Bookish blues: Songs to listen to while reading literature

My boyfriend launches up from his kingdom of blankets as soon as I ask him for help on this week’s column. Music with no words is his jurisdiction, and Spotify is up and blasting before I’ve even explained why that’s the topic.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend is the perfect platform to talk about books and music. It can be a cacophony of sounds or a beautiful symphony; it’s about finding the right harmony. A lot of people think it’s weird that I can read and listen to music at the same time. It goes beyond that though. I actually struggle to focus on books if music isn’t playing in the background. Call me a child of television and film, but it’s the swelling of notes in my ears that allows me to get lost in the words.

Don’t misunderstand — I don’t have Taylor Swift at top volume while trying to read Elie Wiesel’s Night, and Johnny Cash never soundtracked my Sarah Dessen binges. Music and books are like wine and food; obviously you can do it with whatever pairing but the best results will come when the two match. My first memory of noticing how the two could bleed together was in the 7th grade when I read 1984 and A Brave New World listening to Andrew Bird’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs and being blown away at the parallels. From there, it was Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter” becoming the anthem to my experience reading The Hunger Games.

The best way to begin is with music with no words. And that brings us back to my boyfriend’s excitement. My first foray into contemporary lyricless music was with Vitamin String Quartet. I found them through a simple Google search for good music to play while studying. At my fingertips were all the songs I knew already, in a wordless art. It was simple enough; I already knew the emotions of the song. One look at the back of the book for a synopsis and I knew which song from the quartet to choose. I became a literary John Williams. A few pages of the book and my instinct told me which of VSQ’s renditions to play. But then I became curious … there had to be more out there that my newly acquired soundtracking skills could utilize.

With music’s heavy exploration of electronic techniques, I began searching the depths of ambient, indie and electronic to find soft lullabies and pounding beats to back my books. From those you trip to at music festivals to the ones you only find 400 clicks away from your starting point on YouTube, it’s all about finding what you read best to.

And while I have your attention, I thought I’d add on some book recommendations as well. See you all at the festival this weekend.

Recommended books:

Of Corpse

– Peter Narvaez


– Chuck Palahnuik

Its Kind of a Funny Story

– Ned Vizzini

The Colossus of New York

– Colson Whithead

The Princess Bride

– William Goldman

Recommended Playlist:

“Summer Spliffs”

– Broke For Free


– John Frusciante


– Ratatat

“Zodiac Shit”

– Flying Lotus


– Big Wild


– Breakmaster Cylinder


– Vitamin String Quartet


– The XX

“Where is My Mind”

– Maxence Cyrin


– Villagers

Malorie McCall is a junior majoring in philosophy.  Her column, “Mal’s Mix,” runs on Fridays.