or are you just sad and bored right now?
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
We know Taylor Swift has read Conversations with Friends, and this song made me think of it right away. Conversations is about two college students, Frances and Bobbi, exes who are now best friends. They fall into a friendship with older married couple Melissa and Nick. They’re artsy and sophisticated, and Frances finds herself particularly drawn to Nick, an underworked actor. Soon, what started as flirtation becomes something deeper and more damaging. “Tolerate it” is about a relationship with someone older; the narrator sings, “I notice everything you do or don’t do / You’re so much older and wiser, and I / I wait by the door like I’m just a kid.” Like Frances and Bobbi, who are reluctantly impressed by Melissa and Nick’s beautiful home full of grown-up things, the narrator of “tolerate it” focuses on the trappings of domestic life as a shorthand for a kind of maturity that seems unreachable: “I polish plates until they gleam and glisten,” “Lay the table with the fancy shit.” But neither Frances nor the song’s narrator can avoid the power dynamic at the heart of the relationship (“Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life”).
“no body, no crime”
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Swift says this song featuring Haim was inspired by true-crime podcasts. And from the siren sounds in the intro to the jangly country vibes of the chorus, it’s a banger that lets Swift’s storytelling shine. It’s narrated by a woman who thinks her friend has been murdered by her husband. Then he moves in his mistress. The narrator can’t prove it (“I think he did it / but I just can’t prove it”), but then the husband ends up dead, too. And who did that? Well, the mistress can’t prove it was our narrator (“she thinks I did it / but she just can’t prove it”) but our narrator sings that she does know how to clean up a crime scene. I was tempted to pair this song with Gone Girl because that thriller flips the narrative as neatly as Swift does in this song, but I went for something more recent: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It’s about Korede, a woman whose sister has a troubling habit of killing her own boyfriends—leaving Korede on clean-up duty. The narrative voice in this novel is wonderfully dry and sharp, and the idea of a one-woman vigilante wreaking havoc on the lives of unworthy men is a perfect complement to this song.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
This is such a beautiful song about moving on from a relationship and knowing you’ll feel better soon, but not quite yet (“No one teaches you what to do / When a good man hurts you / And you know you hurt him, too”—okay, Taylor, no need to go that hard). There’s a little bitterness here (“I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool / who takes my spot next to you”) but also the acknowledgment that “no, I didn’t mean that.” So…lots of messy emotions! Which also describes The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. Lydia and Freddie have been together since they were teenagers. They’re inseparable and about to get married. But on Lydia’s birthday, Freddie dies in a car accident, and her life is shattered. As she tries to recover, something extraordinary happens—she finds a way to visit Freddie. Overjoyed to live her old life again, Lydia finds herself torn between her dream world with Freddie and her reality without him. There’s an emotional price to keeping Freddie, though, and someone in Lydia’s new life without him who wants her to stay. As Swift says in the song, “There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you / Both of these things can be true.”
Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane
Here’s the companion song to “’tis the season,” sung from the point of view of the teen love Dorothea left behind to seek fame and fortune. “It’s never too late to come back to my side,” he says. Don’t You Forget About Me is also about teenage sweethearts who part ways after leaving school. Years later, Georgina has just been fired from her dead-end job (a long way away from when she was voted “most likely to succeed” in school) and is desperate for a new one. Stumbling her way into a gig at a hot new bar, she sees a face from her past she thought she’d never see again: Lucas. Not only did he break her heart, but he reminds her of an experience from her past she’d rather forget. Unfortunately, he’s her new boss and the connection between them seems to be as potent as ever.
Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
This song featuring The National sounds more like a National song featuring Swift. I didn’t have “Taylor Swift does sad dad band” on my 2020 bingo card, but I’m here for it. The song is about a breakup and the two narrators (one male voice and one female) reflecting on the mistakes that led them to this point. (“Were you waiting at our old spot / In the tree line / By the gold clock / Did I leave you hanging every single day?”). The Coney Island setting also conveys coming of age and leaving childhood behind, and there are also other references to teenage or young love (“The mischief, the gift-wrapped suburban dreams / Sorry for not winning you an arcade ring”). Put all that together and you get Emergency Contact. Penny Lee heads off to college in Austin, determined to become a writer and live some experiences actually worth writing about. Meanwhile Sam, who works at a cafe, is struggling with how to realize his ambitions of becoming a director and also having trouble getting over his ex. When the two cross paths, they agree to be each other’s emergency contacts, which leads to a texting relationship that quickly becomes more of a confessional. Told in alternating voices, the novel sets up a relationship between two damaged, prickly people that feels organic and real. It also captures those days of wondering whether something is going to become a thing (“Did I close my fist around something delicate?”), which is a classic Swift song trope (ahem, “Delicate”).
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Swift says that several of the songs on this album are about marriages gone bad, and “ivy” seems to be one. With lyrics like “Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow / tarnished but so grand” and “my pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand / taking mine, but it’s been promised to another,” it’s clear this song is about an affair. It’s very pretty, though—so let’s root for the married woman having the affair. The lyrics also use a lot of old-fashioned imagery (“my house of stone, your ivy grows” and “the old widow goes to the stone every day / but I don’t…”), so let’s read some historical fiction. The Mercies is set in 17th century Norway in a small fishing community where a storm kills most of the town’s men while they’re out at sea. The women of the community band together to survive, but are soon confronted with a sinister new authority figure, known for rooting out witchcraft. He brings with him a new, young wife, Ursa, who is surprised to see a community full of independent women. She’s particularly drawn to 20-year-old Maren, and as they become closer, Ursa’s husband begins to suspect something isn’t right (“I’d live and die for moments that we stole / on begged and borrowed time”).
