Bookish playlists: the soundtracks of your reading life


A phone playing music with headphones on top of an open book

In my younger days, there was a vibrant trend on YouTube for fans of TV series or films to create video compilations of their favorite clips, especially featuring either canonical or “shipped” couples, set to music that would capture the essence of those characters. It was all very dramatic, but the storytelling power of music and show combined to create something new, letting you enjoy them both in new ways.

Music and books have always gone together for me; many people prefer to read in silence, but I like to listen to music while reading. Sometimes hearing a particular song will take me back to a specific reading experience. Recently I’ve been diving more into other people’s playlists on a theme, or those inspired by particular books, to pair with my reading or serve as a companion soundtrack to chores or driving.

I wrote earlier this year about aesthetics like cottagecore, including a mention of Taylor Swift’s thematic albums. Another popular one has been dark academia (think Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History”, Elisabeth Thomas’s “Catherine House”, or “Dead Poets Society”), and a YouTube or Spotify search for the term will bring you more playlist results than you ever imagined. It doesn’t take an entire aesthetic to warrant music pairings, of course. A few years ago, teen services librarian Kiara Garrett’s If you liked this album, read this book list became popular across the internet, helping people rediscover pleasure reading by linking them first to music they enjoyed.

Authors sometimes also have something to say about the music that inspires or pairs well with their work. For example, Claire Legrand shares playlists for all of her works on her website. I’ve mentioned this blog before, but largehearted boy has an ongoing series called Book Notes where authors provide a playlist to pair with their books, like this one from Celeste Ng for “Little Fires Everywhere”, or this one from Patricia Engel for “Infinite Country”. A quick search can lead you down a rabbit hole of music your favorite authors enjoy writing to, and it’s a fascinating view into how they pictured their characters or settings.

Combining books and music isn’t a new concept, but it’s never a bad time to rediscover an enjoyable combination. Just think of all the songs you know with literary allusions in them (Has everyone heard Leonard Nimoy singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”? Find the music video for extra fun.). Author E. Lily Yu just turned her talents to a sci-fi opera about the Voyager probes for the Seattle Opera’s Creation Lab. Scottish label Bibliotapes solicits new score compositions for classic novels. If you aren’t thinking literarily about your music, or musically about your literature, give it a try!

Photo by Konstantin Dyadyun on Unsplash


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