If this whole writer/editor thing hadn’t worked out, I’d loosely plotted out one of two other paths. Option A was to open a witchy tea shop ala Witches of New York. Option B would have been to try to convince someone to pay me to make playlists.
Yes, it’s because I love music, but it’s more than that. I kind of… think in music? I wake up with songs in my head. I hear songs in my dreams. I sing the end of my sentences (I’m so annoying). I bust out song lyrics at the end of other people’s sentences. A million things a day remind me of a song and then I just have to tell someone about it. There’s a constant soundtrack in my head and it never quite shuts off.
So what do I do with all of that musical energy as a non-musically talented person? I make playlists for damn near everything. Brunch at my place? Playlist. Road trip? Playlist. Saturday morning cleaning? I’m a Latina. Playlist! I have lists of songs for crying, songs for sexy times, songs for dancing to salsa around my living room and for drinking wine in the woods. I have songs that remind me of specific people or places. And of course, I have songs for my every reading mood.
As this summer has officially come to a close, I thought I’d share some of the songs that made it to my summer reading playlist and the books they’re paired with. I’ll let you know right now that the selection process is very personal and often quite nonsensical (like that time I was a guest host on SFF Yeah! with Sharifah; we dreamed up an SFF playlist and I described the falsetto in a song as reminding me of psychic space cats). Sometimes it’s about lyrical significance, sometimes it’s mood, sometimes it’s what the kids these days would call vibes. It makes sense in my head and I enjoy it. I hope you do too.
My Summer 2021 Reading Playlist
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
This thrilling examination of workplace racism set in the publishing industry was such a ride. When Harlem-born and bred Hazel joins the team at Wagner Books, Nella Rogers is pretty jazzed. At long last, she won’t be the only Black employee in the place! But the more Nella gets to know Hazel, the more something seems a little… off. Is Hazel friend, or is she foe? Or is it all in Nella’s head?
“Wait a Minute!” by Willow Smith – For reasons that probs only make sense to me, this song’s vibe is equal parts general summer and New York City strolls. Those opening notes feel like the kind I’d put in my headphones if I was walking out of my chic New York apartment on my way to my very cool job in my very fashionable wardrobe.
“Bloody Waters” by H.E.R. – I immediately thought of this song when I was in the thick of the “what in the actual fuck is going on” stage of this reading. It was mainly the tempo and pitch of the song that first got me, then I caught the lyric about corporate racists and BAM! It was a perfect fit.
“The Hills” by The Weeknd – Again, it’s all about vibes here. The lyrics have jack all to do with the plot of The Other Black Girl, but that base, that beat, the sharp swells! It all combines to give the song a sort of uneasy creepiness that I imagine playing rull loud in some of those tender scenes.
The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary
Addie and Dylan spent one dreamy summer falling in love under the Provence sun. A few years and a terrible breakup later, their lives collide again when Dylan rear ends Addie’s car. It turns out they’re both running late to the same wedding weekend, so they agree to suck it up and carpool the rest of the way. That’s how Addie, her sister, Dylan, his best friend, and a random coworker find themselves on one helluva road trip.
“Terrible Love” by Birdy – I could hear this song screaming at me during the breakup flashback. This is actually a cover of a song by The National, who also make an appearance in this playlist. The way the string swell in this version makes it a lot more dramatic and emo, very gut-punchingly fitting for the heartache of that tragic moment.
“Eres Tu” by Carla Morrison – This song is by one of my favorite Mexican musicians. It has nothing to do with Provence but it absolutely nails the happy, swept-up-in-you feeling of Addie and Dylan’s courtship. It opens with,”Hoy desperté con ganas de besarte, tengo una sed de acariciarte,” which translates to “Today I woke up wanting to kiss you, I have a thirst to caress you.” Ah, sweet love!
“England” by the National – Do you ever put on a song to make you cry on purpose? Is that just me? Well this is one of those songs. I thought of it in the aftermath of Addie and Dylan’s breakup. It embodies that deep, suffocating pain and longing that often follows the end of a great love. Oof, let’s move on now. My face is starting to leak.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The famous Rivas siblings are getting ready to throw their annual blowout summer party. By the end of the night, the Rivas mansion has burned to the ground, and a whole giant mess of secrets has come to light.
“Girls Go Wild” by LP – This song is summer. It just is! Add in the west coast references and its a perfect fit for this (literal) beach read. Put this on, roll down the windows, let the wind blow through your fingertips. Summer may be over, but this song brings it right on back.
“Disorder” by Joy Division – So that annual party I mentioned? Yeah… I don’t mean a kegger where someone jumped in the pool naked and someone else drunk-dialed their ex; I mean the kind with lawn sex, broken dishes, cocaine on serving platters, and all kinds of other shady dealings fuel legends and tabloid headlines. So yeah, I chose “Disorder” by Joy Division. Pure! chaos!
