Bookish Rant: A Feast for the Eyes…and Ears

Filed in Bookish Rant or Raves , featured , The Needy Lover Posted on September 20, 2012 @ 3:00 pm 15 comments

Music affects on a visceral level. Sometimes, all it takes is a few notes of a song to be shaken to your emotional core, or struck by a long-lost memory. Of course, a reading book can have a profound effect, as well–albeit less immediately, perhaps. It may take several hours to read through a book, but that story can take a reader on an emotional roller coaster to rival many live-altering events. That’s why it’s rather natural to perceive a relationship between the two, whether or not it’s immediately obvious.

Some authors make the connection crystal clear for readers, supplying a list of songs that were playing whilst writing a certain story, or perhaps songs that inspired a later idea for a story. Some simply have to have music playing in the background when creating the threads of their characters and literary universes.

Such information, from authors, may make certain connections between music and reading seem like an objective matter (I mean, to hear that an author was inspired by a Madonna song to write a specific scene will likewise make me associate the two). But in the absence of such markers, what kind of a relationship would a reader make between music and books? Is it as simple as hearing a song while reading a passage? Is it the emotion evoked by a song that underscores a similar emotion in a story?

Though I can’t always fully concentrate on a book when listening to music, sometimes it feels…right. I must admit that I think of Richard (from the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series) often when I listen to certain Nine Inch Nails songs (if you want the playlist, lemme know ^_^). Had read the Twilight books to Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony (almost 30 times in its entirety, according to iTunes). And Ranma 1/2 graphic novel No. 5 and a particular remix of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” have been inextricably (and inexplicably) tied for me ever since one random, unremarkable day over ten years ago. Often these things occur by happenstance, and sometimes the connections are contextual (as with Richard and Nine Inch Nails). But it is lasting when it does happen.

I’m really, really curious about your thoughts, as music is not often the first thing to be brought up when talking about reading books.

So tell me: do you ever listen to music while reading? Do you take note of authors’ musical playlists when you read a certain story? Have you come to associate certain songs and albums with specific characters or stories? Does the music you listen to influence what you want to read, or vice versa?

(For the record, I’m listening to N.E.R.D. as I write this. Are you listening to something as you read this? ^_^)

About Alisha


Alisha, the bespectacled and ever nerdy California girl, simply won’t leave home without a book in hand. She loves language learnin’ and is working toward becoming a bonafide grammar ninja. On any given day you’ll find her haunting local libraries or baking scores of cupcakes and sweet treats.

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15 Comments

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  • Stella September 21, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Good point Alisha! I usually like to learn about those behind the scenes details when authors reveal if their writing was influenced in any way by a song, but I myself I don’t listen to music while reading. It’s mostly due to the fact that I’m doing most of my reading on the bus and to hear the song it would have to be too loud, and I don’t like that, and also it would detract from the narrative. I prefer to fully concentrate on the words, but I agree that sometime a song/music can be great to set the mood to a story.

    • Alisha September 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

      I totally get what you mean, Stella. Sometimes, it’s too distracting to have music playing; almost takes you out of the reading. For some strange reason, white noise is easier to handle, even if it’s loud.

  • Diane September 21, 2012 at 9:55 am

    No music on though I do have the TV on for background sound.

    • Alisha September 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      does it matter what’s on the TV? a show/movie you are interested in, or something you wouldn’t normally pay attention to anyway?

  • aurian September 21, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Nope, I could not care less what an author is listening to. I always have some music on, very softly, as background to my reading. To drawn out the white noise of the computer, the appliances, and such. So never ask me the name of a song or artist, as I won’t know. I do listen more if I like the voice.

    • Alisha September 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm

      rock on, aurian. i getcha… do you ever select a specific genre to play as bg music (soft jazz, classical, etc.)

  • Susan September 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    I do check out authors’ playlists, but that’s about it. I guess I’m a fogey because I usually don’t like their selections for myself; I’m just interested in what influenced them in their writing.

    I don’t usually listen while I’m reading since I like to fully concentrate on one or the other. But the music that I’m listening to around the time I’m reading something (afterwards, or in the car) sometimes becomes intrinsically associated with the book/characters. I can still easily remember music I was listening to while reading certain books years (as in over a decade) later.

    • Alisha September 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      fascinating, ain’t it? how our brains will grab that piece of music that might not otherwise be associated, and fuse it into your memory, right along with what you’re doing.

      i always wonder if authors’ playlists represent them ONLY listening to that set of songs the whole time they write. I recently read something from an author (forgot who, now) that replayed ONE song, over and over and over, as they wrote a story. that’s just….wow.

  • draconismoi September 23, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Whether or not I have noise in the background usually lets people know how good the book is. If I have to put a show or some music on, then I am not so immersed in a book I will REND LIMBS if you dare to interrupt me. Because at that point I require noise to keep me focused.

