Books and music often go hand-in-hand. Both are art forms which evoke strong emotions in their audience, and allow the artist to deeply connect with others. It’s not uncommon for writers to be influenced by music and, often, this means that music will appear in their books in some form or another.
For those who love to read and love to listen to music, books about music are a great way to combine the two passions. Whether it’s a fictional book where music plays a role, or a non-fiction where the reader sees the inner workings of a musician’s mind, there are endless options for books about music.
Let’s get into fifteen of the best music books for all music lovers.
FICTION BOOKS ABOUT MUSIC
Music is a way for people to represent themselves in an artistic form, and to connect to others. So, it’s no wonder that incorporating music into a fictional narrative adds to the story’s atmosphere and emotional depth. Whether reading about war-torn Europe or 1960s rock-and-roll-era London, the addition of music can often allow readers to connect and identify with the main characters in a story.
Here are five fictional books for music lovers:
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
The Commitments is the first novel by Irish author Roddy Doyle, following the ups and downs of soul band The Commitments from their roots in suburban Dublin, to their journey writing music and playing gigs. This book is short, light-hearted and humorous. It’s written mainly in dialogue, and, of course, full to the brim with music.
The Sound Between the Notes by Barbara Probst
From award-winning author Barbara Probst, The Sound Between the Notes is about a woman’s search for identity and connection through her music. It follows pianist Susannah, whose career has been on hold for years as she raises her child. When an opportunity arises for Susannah to play again, we see her emotional journey to reconnect with music and follow her dreams.
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Utopia Avenue is the eighth novel by bestselling author David Mitchell, about rock band Utopia Avenue as they traverse the 1960s London rock scene. Each chapter focuses on a different member of the band as they deal with fame, music, family, romance, and everything else that a life in music brings. We think this is one of the best music books because of the many cameos from real-life musicians, including David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Leonard Cohen.
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
Nocturnes is the first short story collection by bestselling author Kazuo Ishiguro. It contains five stories, each following a different character whose life involves music in some form. While the stories explore themes of love and passion, as well as loss and tragedy, music is the common theme that connects them all. At parts humorous, at parts haunting, this collection is sure to be on any music lovers’ list of the best music books.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan was first published in 2011 to rave reviews and numerous award wins and shortlistings. It follows jazz bassist Sidney Griffiths and his bandmates in 1939 Berlin and 1940s Paris. Edugyan beautifully describes the sensations and emotions that come with playing the music you love, while at the same time depicting the jazz scene in Europe in times of war.
BEST NON-FICTION MUSIC BOOKS
Music is found in every culture throughout the world. Many musicians, writers, and even scientists have wondered why music is so important to our society, and what makes our relationship with it so significant. There are countless non-fiction books trying to answer these questions, and it can be sometimes difficult to choose which of these books about music to read.
Look no further – below are our non-fiction picks of the best music books:
Songbook by Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby is the writer of High Fidelity, About A Boy, and many more bestselling books. In Songbook, Hornby uses his signature wit and insight to delve into our relationship with music. Though he talks about his favourite songs and why he loves them, this book is really a celebration of music in general, and each person’s unique relationship with it.
Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa
In Absolutely on Music, acclaimed author Haruki Murakami is in conversation with his friend Seiji Ozawa, former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We’ve explored Murakami’s unbreakable bond with music before, and this book brings that relationship to life. The book focuses largely on classical music, but Murakami’s engaging writing style makes this intimate and insightful conversation between friends into one of the best books for music lovers.
This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J Levitin
This Is Your Brain on Music is a fascinating study of both music and neuroscience, which asks the question: why does music have such a big effect on us? The book about music is chock-full of information and theory, as well as amusing anecdotes. Musicians, scientists, and everyone in between will find something interesting in this book.
I'm Not With The Band: A Writer's Life Lost In Music by Sylvia Patterson
Sylvia Patterson is one of Britain’s most important music journalists. This book is part memoir, part dissection of how the music industry and celebrity culture changed over Patterson’s 30-year career. It’s written in a funny, engaging tone, giving insights not only into music but also into broader questions about life, society, and our place in the world.
More Brilliant than the Sun by Kodwo Eshun
Known as one of the best books about music ever written, More Brilliant Than The Sun explores the intersection between black music and science fiction. Intellectual, and at times abstract, this will appeal to those who love music theory. It was first released in 1999 but has recently been republished in a brand-new edition.
BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR BOOKS FOR MUSIC LOVERS
Of course, not all non-fiction music books are so theoretical or, indeed, general. Many focus on the ups and downs of specific musicians or bands, reliving their memories and legacies through the written word. Some of the biggest musicians in the world have written their own books about music, or had books written about them, and it’s not always necessary to be a fan of the music – sometimes their story is fascinating in their own right.
Below are some books by or about musicians that can be enjoyed by both fans and non-fans:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Just Kids gives readers a glimpse into the life of legendary American singer-songwriter Patti Smith, who rose to fame in the 1960s. It details her life in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, and her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The writing is beautifully honest and emotional – this is a book for music lovers and literature fans alike.
Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany by Uwe Schütte
Kraftwerk is a pop band first formed in Germany in 1969 and known for its unique and experimental sound, which influenced much of the most popular music of the 70s and 80s. This book looks at Kraftwerk not just in terms of its musical legacy, but also as a cultural phenomenon.
The Beautiful Ones by Prince
The Beautiful Ones contains part of Prince’s unseen memoir – which was unfinished at the time of his death – along with notes, lyric sheets, and photos from his extraordinary life. Filled with fascinating insights into Prince’s persona, artistry, and music, this is one of those books about music that will interest both hardcore and casual fans.
Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years by Michael Posner
This is the first of three volumes that chronicle the life of musician, poet, and artist Leonard Cohen from the perspective of those who knew him best. This book takes the reader on a journey from Cohen’s childhood in Montreal, up to his first international tour in the 1970s, told through interviews with bandmates, friends, lovers, music industry colleagues and more.
Me by Elton John
Elton John’s 2019 memoir gives fans a glimpse into the music icon’s extraordinary life from his own perspective. From growing up in a London suburb to becoming one half of the world’s most successful songwriting partnership, John reflects on his life with his signature wit and honesty. A true gem and certainly on our list of the best music books.
Cover Credit: Sara Kurfeß / Unsplash
Writer | Tríona Marshall
Tríona is a writer from Dublin, Ireland, who specialises in travel, languages, arts, and culture. When not writing, Tríona can be found reading, trying out new local restaurants, or booking her next trip.