Music enthusiasts and book lovers have a lot in common. Both seek out rare finds, are usually off alone absorbing their treasures, and crave a great story. It’s no wonder then that books, and everything related, serve as muses for many songwriters. Classic literature, grammar lessons, and the possibilities found in libraries are put to music ranging from friendly indie-pop, to rap, to heavy metal. Only a small selection of the numerous bookish tracks out there, this 24-song collection is fit for the most ferocious of readers.
1. “Paperback Writer” – The Beatles
Arguably the most well known song that references books, in “Paperback Writer” Lennon and McCartney channel the voice of a struggling author writing to a possible editor. In the song’s opening lyric, the writer asks, “dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?” A question for readers that is rarely responded to with a “no.”
2. “Wrapped Up In Books” – Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian
(whose name actually come from a French children’s book) sing about a hopeful couple trying to overcome their shyness in “Wrapped Up In Books.” This endearing pop song is capped off by Stuart Murdoch crooning the lyrical highlight: “our aspirations are wrapped up in books.” For an added bonus, in the music video the band performs the song in a bookstore.
3. “I Am A Rock” – Simon & Garfunkel
From a song title perspective, “Bookends” is the obvious Simon & Garfunkel song to add to this list but “I Am A Rock” earns its spot thanks to the line, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” Though Paul Simon writes of someone heartbroken in this classic song, he also describes the perfect way to hibernate in the winter.
4. “Wuthering Heights” – Kate Bush
Kate Bush writes from the perspective of Emily Brontë’s character Catherine Earnshaw in her unique take on the classic novel Wuthering Heights. An incredibly smart and weird tune (like Bush herself), the poppy chorus doesn’t hide the sadness that fills the literary lyric, “Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy. Come home. I’m so cold.”
5. “Read, Eat, Sleep” – The Books
Experimental band The Books name the three most important activities in any bibliophile’s life in their song “Read, Eat, Sleep.” With a fantastic band name to boot, The Books’ glitchy minimalistic song is great background music to accompany your latest read.
6. “Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers” – Library Voices
Like The Books, Library Voices have a band name that’s made for this list. One of the many bookish songs from the band, “Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers” is an incredibly charming pop song that name-drops Yates, Hemingway, Joyce, and Heller. The title alone perfectly captures how unattractive non-readers can be.
7. “Breezeblocks” – Alt-J
Another look at Alt-J’s graphic lyrics and it’s clear that the band is a fan of Where The Wild Things Are. Asking, “do you know where the wild things go?” and ending the song with, “please don’t go, I’ll eat you whole, I love you so” (a slight modification of the book’s original line, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”), Alt-J’s moody experimental-pop hit, is just as unnerving as Maurice Sendak’s classic.
8. “Oxford Comma” – Vampire Weekend
Grammar and book lovers unite with this infectious tune from Vampire Weekend. Packed with clever literary and punctuation quips aimed at a pretentious lover, “Oxford Comma” is indie-pop gold. It also has one of the best opening song lyrics ever: “Who gives a f—k about an Oxford comma?” Despite the hate, the Oxford comma is still a divisive piece of punctuation among literary folks.
9. “$100 Bill” – Jay-Z
Although it was written for Baz Luhrmann’s disappointing The Great Gatsby movie, Jay-Z’s use of Gatsby references in “$100 Bill” is still very impressive. The song is a blend of movie dialogue between Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and Jay-Z philosophizing on today’s consumerism. The comparison between modern life and the 1920s is probably better than the paper on The Great Gatsby you had to write in high school.
10. “Sylvia Plath” – Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams’ tragic yet charming ode to Sylvia Plath appears on his 2001 hit record Gold. In “Sylvia Plath,” Adams sings about love, depression, and Plath’s connection to both while making her a figure of relief with the earnest repetition of, “I wish I had a Sylvia Plath.” Making the song even sadder is the use of simple piano chords and Adams’ vulnerable sounding voice.
11. “White Rabbit” – Jefferson Airplane
Taking their cues from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” is almost as psychedelic as the book itself. Rooted by that fantastic bass line and referencing characters like Alice, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the Red Queen, and the White Knight, “White Rabbit” is a fantastical trip. Grace Slick’s delivery of the opening line, “one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small” is all you need to be hooked.
12. “Books Written For Girls” – Camera Obscura
Most people have either lied about books they’ve read or been on the receiving end of that lie. Tracyanne Campbell muses on exactly this in Camera Obscura’s “Books Written For Girls.” Campbell tells the story of a guy who “likes to read books written for girls” but “will disappoint you” in the end. Despite Camera Obscura’s quiet folk-pop delivery, the sting of the lyrics cannot be masked.