Setting the Scene: Bringing Music and Reading Together

Everyone has their ideal level of comfort when taking the time to sit and read. Some prefer being splayed out on a towel mere feet from waves crashing on the shore. Others prefer sinking into a large, cozy armchair in dead silence, allowing themselves to get lost completely in the story. Then there are those like myself who prefer to make a nest with pillows and blankets in bed with something playing in the background. The thing is, though, that I’m especially prone to getting caught up in the music, though, rather than the story I’m reading, so I have to be very specific in my music choices. (Unfortunately, this means no 90’s or early 2000’s throwbacks, no musicals and definitely no emo, all of which are my usual go-tos when I’m doing something else.)

Luckily, I have found that there are a few very specific genres and playlists that create the ultimate reading atmosphere without distracting me to the point of jamming too hard. It might come from my past lives in choir and the theater; once you’re in, you can’t escape the desire to burst into song! If you find silence isn’t exactly your bag and you’re needing something to play in the background, try some of these out and let me know what you think!

Mellow Indie Playlist (Songza) – Songza describes this playlist as “mellow indie tunes that provide the perfect soundtrack for working, studying, or just plain old relaxing.” All of the artists in this playlist are definitely of the slower variety, usually with a dreamy, atmospheric feel to their music. There are a lot of acoustic guitars, tambourines and synthesizers present here to create a unique, multi-faceted experience to your reading. When I’m in the right mood, it really feels like I’m teleported into a different time and place from my bedroom in 2015. I like to pair this playlist, in particular, with a non-fiction work that requires my full attention because a: I feel as if it’s very serious music for very serious topics and b: I feel like such an adult, drinking coffee, reading an investigative journalism piece with this in the background. Usual artists you’ll find here: Cat Power, Guster, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, The Staves.

Celebrating Ladies with Leslie Knope (Songza) – I’m actually really disappointed in myself that I’ve yet to bring up my love for Parks and Recreation on this blog, but I guess with a book blog, it’s hard to organically bring it up. Given that Leslie Knope is both my role model and raison d’être, of course I’d want to explore this playlist. It’s described by Songza as “Celebrat[ing] strong ladies and kicking it brunch-style with this Leslie-approved playlist of female-driven songs about friendship, strength and positivity. Ovaries before brovaries.” This playlist really has no boundaries when it comes to genres: it has r&b, indie, pop, rock, folk, hip hop, jazz — literally everything. The only requirement is that it has to be lady-friendly. Because it fits so many genres and moods, I really like to have this in the background any time, with any type of novel — although I do find myself reaching for it most while I’m reading someone’s memoir. Also, Janelle Monáe is prominently present throughout this playlist and that’s never a downside. Usual artists you’ll find here: Janelle Monáe, India.Arie, Sheryl Crow, Spice Girls, Corinne Bailey Rae.

Wall of Sound (Songza) – Okay, you probably wouldn’t get the type of music in this playlist just from this name unless you’re already into this kind of music, but I stumbled upon it after searching for the Beach Boys one day on a whim and it is so good. The Songza description says, “Sink into the lush teen symphonies of the 1950’s and 60’s, when teen idols, girl groups and visionary producers like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson understood that pop music often sounded better with a little musical sophistication.” Barring the fairly recent revelation that Phil Spector is, uh, a murderer, these up-tempo songs, often complete with a beautiful three- or four-part vocal harmony make it easy for me, at least, to slip into the perfect mindset for a good, lighthearted young adult novel. I found myself listening to this playlist a lot when I was reading Eleanor and Park, probably because the Beach Boys were still popular in the 80’s. (Kokomo, anyone?) Also, if you don’t love getting virtually surrounded by voices in harmony, then I don’t think we can be friends. Usual artists you’ll find here: The Beach Boys, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, Dusty Springfield, The Cookies.

Radiohead 0110 Experience (Youtube) – Granted, this is a complete and total departure from the previous genre, but hear me out: Radiohead is one of the most important bands in my life, having gotten me through an extremely dark and dangerous time a few years back. I’ll always have a soft spot for their 1997 masterpiece, OK Computer, which just so happens to be a focal point of this playlist. For years, Radiohead fans have speculated that their 2007 album, In Rainbows, was meant to be a companion piece to the aforementioned work, with the songs played in an alternating order; so for those not in the know: Airbag (OK Computer), 15 Step (In Rainbows), Paranoid Android (OK Computer), Body Snatchers (In Rainbows), and so forth. If you just suspend all disbelief and forget that these are two separate records, they really do match up and become a wonderful experience. Maybe it’s Radiohead’s significance to me, especially given my fond feelings for OK Computer, that makes me feel like I can wrap myself up in their music like a blanket and mellow out with a book in my hands. Best points in the playlist: Weird Fishes transitioning into Let Down, Karma Police transitioning into Fitter Happier. Bonus points if you listen to Reckoner Lockdown, a mashup of Reckoner and Kanye West’s Love Lockdown.

What do you like to listen to when you’re reading? What’s your preferred environment? Maybe you like silence? Please feel free to share your favorites below!


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