Music and Reading


Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
Twitter | Website



Oftentimes, music is strongly associated with many of our reading experiences. Here at Backroom Whispering Productions (BWP), many of our members like to have a playlist of music going while they read. Some create an eclectic playlist of widely-disparate tracks; others take more care and time to pair their selected music with what’s going on in their chosen book. And, even then, the results can be different: you might like techno or hard rock with a catchy and fast beat for an action sequence, while your friend might like some kind of classical music for that same scene instead. Whatever floats your boat!

Authors, too, have been known to create playlists for their writing, releasing these to readers who may then listen to the songs that inspired the creation of some of their favorite books/series. For example, Sabaa Tahir, the author of An Ember in the Ashes, provided her readers with quite an extensive playlist associated with the primary characters of her debut. According to her, listening to her selection of songs was vital to understanding her characters:

“…without music, I could never have written the book. And without playlists, I could never have accessed Laia or Elias’s psyches.”

Brandon Sanderson, too, has been providing his readers with a playlist of the music he has listened to while writing the upcoming third book in his Stormlight Archive series. Compared to Tahir, Sanderson’s playlist consist of more instrumental tracks, drawing heavily from various film and video game soundtracks. The scores to films and video games are a great means of experiencing a variety of moods and emotions through melody, especially when you consider that soundtracks usually have more tracks than other types of albums.

Personally, my favorite soundtracks include:

  • Halo (all of the games)
  • Zelda (especially the remix from Theophany)
  • World of Warcraft (WoW)
  • All the music of Lindsay Stirling

Furthermore, series’ that have been adapted for film or television — such as The Lord of the Rings (LoTR) and Game of Thrones (GoT) — actually have soundtracks with which one can associate their original novels. It doesn’t, however, always work out that way. For
example, while I associate the soundtracks from the LoTR films strongly with the novels, even going so far as to hear the music from the films in my head while thinking about the original.jpgstory; but when I think of GoT, I hear not the show’s soundtrack, but the music I was listening to when I first read the books. I will, however, admit that some of the songs used in the trailers for the show’s various season are fantastic — like “Seven Devils” by Florence & the Machine, which was chosen to promote Season 2, that fit the numerous themes of the series very well.

When I first read A Game of Thrones a few years ago while on a plane to Asia, it was the music of Loreena McKennit I listened to while reading, not the television soundtrack. In my opinion, her music and the Martin’s novel went quite well together, with her lyrics powerfully capturing the magic and mystery that accompanies reading about a different, fantastical world. The opening lyrics to her song “Caravanserai,” for example, really capture for me the ephemeral nature of life felt by so many of GoT‘s characters:

This glancing life is like a morning star
A setting sun, or rolling waves at sea
A gentle breeze or lightning in a storm
A dancing dream of all eternity

Regardless of whether or not there is a thematic correlation between a piece of music and a book, I know that I usually end up associating a book with whatever given music I hear while reading. During that same GoT plane ride, the Arab-pop playlist of the airline (Emirates) got stuck in my head; now, whenever I listen to Arab music, I cannot help but think of Tyrion Lannister. And by the time I reached the third novel in the series, A Storm urlof Swords, I listened to “Let Go” by Frou Frou, a song which I now associate with the end of the War of Five Kings (and two rather infamous weddings); that song, for me, the feeling of the end of that war, of moving on, and of grass growing and spring coming again — regardless of what the lyrics actually say.

In the case of another favorite book of mine, Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, I don’t have the luxury of a film or television adaptation of the novel in order to draw direct musical correlation. So, instead, I most closely associate this book with the music of an anime entitled Shinsekai Yori. Composed by Shigeo Komori, the score‘s deep and mysterious mood reminded me of rains and storms — both significant thematic images in The Way of Kings.

I don’t always listen to music while reading, more often than not choosing to read without any type of added sound. Thomas Carlyle said that “silence is deep as Eternity,” and I find it easier to get immersed in what I’m reading when there is nothing to disturb me, or my imagination. But there’s no denying that music and reading seem to go together. Even after I’ve finished a book, and am reflecting upon it, I go back to retroactively select music that accompanies my thoughts and feelings. For example, I made a playlist specifically for when I’m feeling mysterious or introspective after or while reading, based on Bollywood songs set in the desert (I dig the desert and associate it with mystery and discovery). One of the roots of my interest in the desert is now the hearing of Indian music while reading about it, like with the desert scenes of The Wheel of Time. (Here is my “Indian Desert Music” playlist —  I highly recommend listening to it!)

Readers, how do music and reading interact for you?


*Nota bene: All links to books available for purchase through Amazon are affiliate links, which means Backroom Whispering Productions receive a small percentage of the sales made through that link.



One thought on “Music and Reading

  1. Emma Kate says:

    I associate Switchfoot’s albums Nothing is Sound and The Beautiful Letdown with The Wheel of Time series to the point when I recently started rereading the series the songs popped into my head even though I hadn’t listened to them for many years. Many of them themes in those two albums mirror the themes of identity and fate/free will in the series. The song The Shadow Proves the Sunshine in particular works well with the overarching theme balance.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s