So when asked to ‘write an article about 5 things to do with music,’ my logical conclusion was to consider my top five albums, but I got stuck after Origin of Symmetry and Songs in the Key of Life.
Spots 3 through to 5 in my top ten were hotly contended and too difficult to complete. So my book nerd brain kicked in and began to craft my top five books concerning music. Now I’m not talking about musician’s memoirs or guides on how to play guitar like Hendrix, I’m talking about fiction which uses music as a central theme. After several head scratching weeks and the narrowing down of lists hastily made in the back of notebooks and on scraps of paper carelessly lost in pockets, I have come up with my final run down: from 5 to 1 just like good old Top of The Pops.
In at number 5: What a Way to go – Julia Forster
If you’re looking for a novel which navigates the tribulations of a parents divorce to the backdrop of 80’s shell suits and perms, then Forster’s novel really has it all. Protagonist Harper is living with her mother and tolerating single parent gatherings while spending weekends with her dad, while lamenting who is top of the charts each week. I loved the musical references such as; ‘Harper we’ve just had some bad news.’ ‘Yazz and the Plastic Population are still at number one?’ and gems like Harper taping ‘Bananarama lip synching Nathan Jones on the Betamax.’ The novel took me back to the days of my childhood, which was mash-up of Duran Duran and Japan and through to Ultravox. Forster’s novel is a riotous look at the decade I almost wish I grew up in. Instead I spent my childhood playing the Mr Blobby single, on vinyl.
An old classic at number 4: Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
If we’re going to consider books about music, I have to talk about Trainspotting. Reading this novel is not only an education in Glaswegian dialect, it’s about culture and the music of a generation. It’s also about drugs and sex and rock and roll and a hatred of Simple Minds, of course. I simply loved Trainspotting, since reading it for a class in our very own Winchester University many moons ago. If you can get your head around the writing style and channel your inner Billy Connolly to understand the dialect, the musical references are so rich, from Elvis Costello to Velvet Underground, obviously with a lot of Lou Reed in the middle. And yes film fans, the film score is pretty much taken from the novel, it is glorious.
Straight in at number 3: The Rules of Attraction – Bret Easton Ellis
Easton Ellis’s books have disgusted and delighted me, almost in equal measure. It is arguable that there are more musical references in his other works; certainly American Psycho which highlights Bateman’s obsession with artifice and popularity, but The Rules of Attraction is definitely my favourite of his novels. Perhaps it’s because it’s set on a college campus in America and the fleeting references to MTV, Talking Heads and Iggy Pop make me desire an age when technology was only portable if you had strong enough shoulders for your ghetto blaster, or enough money for a flashy Sony Walkman. Easton Ellis’ character’s name drop concerts throughout the novel, in fact throughout most of his novels his characters are obsessed by money and fame and attention and label dropping. I’m almost jealous.
A non-mover at 2: A note on Madness – Tabitha Suzuma
A sneaky one that perhaps not many of people have heard of, but this book taught me so much. Not only is protagonist Flynn one of the best pianists at London’s Royal College of Music, but he is also struggling with his growing mental health issues. The book has less musical references positioned to create a sense of time or nostalgia, but more of a sense of music being all encompassing. Flynn’s passion to be the best musician he can possibly be potentially triggers his spiral into manic depression. The book was tender and beautiful and made me realise that I hadn’t missed out on life by not going to Music College.
And a new entry at number 1 (that is not to say it’s the best book about music, just that I loved it): How to be Bad – E Lockhart, Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski
I spent so long trying to consider my fifth book for this article, and then I picked up a book at work to start reading and you’ve guessed it: it’s about music. This co-authored book follows the road trip and emotional journey three work acquaintances take across America, during which they become surprisingly good friends and also play wonderful tunes. For me, a YA book about female friendship, which details a roadtrip, has a playlist of songs at the end for readers to use for their own roadtrip and has a section for the authors to explain their musical choices for the novel? I loved everything about it.
& a little bit extra: Your Lie in April – Naoshi Arakawa
If none of the above was really your thing, and I want to cater to a variety of reading tastes here, I have also started Naoshi Arakawa’s manga series about piano prodigy Kosei Arima, which may well feature on a future list of musical books in the near future, after I actually finish it.
Happy reading music fans.