Love Is Blind
Over the years, William Boyd’s fiction has spanned decades and continents, chronicling the lives, loves, and misfortunes of a vast group of characters. In his latest, Love is Blind, he ventures into the complex relationship between a piano tuner, the pianist he works for, and the soprano with whom he becomes enthralled. It’s an emotionally fraught dynamic, set against a sweeping historical backdrop.
Man in the Music
We live in a time when, for understandable reasons, the music and legacy of Michael Jackson are under an extensive amount of scrutiny. (Margo Jefferson, author of the excellent On Michael Jackson, has said in interviews that she’d like to revisit the subject.) Joseph Vogel’s Man in the Music provides a window into Jackson’s recording processes, with detailed accounts of his experiences in the recording studio throughout his life.
A Song for a New Day
What happens when speculative fiction takes its cues from the world of music? In her novel A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker tells a familiar story—a band on tour, embracing the world of DIY—and places it in a near-future setting where technology has largely superseded live performances. It’s a moving blend of themes and settings, and one that asks essential questions about art and community.
As authorities on the current state of jazz go, Nate Chinen is second to none: he’s written extensively about the genre over the past few decades and is acutely aware of both its history and its possible futures. Playing Changes is his guide to the contemporary jazz world, and to the musicians who have boldly taken jazz in a host of acclaimed directions.
The Orphan's Song
Over the years, music has also inspired a host of memorable fiction, from Nick Hornby’s accounts of musical obsessives to Garth Risk Hallberg’s punk-fueled epic of 1970s New York. For The Orphan’s Song, Lauren Kate hearkens back even farther in time: the star-crossed lovers featured in her novel are separated in part due to one’s immersion in a chorus in 18th-century Venice.
Alan B. Krueger
As we understand more and more of the economics of everyday life, the number of areas where that knowledge can be applied increases exponentially. Alan B. Kruger’s Rockonomics explores the shifting financial fortunes of people at various places in the music industry, from executives to musicians to technicians. As he delves into how technology has altered the music industry, he also discusses the ways those changes have affected the broader society.
Songs of America
Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
The authorial team behind Songs of America is like something from a buddy comedy: Jon Meacham is an acclaimed historian, while Tim McGraw is a beloved country singer. That pairing may look odd at first, but when you consider the role that popular music has played in American society, and the overlap between politics and music over the years, the combined talents of both authors resonate a lot more deeply.
For the Love of Music
Plenty of musicians and composers have offered their thoughts on music in literary form, but John Mauceri comes at things from a slightly different perspective: he’s worked for decades as a conductor (and has written about his experiences). In For the Love of Music, he offers his take on the joys and nuances of listening to music—a perspective honed by his years of experience standing before various ensembles, making the transcendent happen.
Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Over the years, documentarian Ken Burns has explored subjects ranging from the violent to the sublime. 2019 brings his next project: an expansive documentary about country music. This volume—like the film, a collaboration between Burns and writer Dayton Duncan—traces the history of country music, its major figures, and the indelible stories that it’s created since its inception.
Composer Robert Schumann remains a fascinating figure even now, over 160 years after his death. Judith Chernaik’s new biography of Schumann embraces his complexities, exploring his influences as a composer and also charting some of the personal drama that suffused his life. In the end, it’s all in service of creating a complete portrait of the man, and putting his work into its proper context.
What makes for a great book about music? While the genre abounds with tell-all memoirs and other chronicles of excess, the range of subjects covered by music books is as wide-ranging as, well, music itself. Incisive writers and novelists around the world have used music as a way to explore everything, from politics to borders to the evolution of subcultures.
The best books about music can offer insight into the life and work of a legendary musician, but they might also point a reader in the direction of an artist they’ve never heard before. That’s the evocative power of music writing: it can turn the familiar into something fresh and make the unknown transform into charted territory. Here’s a look at 10 books, both fiction and nonfiction, that start with a handful of notes and turn them into something revelatory.
Featured Image: @chibelek/Twenty20