Our Reading Lives

Why I Make Bookish Fanmixes

Sharanya Sharma

Staff Writer

Growing up, Sharanya Sharma was frequently caught leaving home and tumbling into places like Hogwarts, Prydain, and Frell. These days, she spends most of her time running around after (adorable) children in Washington, DC, trying to teach them things like math and social studies and reading. Especially reading. All of her spare time (and change) is spent in bookstores, inhaling books and coffee. She's had a life-long love affair with middle-grade and YA lit, and hopes to write her own novel(s) in those genres some day. Blog: Inkstinedreads Twitter: @srsharms

Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the joy of finding THAT BOOK. Yep, the one you read in one night because you could not stop, not even if there was a vampire army amassing outside your window, fire falling from the sky, or a job to go to in…a couple of hours. Or THAT BOOK, which you tried to deliberately take slowly: a scene here, a chapter there, you sipped it like one sips fine wine, savoring the taste on your tongue, gradually letting the buzz consume you as you read more and more. But no matter how you read THAT BOOK, the end result is always the same: you close the book, and you let out a lingering sigh, because it’s over and the world is now completely different. As the hangover settles, your options are to wander around the house aimlessly, lie around in your bed and/or your couch in a daze, or to do some serious retail therapy at your local bookstore/library.

We all have our ways of coping. And — greasy mozzarella sticks and pizza aside — my way is to make a fanmix.

What is a fanmix, you ask? At its core, a fanmix is a playlist of songs about a book. It’s usually a set of songs that are picked by the fan to represent a character or the relationship between characters. If I were to wax poetic, however, I’d say a fanmix is a way for us to connect with the character(s), to share our our empathy and love for those characters, to add new depths to what our hearts are already feeling. It’s a way for us to dig deeper into the literary world, to explore the themes that the action invoked, to explore our own longings and understandings about those themes. But most of all, it is a chance for us to linger, just a little bit longer, with the the books we’ve come to love.

While it’s true that there is nothing that compares to finding and reading THAT BOOK, finding THAT SONG for a character, or a relationship, or a theme, has another kind of beauty. Take when I listened to Taylor Swift’s Long Live as a senior in college, right after finishing the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series for the first time. When I heard the lyrics I had the time of my life / Fighting dragons with you / … / One day we will be remembered… I could literally see the epic montage in my mind — the skirmishes Percy, Annabeth, and their friends lived through, the doubt they faced, the battles they conquered. It felt as though I could understand more clearly what it meant for these characters to actually triumph against impossible odds.

When I listened to Florence + the Machine’s Seven Devils, and heard the lyrics I don’t want your money / I don’t want your crown / See I’ve come to burn your kingdom down I could almost believe this is what Katniss Everdeen said (or even sang) to the camera crew as she made her way back to the Capitol in Mockingjay. And as I listen I think, yes, yes, this is what Katniss was feeling, those deep drumbeats and fierceness are what she embodied in those final moments. And it was these words that made me appreciate her furious determination more deeply than before.

And, too, THAT SONG — or, more accurately, THOSE SONGS — can be a way for us readers to make sense of how a character or a relationship becomes what it is,even when it’s not as apparent in the books themselves. I spent the week after reading the Prydain Chronicles making a fanmix for the secondary characters Gwydion and Achren. Seemingly disparate characters, yes, but about whom I was convinced there was something…more…happening than what they were telling the young main character. What better way than to explore this fascination over a hidden connection than through music? So there I was, choosing songs ranging from Toby Lightman’s Let Go about a woman who is possibly unhealthily but unapologetically attached, to For Blue Skies by Strays don’t Sleep, about forgiving someone who has gone too far. In finding these songs that fit these fictional people so personally the experience of knowing them was indescribably heightened.

Currently, I am working on mixes for The Winner’s Trilogy, by Marie Rutkoski, and The Wrath & the Dawn, by Renée Ahdieh. I’m especially alert these days as I listen to the songs that come across my Pandora stations, or show up on my iPhone’s shuffle. And, too, my bookish heart is soothed. Because the story may be over, but I’m not done with these characters. Not yet.

What songs do you think are perfect for your favorite characters?