11 Must-Read Books for Music Lovers

By Kaitlyn Johnston

Listen up, music fans — these lyrical reads are not to be missed!

In the world of music, there are endless stories to be heard. The following celebrated books about music prove just that, spanning soulful dramas and coming-of-age rock sagas to a post-apocalyptic narrative about the life-enriching power of song. 

Book cover of "Honey: A Novel" by Isabel Banta. The background is pink with two CDs placed horizontally in the middle. At the top, a quote by Emma Straub reads, "A sexy swagger of a debut." The author’s name is in white at the bottom.

Honey

By Isabel Banta

Calling all Y2K pop music superfans: Isabel Banta’s buzzy new novel belongs at the top of your reading list. It’s 1997, and Amber Young is determined to be a star. The promising singer and performer just received the offer of a lifetime to join the girl group Cloud9, so she moves to Los Angeles to launch her music career. But the pop scene of the late ’90s and early 2000s is a merciless place, especially for young women, and Amber will need to keep her true friends close if she hopes to reach the spotlight. Banta’s “sexy swagger of a debut” (Emma Straub) tracks Amber’s rise through the music industry, exploring both the promise and the peril of superstardom in the era of pop divas, boy bands, and TRL.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

By Jennifer Egan

A national bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad tells the captivating story of Bennie Salazar, a retired punk rocker turned music executive, and his assistant Sasha. Told in 13 parts, Goon Squad weaves through a timeline that spans the ’70s and into the near future, and it explores the inner life of Bennie and his many self-destructive acquaintances in the music world. Darkly funny and suffused with music, Egan’s book is a prize-winner for a reason. 

Daisy Jones & The Six

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

This New York Times bestseller by Taylor Jenkins Reid is sure to delight fans of the towering rock music of the 1970s in all its fringed fashion glory. Daisy Jones intends to make a name for herself in the L.A. music scene of the late 1960s — and the right people are starting to notice. When a producer pairs her up with rising rock band The Six and its leader Billy Dunne, the group appears poised for superstardom. But are they ready for all the pressures and drama that success will bring? Written in the style of a documentary, Daisy Jones & The Six is “wildly delicious” (Entertainment Weekly). 

 

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

By Dawnie Walton

In The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Dawnie Walton crafts a complex and lively narrative about an interracial rock duo in America. Opal is coming of age in Detroit, defining her style and finding her voice, when an aspiring English musician named Neville Charles hears her sing at a bar. Nev suggests they work together, Opal agrees, and soon the duo find themselves signed to Rivington Records and electrifying audiences in the downtown music scene of 1970s New York City. But tensions flare when Opal protests the anti-Black actions of a rival band on their label, triggering a cascade of events that affect her personally as a Black woman and echo into the present day. Decades later, Opal and Nev consider getting back together. Music journalist S. Sunny Shelton is eager to compile an oral history of the duo, but her interviews soon unearth startling truths. 

Norwegian Wood

By Haruki Murakami

Set against a backdrop of 1960s Tokyo, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami tells the story of Toru and his fateful relationships with two very different women. Upon hearing an orchestral cover of the wistful Beatles song “Norwegian Wood,” Toru slips into a reverie, returning to his days as a college student in the 1960s. Lost in his memories, Toru recalls the loss of a dear friend, his connection to the sensitive and reserved Naoko, and his relationship with the vivacious and confident Midori. Lyrically written and brimming with music, Norwegian Wood is a marvel. 

Swing Time

By Zadie Smith

A New York Times bestseller from celebrated author Zadie Smith, Swing Time spans London to West Africa as it follows the intertwined lives of two lifelong friends. The two meet as young girls through dance, but while Tracey displays promise as a dancer, our unnamed narrator is drawn into the history, rhythm, and culture of music. Distance grows between them in adulthood: Tracey continues dancing, though she struggles in her personal life, while the narrator finds herself traveling the world as an assistant to a pop star, witnessing the stark differences between the haves and have-nots. An exuberant novel about friendship, art, and music, Swing Time is “a dance itself, syncopated, unexpected, and vital” (Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books). 

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

By Oscar Hijuelos

Oscar Hijuelos’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is a joyous celebration of song. In 1949, the Castillo brothers leave Havana, Cuba, for New York City, where their musical talents soon land them in the spotlight. The brothers shine in dance halls and nightclubs across the city, dazzling listeners in the mambo era and earning the title of the Mambo Kings. A sweet and sweeping story of music and family, art and community, Hijuelos’s novel is a delight.

 

Nocturnes

By Kazuo Ishiguro

The lives of five people with music in their hearts intertwine in this masterful story cycle by Nobel Prize–winner Kazuo Ishiguro. Nocturnes centers on a once-famous singer, an opinionated music enthusiast, a songwriter caught in a married couple’s drama, a saxophonist recovering from surgery, and a young cellist at the beginning of their career. Ishiguro explores their lives with his trademark insight, crafting a sequence of interconnected stories that delve into inspiration, dedication, and the vitality of music.  

High Fidelity

By Nick Hornby

Wickedly funny and eminently charming, High Fidelity by bestselling author Nick Hornby “fills you with the same sensation that you get from hearing a debut record album” (The New York Times Book Review). Rob is a terminal music lover who owns a struggling record store. His life has been better: His girlfriend Laura just dumped him for the upstairs neighbor. Seeking a distraction from his heartache, Rob turns to the clerks at his store, who rattle off reviews of their favorite albums and movies. The conversations lead Rob to review his top five most memorable breakups — and the wince-inducing countdown of his failed romances gets him thinking that maybe his life is a broken record and it’s time to put on something new. 

 

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

A national bestseller and National Book Award finalist, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a transporting speculative fiction novel that speaks to the eternal power of the arts. As the world lies in ruin, a band of performers known as the Traveling Symphony move from settlement to settlement to perform Shakespeare and play classical music. Together, they seek to survive and keep the arts alive. Upon arriving at one settlement, however, the group encounter a violent and dangerous leader who stands to destroy all that they hold dear. 

The Fortress of Solitude

By Jonathan Lethem

Bestselling author Jonathan Lethem captures the wild sights and raucous sounds of 1970s New York City in The Fortress of Solitude. Dylan Ebdus is a white kid without a mom, growing up in downtown Brooklyn. It’s a rough neighborhood, but he has one friend — Mingus Rude, the son of a former-professional-musician dad and an out-of-the-picture mom. Together, the boys find sanctuary in pop culture obsessions and each other’s company, swapping comics and sharing records. Over the course of their evolving friendship, the pair reckon with race, class, politics, drugs, and gentrification, and celebrate the unifying joys of art. 

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