If you tell me, “This book will break your heart,” I’ll scoot my chair a little closer to you, the better to hear your book recommendation.
If you tell me “It’s a tough read, complicated and devastating and exhilarating”—halfway through your adjective parade, I’m downloading the book onto my Audible app.
That’s how I take my books. Challenging and emotional and difficult.
That’s how I take my music, too.
I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
My husband makes fun of me because I can forgive somewhat boring music in a song, but I cannot forgive boring lyrics. Words are too important to be empty containers for the lowest common denominator.
That doesn’t mean I gravitate towards the nastiest, grittiest books I can find (just like I don’t stream Norwegian Death Metal 24/7. Or, frankly, ever.) It only means that I look for books that resonate.
David Arnold’s MOSQUITOLAND broke my heart. A 16 year-old girl on a journey to reach a distant mother who needs her. Put like that, it’s nothing special, but the images and emotions pulled out of me by the descriptions (some ridiculous, like the couple on the roof of the gas station; some deeply poignant like the box in an old woman’s hands) were etched into my heart forever.
No, not really. ‘Etched into my heart forever’ are definitely lowest common denominator words. So overblown, they’re meaningless. What I should have said was that MOSQUITOLAND made me think about the profound good that exists in ourselves and in others even when we don’t believe in it. And how damaged lives can be perfectly enough.
I create a playlist for every book I write, and some books, like MOSQUITOLAND, that I love and want to re-live with music. I did it for ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell and also for SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman.
It’s possible that I stood at a recent Savages show and thought, “Park would love this show. Eleanor would probably think it was too loud.”
Good music and good books have the same elements. Heart, yeah, but not twangy-twangy-woe-is-me-heart that you’ve heard one thousand times before. It has to have authenticity and be stripped down to a vulnerable place where you can’t dismiss it.
And Voice. Music and books have to have singular, arresting voices, pitched so exactly right that you can hear it above the cacophony of every day voices. (Just so we’re clear, the every day voices tell me to eat more cake and watch old Murder She Wrote episodes. That’s not the voice I’m talking about here.)
Finally good books and music need Brains. Possibly zombies eating brains, I won’t rule any genre out, but mostly the kind of brains that plot out a narrative with twists and reversals that make you snap back your head, read a line again, listen to the same verse twenty times, to pry out meaning.
So, how do you like your music and books? Are your tastes the similar in both, or do you read slasher horror while listening to the Bee Gees? (That sounds pretty good, actually…)