For Your Pleasure: 10 Inspired Book and Album Pairings


Combining your appreciation of different media can be tricky: You probably shouldn’t be watching a movie on your iPhone as you stroll through an art gallery, and you wouldn’t want to spend a night furtively reading a buzzy new novel at a play. But there are two art forms that go perfectly together: literature and music. For a bibliophile, there are few better ways to spend an afternoon than with one’s head stuck in a book — and the best way to enhance that escapist experience is to pair your tome of choice with an album that complements it. After the jump, we’ve teamed ten great books and records that are delightfully simpatico, whether through theme, mood, or atmosphere. Add your pairings in the comments, and if we get enough good suggestions, we’ll collect them in a follow-up post.

William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and The Velvet Underground and Nico

The most obvious book pairing for The Velvet Underground’s debut is, of course, the S&M classic Venus in Furs — which Lou Reed went so far as to write an entire song about. But the mood and overarching subject matter of The Velvet Underground and Nico make the album an even more appropriate companion to Naked Lunch. There is, of course, the heroin addiction that serves as the inspiration and subject matter for both. Then there’s the atmosphere: languid but paranoid, and somewhat Eastern. Burroughs’ mysterious, Tangier-like settings mesh perfectly with those opium-den bells at the beginning of “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Both are best consumed in a room full of embroidered pillows, with a hookah handy.

Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps and The Mountain Goats’ We Shall All Be Healed

Grace Krilanovich’s mold-breaking first novel reminds us so strongly of The Mountain Goats’ We Shall All Be Healed that we actually thought about it obsessively as we read the book. The Orange Eats Creeps‘ heroine is a 17-year-old orphan who runs with a pack of Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies, sucking down cough syrup and blood as they stalk through the ’90s Pacific Northwest night looking for their next fix (or lay). There’s bravado, there’s pain, there’s ESP, there’s countless neon-lit convenience stores and diners. We Shall All Be Healed is more realistic in its narrative than Krilanovich’s postmodern Grimm’s fairy tale, but it covers the same ground with the same doomed mood: songwriter John Darnielle set the album in California and Portland, OR and based its songs on the tales of dejected and drug-abusing friends he has said are now “probably dead or in jail.”

Jean Toomer’s Cane and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton

Here’s what Langston Hughes had to say about one of the Harlem Renaissance’s most experimental, uncategorizable, and overlooked masterpieces: “’O, be respectable, write about nice people, show how good we are,’ say the Negroes. ‘Be stereotyped, don’t go too far, don’t shatter our illusions about you, don’t amuse us too seriously. We will pay you,’ say the whites. Both would have told Jean Toomer not to write Cane. The colored people did not praise it. The white people did not buy it. Most of the colored people who did read Cane hate it. They are afraid of it.” In 2011, it can be difficult to imagine how subversive Cane was back when it was published, in 1923. Listening to Straight Outta Compton while you dive into it will remind you that you’re reading a work of revolutionary art.

Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

In the early 20th century, no one understood high society (and its limitations) like Edith Wharton. About a hundred years later, it’s West who owns the trope of the tortured rich. This pair knows how to make public humiliation, materialism, and backstabbing fascinating, wrapping them in only the shiniest, most polished beats or prose. If Lily Bart lived in 2011, we can imagine her last words: “Gossip, gossip/ N*ggas just stop it/ Everybody knows I’m a motherfuckin’ monster.”

Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands and Hole’s Pretty on the Inside

German author Charlotte Roche’s bestselling book has stirred up controversy around the globe since its initial publication in 2008. A Slate critic went so far as to call the crude, uncensored, almost animalistic account of an 18-year-old girl’s sex life, bodily fluids, and the hugely disgusting condition that lands her in the hospital “the 2 girls 1 cup of novels.” (Note: It isn’t.) The intensity and voracity of the book, as well as its unflinching treatment of young, female sexuality, can’t help but remind us of one of rock’s all-time most feral albums: Hole’s show-no-mercy debut, Pretty on the Inside. Both, of course, will alienate those who aren’t down with records that start out all, “When I was a teenage whore…”

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies and The Decemberists’ Picaresque

It was inevitable that we’d find some pairing for The Decemberists, indie rock’s most literary band. Picaresque‘s songs may not share Murray’s setting (an Irish boarding school), but the m.o. is similar: detailed, nerdy, unexpectedly epic, outwardly polite but secretly bonkers, and just a bit (endearingly) twee. Also, in both cases, the characters are fantastic.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Boris and Sunn 0)))’s Altar

Just about every California psychedelic band of the ’60s was obsessed with Alice and Wonderland and its LSD-friendly hallucinations. (“Go ask Alice! I think she’ll know!”) So, our initial thoughts turned to the 13th Floor Elevators and other zone-out fare. But here’s the thing: Alice in Wonderland is not about zoning out. It’s psychedelic, sure, but for a story about a pre-pubescent girl, it is dark. And there are whole, crazy scenes that just about knock you over. That is why we think its most effective partner is Altar, the storied collaboration between two of the world’s heaviest doom-metal luminaries, Boris and Sunn0))). Your reading experience won’t be a bliss-out, but it sure will be memorable.

Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls and Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster

Shiny, fashionable, and deceptively popular, Susann’s camp/chick-lit classic Valley of the Dolls finds its perfect soundtrack in Lady Gaga’s dark dance-pop EP The Fame Monster. Packed with drugs, heartbreak, stage makeup, and melodrama, the book and the album both take on the perils of fame and ambition. Now that we think of it, what is actually stopping Gaga from doing a Valley of the Dolls-inspired music video? Time to get on it, lady.

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and LCD Soundsystem’s LCD Soundsystem

A little obvious, maybe — two wildly allusive chronicles of what it is to be a slowly aging dude whose music-geekdom is seriously cutting into his ability to function socially. But if you time it so the “I was there!” parts of “Losing My Edge” overlaps with one of Rob’s “top five” lists, we’re pretty sure the synergy will be Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon-level epic.

Liberation Through Hearing During The Intermediate State (aka The Tibetan Book of the Dead ) and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

As anyone well-versed in their indie-rock mythology knows, Jeff Mangum wrote what we humbly believe is the best album of the ’90s about Anne Frank. And while it wouldn’t hurt to listen to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea while reading Frank’s diary to cleanse the book of that compulsory-junior-high-reading feeling, we instead suggest that you play it while paging through what’s popularly known as “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Both are dreamy, devotional, and incantatory, mystical, ageless, and obsessed with themes of death and rebirth.