“cowboy like me”
Bonnie by Christina Schwarz
Is it a little too obvious to pick a book about Bonnie and Clyde to match this song? I mean, maybe. But Bonnie and Clyde imagery has shown up in Swift songs before (“Getaway Car”), and while “cowboy like me” has a definite country feel, lyrics like “you’re a bandit like me, eyes full of stars / hustling for the good life, never thought I’d meet you here” definitely suggest a pair of cons on the run. For her part, Swift describes this as a song about “two young con artists who fall in love while hanging out at fancy resorts trying to score rich romantic beneficiaries.” Not quite the Bonnie and Clyde story, but there’s a thematic similarity. Christina Schwarz’s Bonnie is a novel inspired by the real life of Bonnie Parker, both before and after she met Clyde Barrow. And as we know, Bonnie and Clyde went on to a short but compelling crime spree, immortalized in the glamorous 1967 film. But Schwarz’s novel looks at Bonnie as a real person, not a myth or romantic figure, making it a great fit with song lyrics like “forever is the sweetest con.”
“long story short”
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This song makes me think of “Getaway Car” from Swift’s 2017 album reputation. Both songs are about a tumultuous time, a series of bad decisions, and a relationship gone wrong, but “long story short” is sung from the point of view of someone in a solid relationship who now has more perspective on her past. “long story short, it was a bad time” = a 2020 mood. “It was a bad time” is also a mood for Emira, the main character of Such a Fun Age. A Black babysitter working for a white family, Emira has been balancing her employer Alix’s desire to be her friend with her own desire to just do her job without being drawn into Alix’s white guilt. Emira has enough to worry about, trying to figure out what she should be doing with her life and why she doesn’t have grand plans the way her friends do. But when she has a racist encounter in a grocery store and it goes viral, her relationship with Alix changes in a way she doesn’t expect. And Alix, too, is forced to face up to something in her past she wants to forget. I think both song and book get at the idea that a time in one’s life that seems exciting, fun, and carefree on the outside might actually be a bit of a mess to live through.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
This song is an ode to Swift’s grandmother Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer who died when Swift was a child. Recordings of Finlay’s voice even provide backing vocals. *crying emoji* The lyrics are about feeling that someone who’s died is still with you: “What died didn’t stay dead / You’re alive, you’re alive in my head.” It’s an emotional tribute to their relationship and to a person whom Swift seems to feel she didn’t get a chance to know fully, which made me think of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. This novel is written in the form of a letter from Little Dog to his mother, who can’t read (“And if I didn’t know better / I’d think you were listening to me now”). In recounting his story, Little Dog shares things with his mother that he’s never been able to tell her. He also reflects on his family’s history and if we can truly help heal those we love.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This song is about, well, closure. The narrator sings about an old love who’s moved on but seems to keep reaching out (“Yes, I got your letter / Yes, I’m doing better” and “Staying friends would iron it out so nice”). It’s nice to know even global pop superstars have these problems. But our narrator here doesn’t want whatever closure the old love can provide: “I know that it’s over, I don’t need your / closure.” I like this little hint of spite. And look, sometimes closure is just a lie we tell ourselves so we can move on. That idea made me think of Little Fires Everywhere, in which characters have very different ideas about whether it’s possible to move on and start again without looking back. Allow me to quote from the novel: “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow.” Shaker Heights, Ohio, is a quiet, orderly suburb where everything is planned. Artist Mia Warren enters this world and is immediately out of place. When she and her daughter Pearl rent an apartment from Elena Richardson, they’re drawn into the Richardson family’s privileged world despite themselves. But then a scandal divides the town, and Mia and Elena are at odds—with a secret from Mia’s past threatening to upend everything. Mia is someone whose life is built around running (“I know that it’s over”) and Elena smooths over conflict (“it’s fake and it’s oh so unnecessary”).
Severance by Ling Ma
As soon as I heard this song, I thought of it as a pandemic song. I’m not sure what that means—but it seems to capture the general global mood. “Gray November / I’ve been down since July” and “And I couldn’t be sure / I had a feeling so peculiar / that this pain would be for evermore”, and then the references to trying to catch your breath and instead catching your death, seem to be inspired by our current situation. So I had to pick a pandemic novel to go with this: Severance by Ling Ma. Candace Chen works in an office tower in New York. A deadly pandemic hits, one that causes sufferers to be trapped in a loop of their daily routine. People are stuck trying on clothes over and over or driving their cars on the same route they’ve always taken. The only one remaining at her office, Candace starts going on long walks to photograph the eerie ghost city left behind. But she won’t be able to make it on her own forever, and when she falls in with a group of other survivors, she has to decide whether they can truly be trusted. This is an atmospheric novel and Ma’s descriptions of an apocalyptic New York are strangely beautiful. It’s the wonderful weirdness of the virus in this book that made me think of “evermore” and lines like “I replay my footsteps on each stepping stone” and “Cannot think of all the cost / and the things that will be lost.”
And there you have it—a list of books like evermore to read while curled up by a snowy window. You may also want to check out this list of books paired with Swift’s album Lover. Maybe we’ll be back here again in a few months for another surprise album! With Swift, you never know.