Books with Soundtracks

Remember me talking about soundtracks, motivated by Elizabethtown? Well, here's Cameron Crowe himself with his take on soundtracks.

The latest novel I read was "The Fortress of Solitude", and in fact, reading it had primed me to think about soundtracks even before I saw the music trailer for Elizabethtown. The book is about a (white) boy growing up in Brooklyn in the seventies and eighties, and is populated by (mostly funk) music. In the latter half especially, when the main character is grown up and (ta-daa!) a writer of liner notes, dozens of songs and albums are mentionned, play a crucial role...and many of them I didn't know, or only knew them by name. I imagine knowing the songs and musicians really would have added something to the reading experience, but now, the mentions felt a bit pointless, frustrating even.

As an aside, the book is great nonetheless. Jonathan Lethem gets a bit too lyrical sometimes (people shaped "like question marks", if I recall correctly, stuff like that), but he has a great sense of how pop culture affects people, about how we define ourselves by our tastes, and most of all about how it feels not to belong.

The big advantage of movies is you can actually hear the music. Maybe not get all the conmnotations and history attached to certain songs, but the mood at least is clear. Books are much more difficult to attach a soundtrack too.

Take High Fidelity, for example. The songs in that book were, overall, slightly more familiar, but still, many references were entirely lost on me. In the movie version, only a small portion of the mentioned songs actually got played, but we "got" the main character, and how his taste in music trapped him, somehow, much better. Nick Hornby is as good at writing about music as he is at writing about books (both "31 songs" and "the Polysyllabic spree" I highly recommend), but without a thorough knowledge of the pop songs he writes about, many mentions are lost on the non-specialist reader.

I do think music can enhance books. Some tunes playing in your head can really evoke an atmosphere, and as in movies, music a character listens to gives an immediate insight into his or her personality. But overall, I think music in books is much more problematic, and much, much more difficult, than music in movies.

I won't beg for comments here, but if you do have thoughts on the subject, or a good book-with-soundtrack to recommend...I won't stop you. Promised.


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