“When the Party’s Over” by Billie Eilish – Yeah, it’s a little on the nose, but I had to do it. I imagine Nina looking out onto the beach while this songs plays as she contemplates the totality of her life up to that point.
The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
Lynnette and her friends are all members of a final girl support group, people who’ve endured unspeakable horrors and lived to tell the tale. Now a member of Lynnette’s support group has gone missing and a killer is on the loose in this homage to horror tropes and slasher films, one full of that particular Hendrix humor and nail-biting tension.
“Fantasmas” by Ambar Lucid – Ambar Lucid has said that she wrote this song about her best friend’s haunted bedroom, and haunted is what she delivered. While this book is definitely more about flesh-and-blood evil than the ghostly kind, this sound is exactly what the book calls for. It’s not just the instrumentals, it’s her voice. When she lets go and belts during the chorus, I get chills.
“Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey – Each of the final girls coped with their trauma in individual ways. Their survival was a defiance, a challenge to the violence that was supposed to end their lives. My brain somehow connected that resilience to this song’s hook, as if saying, “you and I were born to die, but we’re gonna live anyway.” Does it make sense? Not really. But it’s my playlist and I’ll Lana if I want to.
“Everything is Wrong” by Interpol – Because everything, dear reader, was just so very wrong.
The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore
Pitched as Wolf Hall meets The Favourite (GIVE IT TO ME), the book opens in 1643 in Civil War England and all its puritanical fervor. Rebecca West is a fatherless, husbandless woman in the small town of Manningtree, and her mother the vulgar drunk the whole town has something to say about. Then a mysterious man in black shows up and starts asking questions about all the town’s women and Rebecca’s mother in particular. That man? Matthew Hopkins, the cruel and sadistic man history knows as the Witchfinder General.
“Seven Devils” by Florence + the Machine – I keep using the word “haunted,” I know. But when the shoe fits… the piano in this song and that sort of darkly ethereal thing Florence does so well combine for a delightfully creepy sound in this song. I thought of it especially during the moments when Rebecca, umm, lets her mind wander to thoughts of her crush.
“Trouble” by Coldplay, covered by Vitamin String Quartet – I am kind of obsessed with tracking down string versions of popular songs. More often than not, that classical treatment gives the song a whole different vibe! This is absolutely the case with VSQ’s interpretation of Coldplay’s “Trouble.” That pure, sharp violin solo at the beginning that’s then met with a low swell is just so powerful and unsettling! Just what the doctor ordered for this kind of witchy read.
“Rosyln” by Bon Iver, St. Vincent – Apparently I like a soft voice in a high pitch with some semi aggressive string instruments to set a mood? In this case, it’s the guitar, the cryptic lyrics, and that signature Bon Iver sound that worked for me.
Miss Lattimore’s Letter by Suzanne Allain
Sophronia Lattimore wasn’t trying to be a matchmaker, it just sort of… happened! She overheard a thing and then another and wrote someone a letter about those things. And now that her well-meaning meddling has resulted in two successful unions, all of society wants Miss Lattimore to do the same for them. One such person is the very dreamy Sir Edmund Winslow. Problem is… she kinda wants to match with him herself.
The Bridgerton Soundtrack – All of it, the whole thing. Remember how I said I love string versions of popular songs? Who knew a classical version of “thank u, next” would go so hard?
“Pulaski at Night” by Andrew Bird – I love this song so much. The happy and slightly wistful strings and jaunty beat, the melodic voice. Feels like a good “won’t you stroll around the gardens with me, good sir?” kind of song.
“Howl’s Moving Castle” by Vitamin String Quartet – You already know. Strings!
Sword Stone Table edited by Jenn Northington and Swapna Kirshna
I was always going to read the absolute shit out of an anthology of Arthurian retellings. Give me stories that play with place and time, give me genderbent reinterpretations, give me all that inclusivity and new life! But when such an anthology is also edited by my dear Book Riot friend Jenn Northington?! There aren’t enough muppet hands in the world.
“Breath of Life” by Florence + the Machine – This song is from the soundtrack of Snow White and the Huntsman and it has some big sword-wielding lady energy. It’s such a victorious, empowering song. It goes well with a couple of stories and just the overall vibe of the collection. Chef’s kiss.
“Decode” by Paramore – No, I am not just picking songs from Kristin Stewart movie soundtracks, but yes–this song is from Twilight. Even if you stripped it bare of those amazing guitar chords, the sheer force of Haley Williams’ vocals is an adrenaline rush on its own that I loved pairing with these badass retellings.
