Our ears and hearts can be touched by music in places we didn’t expect. It can also surprise us and tell us its own story. They write about everything from the life of a master musician to a single song used as a strategic background for a scene. They can use things that already exist, change them, or make new ones.
In my book, The Gunners, music is used in many different ways. It’s getting harder for Mikey Callahan to see. To help him remember the faces of his childhood friends, he is assigning specific pieces of music to them. This way, he can remember them as clearly as possible. Until a mysterious injury cut her career short, another character went to the conservatory in New York on a full scholarship. Music played by characters in different scenes of the book is meant to create a certain mood and encourage the characters to think in a certain way or feel closer to each other. Great works of fiction with music and/or musicians are in this list, so check them out.
Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Second in Cather’s Prairie trilogy, this book tells the story of Thea Kronborg, a talented but mostly unknown pianist in a small town in Colorado. In New York City, she becomes a hugely popular singer. The story is based on Cather’s friend, the opera singer Olive Fremstad, who was a friend of hers. The book takes a hard look at the complexity of ambition and wonders if a life spent only pursuing art and getting recognition for it can be anything but self-centered at the end of it. Most people don’t know about this book. It’s part of a trilogy with O Pioneers! and My Antonia.
The Recognitions by William Gaddis
This book is huge, with almost 1,000 pages and what feels like tens of thousands of words. But it’s worth it. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. As a composer of organ music, Stanley has an obsession with not being able to live long enough. He’s called “a funny boy with a moustache.” To put it another way: The way this scene is set up and how it all comes together is very good.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
From Wu-Tang Clan to Joy Division, Whitaker uses many musical references in his first book to help the reader connect with his characters and understand what they go through and how they think. You should read it. It’s one of my favorite books of the last few years, and I’ve read it in one day two different times. A lot of artists have to deal with self-doubt, loneliness, and a painful reckoning with their own past in their work.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
They break into a party in honor of a wealthy and powerful Japanese businessman, where a well-known soprano has been hired to sing. The story, which has Stockholm syndrome at its heart, moves at a surprising speed and has great lines about music: “Never once did he think that such a woman existed, one who was so close to God that God’s own voice came from her.”
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This is an early Murakami book that is named after the narrator’s favorite Beatles song. When he hears an orchestral version of the song many years later, the melody brings him back to the days of student protest in the 1960s. Other characters in a story that was a big hit in Japan and made the author, who didn’t want to be famous at first, a star.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Two girls love musicals from the golden age, and that love drives them to follow different paths in life. The book moves from London to the United States and then to Africa, and it talks about class, creativity, talent, and desire, among other things. In interviews, Smith has talked about her love of singing and dancing when she was younger, as well as the musical interests of her family members. It’s fun to see these personal interests come to life in her stories.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
“The thing about the new world, the tuba had said once, is that it’s just so lacking in elegance.” Members of the Traveling Symphony go around a post-apocalyptic world performing Shakespeare and musical numbers for the people who are still alive. The book starts with a scene from King Lear and uses classic themes all the way through. I think it’s a wonderful and haunting tribute to the strength of art in the face of a world that doesn’t make sense.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The 13 chapters of this book are told from different points of view and not in order. They are mostly about the lives of Bennie, an old record producer, and Sasha, his thieving assistant. They are vivid and precise slice-of-life stories that show what it’s like to live in the real world. The whole book talks about how time moves on and how we connect with each other, good or bad.
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
There are a lot of men who had relationships with Molly Lane, and her death brings them together. Clive Linley, a composer, is one of them. The book shows a lot of interest in ethical questions about privacy, politics, assisted suicide, and shifting responsibility. It does this without being preachy.
Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book is called “Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.” In simple language, Ishiguro tells stories about loss, longing, and unfulfilled dreams in music and love. My favorite story is Nocturne, which is about a saxophonist whose manager wants him to get plastic surgery so he can compete with less skilled but more attractive musicians. The narrator, who lives next to a wealthy American woman while he is healing, is a fan of the story. Their friendship turns into absurdity, hilarity, and a heartbreaking and heartwarming ending.