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Like These ’80s/’90s Songs? Read These Books

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

I was driving home from my grandmother’s and flipping through the radio stations, and George Michael’s “Faith” came on. Naturally, I cranked it up, sang along, and rocked out. Only to find out that the channel it had played on was the oldies channel. This has happened to me before—twice before, actually, with the Bangles and also with Prince. I mean…I know my hair is graying at a rapid pace, but I thought that just came with the territory of parenting a toddler.


I’ve always had a soft spot for ’80s and ’90s music, since this was the music of my childhood and teen years. My first concert was Debbie Gibson, and I remember where I was when I heard about the suicide of Kurt Cobain. I had a favorite New Kid on the Block (hello, Jordan, duh) and I was singing the lyrics to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” before I knew what the words meant, much to the chagrin of my parents. Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” The Roots’s “100% Dundee,” and Bush’s “Glycerine” immediately transport me back, and I could listen to ’80s and ’90s Spotify playlists for the rest of my life and be okay with that.

But while I love music, I also love books (obviously). And what pairs well together? Books and music! I took a bunch of my favorite songs from the ’80s and ’90s (and ohmygod this post could have been hundreds of listings, let me tell you) and paired them with books. You’re welcome.


If you love Dolly Parton’s 1980 song “9 to 5” that she wrote for the movie of the same name, check out Refinery 29 Money Diaries: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Your Finances…and Everyone Else’s by Lindsey Stanberry (9/4/18). This book, based on the column Money Diaries, is an easily accessible book on finances, although it might not be relatable for those who are really struggling with money, as most of the budgets and finances are seemingly a bit out-of-touch.

Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” is always a go-to song on days where I need a little boost, and if you’re a Bikini Kill or Kathleen Hanna fan, check out former Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s memoir Hit So Hard, or Sara Marcus’s book Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.


I loved Janet Jackson growing up, but I have to include “Nasty” here because who could forget 45 calling Hills a “nasty woman,” and its subsequent embrace among so many of us? In October (10/16, to be exact), a new biography of the notorious RBG will be coming out from Jane Sherron de Hart, called Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life. It’s a hefty tome, but I was lucky enough to get an ARC, and I respected RBG immensely before reading this—after this book, I am in complete and utter awe of the woman. Seriously.

What We Lose Zinzi Clemmons coverLove Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game?” Read Zinzi Clemmons’s novel What We Lose, a story about love in its various forms, as well as identity. It might seem like an odd pairing, but once you read the book, I think it’ll make a lot more sense. Or at least be less weird.

Pair Roxette’s “Fading Like a Flower” with volume 1 of the graphic novel Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva, for some old-school nostalgic, awkward romance, and all the feels that go along with being a young teenager with a crush.

Are you a No Doubt fan? While you listen to “Just a Girl,” check out Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, by Soraya Chemaly (9/11/18). Chemaly examines female anger on both a micro and macro level, and the result is a whip-smart treatise on anger, and why it’s so important—now more than ever.

If you’re listening to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, pick up some Truman Capote. NO, not the obvious “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” although that’s a masterpiece in its own right. Try his “nonfiction novel” that blurred the lines of genre, In Cold Blood.

To this day, I know the lyrics to “Shoop” and “Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa, and I bet you do, too. Since salt and pepper (see what I did there?) are staples in the kitchen, why not pick a cookbook from Chrissy Teigen for these songs? Her book Cravings: Hungry for More comes out in September (9/18/18) is packed with comfort food recipes—which, come on, at this point, we all could use.

Bonnie Tyler’s song about love and darkness and falling apart, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” pairs well with the forthcoming (9/25/18) powerhouse of a novel from Samuel Park, The Caregiver. I finished this in one sitting because I literally couldn’t stop reading Mara’s story about what she thought she knew about her mother growing up and what really took place between them in her native Brazil before she emigrated to the States.


Fan of the song “She’s Crafty” by the Beastie Boys? Try Crafting the Resistance: 35 Projects for Craftivists, Protestors, and Women Who Persist, by Lara Neel and Heather Marano.

Pearl Jam fan? It’s a bit dark, but the song “Jeremy,” written 8 years before Columbine, is especially haunting when paired with the book Columbine, by Dave Cullen.


How about Devo’s “Whip It,” paired with Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life, by Emily Nagoski? (Sorry; couldn’t resist this one!)

For all my fellow nerds, if you secretly love the catchy song “She Blinded me with Science,” check out Forever Nerdy: Living My Dorky Dreams and Staying Metal (10/23/18), by Brian Posehn. It’s one of my favorite forthcoming books, and runs the geeky gamut.

What song/book pairings come to mind for you?