“Armor” by Sara Bareilles – It’s right there in the song: “Hand me my armor.” YES GIRL. You take that armor and show em’ what’s what!
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Jake Livingston is a Black teenager in Atlanta who can see ghosts. Most of them are harmless and just need a little help getting to the other side, but the latest ghost to cross Jake’s path is a different sort, one with some very dark energy and cruel intentions. Jake is doing his best to resist possession by this violent specter while also navigating constant micro aggressions at his very white private school, and also possibly falling in love.
“Deep End” by Fousheé – Some of you youth may recognize this as a Tik Tok famous joint. Hell, I’m am old and that’s how I discovered it too! I love the combo of Fousheé’s dulcet tone with the slow pulse of that baseline. And because dear Jake really is trying very, very hard not to go off the deep end, it just goes.
“Waiting Game” by Banks – Banks is one of my favorite artists, but I never quite know how to describe her sound. It’s kinda sad, kinda mad, kinda horny, kinda don’t-fuck-with-me all in one. This song’s first choral notes continue into an acapella section before they’re joined with a rattling, pulsing base that completely changes the tone. It is, yet again, kind of haunting and perfect for the more tense moments of this read.
“Monster” by Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj – I probably spent an hour going back and forth on my decision to include this song because I stopped messing with Kanye two years for… reasons. Then last week Nicki Minaj got real messy on Al Gore’s internet too and this is why we can’t have nice things. But the monster references just go with this book’s theme, and I could hear Nicki’s absolutely bananas verse in my head at the end during the *insert spoiler here* scene.
Bonus content: this Tik Tok about Nicki’s verse had me laughing for five minutes straight. She really did go in!
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
How do I describe this absolutely batty read that I love with all of my heart? Its both a cozy-ish mystery and a bit of a romance about Meddy Chan, a wedding photographer who accidentally kills her blind date in self defense and asks her mom and aunties for help hiding the body. All of that is a direct result of her mom pretending to be Meddy on a dating site and thinking the eggplant emoji was an innocent offer to cook her dinner. Whoopsie!
“Toxic” by Britney Spears – I kept hearing the iconic, instantly recognizable intro to this song in my head every time the antics ticked up a notch. It’s just so delightfully zany and goes with the fun rompy energy of the Britney classic.
“Sweet Dreams: by Beyoncé – Queen Bee was always going to make it on the playlist someway, somehow and that moment has come. The juxtaposition of Meddy’s desperate attempts to hide the crime and her having the hots for her ex boo thang kept putting the “this could be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare” lyrics into my brain. You’ll have to read it to find out which one it is.
“Telephone” by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé – Let’s just keep the Yoncé train rolling, shall we? This one may feel like a stretch, but I immediately thought of it when I read the book’s premise. Gaga and Bee team up to poison a dude on purpose in the “Telephone” video while Meddy definitely didn’t mean to kill the jerk face, but the part where she calls upon the women in her life to help hide the body and all the hijinks that follow made me think of that wild and campy video. I also may or may not know a lot of that choreography.
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Rounding out this list is the latest from one of my favorite authors, the one and only Silvia Moreno Garcia. This pulpy noir is set in 1970s Mexico City amidst the political upheaval of the Dirty War. Maite is a secretary who suddenly finds herself trying to find out what happened to her beautiful and mysterious neighbor, Lenora. She sets out to track down the missing woman, as does an enforcer for a government backed anti-uprising team named Elvis. The closer they each come to unraveling the mystery of Lenora’s disappearance, the more entangled they both become in dealings they really aren’t supposed to be messing with.
“Bésame Mucho” by Luis Miguel – There are many versions of this song out there, including the one by Armando Manzanero referenced in the book itself. I personally grew up with this romantic version from Mexican icon Luis Miguel, so I had to go with that.
“Antes de Ti” by Mon Laferte – First of all, if you don’t know Mon Laferte, get into her. This Chilean singer and songwriter’s music is a blend of pop, rock, bolero, and cumbia and that voice? Chilling. Pure power! The strings in this particular song give it a heavy James Bond title track vibe, and I latched onto that when picking this song for this book. There’s a pretty big spy element to Velvet Was the Night that may not be as flashy as a 007 plot, but the song meets it exactly where it needs to.
“El Matador” by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – I could and probably should have picked a rock song from the 60s or 70s given how prominent a role rock-n-roll plays in the book and this moment in Mexican history. This is actually a track from the 80s but I love it for fast-paced situations. Like what, you ask? I used to say it was the song I’d put on if I was ever in a high speed chase, because song choice is clearly the priority there (and yes, there’s a whole playlist for that too).
So there you have it, my summer reading in music form. I’ll be back in the fall with another musical wrap up to share. In the meantime, check out all of the tracks in one convenient Spotify playlist below. Happy reading and listening!