    Once I get really into a good book, I don’t care if I am in the middle of a concert or a morgue. It’s all white noise.

    • Alisha September 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      rock on. any books you’ve read lately that fall into the latter category (a book that immerses you to the point of rendering everything else white noise)?

  • pattepoilue September 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Ohhhhh which NIN song do you associate with Richard? I am a total NIN fan

    I LOVE associating music with books. BUT I can’t listen while I’m reading. Often I listen to the soundtrack/tracklist authors mention for their books * to get me into the mood then when I read the book it just plays in my head.
    So I don’t listen WHILE reading but my brain provides its own soundtrack 😉

    I use Spotify (and Deezer before that) and I have special playlists for certain books/series.

    * mostly with authors I know have the same tastes I do. LOL Like Kim Harrison, Olivia Cunning, Lauren Dane…

    • Alisha September 23, 2012 at 10:39 pm

      Yaaay NIN fans unite! ^__^ The one NIN song that is most evocative of Richard is “The Line Begins to Blur” from the With Teeth album. From the title to the first line: “There are things that I said I would never do”; it totally fits him. 🙂 He was the only mofo in that series, from the very minute he was introduced, that’s had major moral issues with that world. And with NIN’s intense, dizzying, almost angry delivery of that song, I feels almost like Richard could be playing it in his iPod. lol

      That’s super interesting, Caro, about how you listen to playlists ahead of time to still get some of that context. I think I will try that next time…it seems like the best of both worlds, getting that insight and yet not having to distract oneself while reading.

      Any authors’s playlists that you’ve recreated and now listen to often, or just for the enjoyment of it?

    • Alisha September 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      okay, so here are some more songs that put me in mind of Richard. Really, I always felt like Richard would be a huge freakin’ NIN fan..whether he knew it or not. ^_^

      There was this post I had started to write a few years back, intended to be posted in the LKH forums before I stopped visiting regularly. It list a few songs and the lyrics that really reflect Richard. The original idea was that each song/lyric I listed was supposed to reflect a specific moment in one of the books…but I got lazy in trying to find the exact chapters/books and let the post sit…and now, I totally can’t remember that with such clarity. But anyway, the general associations remain:

      “Head Down”
      sample lyric: hey you
      what you running from?
      all your hate
      what you’ve become

      “Lights in the Sky”
      sample lyric: i have my role in this
      i can’t disappear
      or leave you here

      “We’re in This Together” (maybe)
      sample lyric: the farther I fall I’m beside you
      as lost as I get I will find you
      (note: reflective of his overall intense feelings for Anita.)

      “Mr. Self-Destruct”
      sample lyric: I am the bullet in the gun
      I am the truth from which you run
      (note: circa Burnt Offerings)

      “Get Down Make Love” (Queen cover):
      sample lyric: You take my body
      I give you heat
      You say you’re hungry
      I give you meat
      (note: cuz I bet he can make love real dirty-like. ^_^)

      “Gave Up”
      sample lyric: it took you to make me realize
      it took you to make me see the light
      …after everything i’ve done i hate myself for what i’ve become

      “The Great Below” (kind of):
      sample lyric: Staring at the sea
      Will she come?
      Is there hope for me
      After all is said and done
      …I can still feel you
      Even so far away
      (Note: in relation to Anita, after he sort of backs off from her for a period of time)

      “Beside You in Time”
      lyrics: Now that I’ve decided not to stay
      I can feel me start to fade away
      Everything is back where it belongs
      I will be beside you before long
      (note: After Blood Noir and his reprehensible behavior.)

      “La Mer”
      (no lyrics; instrumental)
      note: where he’s at as of Bullet. some measure of peace. he still has a burn, an intensity for something inside of him. but there’s something more hopeful there, too. more open.

      • pattepoilue September 24, 2012 at 5:50 am

        First OMG! Now I want to read the Anita Blake just so I could meet Richard. If a character could be represented by these songs I would probably LOVE him. WOW.

        Second, yep I listen BEFORE starting the book. Sometimes it’s a whole playlist and sometimes it’s just 1 song. For example I read Lauren Dane’s novella Sway. And it’s a reference to the song Sway by Rosemary Clooney (the song is even mentioned in the first chapter) well for the whole book I had that song in my head and it fit SO well the book..sexy, sensual, classy….*happy sigh*

        Right now I’m mostly listening to my Olivia Cunning Playlists. (I have 3 of them, each for a different book in the series). So now I’m ready to read book 2 (which I started yesterday) and book 3 in a few weeks *g* and I can already hear the music play in my head
        I still listen to ‘old’ book playlists and every time it gives me a nostalgic feel, makes me crave the books again.

      • pattepoilue September 24, 2012 at 5:55 am

        Also I’ve found that many songs from NIN’s Ghosts album fit a lot of the books I read. (mostly Ghosts 28 and Ghost 34….and Ghosts 4 prolly coz I love all 3 of them)

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