Book Corner: Celebrating the Power of Music Through Books

There is nothing like the power of music to evoke emotions or memories, even decades after a tune’s popularity has faded. When I hear Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” I’m reminded of putting on my dad’s 45 and jumping around the living room with my little sister. “One More Try” by George Michael elicits that old middle school gym smell and first dances, and “Jump” by Kris Kross takes me back to high school marching band trips. (You should, by now, be able to tell me my exact age.) There are songs that make me cry, songs I can’t stand, and songs that get stuck in my head for days. Everyone experiences and appreciates music differently, yet it unites us all like nothing else can, whether we perform, listen or dance to it.

For inspiration, try this eclectic mixtape of books:

Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen
NPR's “All Songs Considered” creator Boilen wanted to know, “Is there a song that changed your life?” He posed the question to musical legends and rising stars and compiled 35 interviews that reflect crucial moments inspiring their work. A variety of classic and current voices in music include Smokey Robinson, Jimmy Page, Michael Stipe, Leon Bridges and Courtney Barnett, providing widespread appeal.

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
Hendrix displays his horror chops once again. In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was on the brink of success, until lead singer Terry Hunt abandoned the band for a solo career. Twenty years later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski is working in a hotel, and, when an act of extreme violence upends her quiet life, she begins to suspect Terry was up to something more. Kris embarks on a nightmarish journey, replete with Satanists, conspiracy theories, and the music festival from hell in order to reunite with her former bandmates and confront Terry head on.

More Myself by Alicia Keys
Celebrated musician Keys has captivated millions with her extensive vocal range, relatable lyrics, and exquisite piano compositions. Yet her glowing public image has concealed the fact that Keys spent years not fully recognizing her own worth. She struggled over her complex relationship with her father, a lack of privacy surrounding romantic relationships, and the expectations of perfectionism and the drive to be a people-pleaser. Keys reveals the process of self-discovery she’s still navigating, recounting personal recollections from her childhood in Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem, and calling readers to define themselves in a world that rarely encourages embracing one’s truth and identity.

A Song for A New Day by Sarah Pinsker
In the Before, Luce Cannon was a rising music star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban large public gatherings, including concerts. So she performs illegal concerts for a passionate community, always evading the law. Rosemary Laws is working aimlessly for a drone delivery company when she finds a new calling: discover new musicians by finding the illegal concerts and bringing them to the world via virtual reality. But when Rosemary sees how things could actually be, virtual reality no longer seems like enough.

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
Music occupies more areas of our brain than do words. It manipulates our emotions in a myriad number of ways, powerful enough to conjure 30-year-old memories, persuade us to buy things, and lift us out of depression. Music can torture us with earworms and inflict us with nonstop musical hallucinations. More often than not, though, music goes right: Neurologist Sacks describes how music animates people with Parkinson’s who can’t otherwise move, gives words to stroke patients, and calms people whose memories are compromised by dementia. Through the experiences of patients, musicians and everyday people, Sacks unpacks the magic of music and tells us why it is so irresistible and unforgettable.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, taking after her father, an underground hip-hop legend who died right before hitting it big. When Bri records “On the Come Up” to protest the racial profiling she endured by her high school’s white security guards, the song goes viral, resulting in a cascading set of effects. Bri just wants to make it big and help her family out of poverty, but she’s labeled by the media as a menace, and her home life and relationships start to fracture as a new manager entices her with promises of money and fame—at a price.

How Music Can Make You Better by Indre Viskontas
Neuroscientist and opera singer Viskontas calls on readers to view music in a new way as she investigates what music is and how it can change us for the better. She explains that music can be used to design a better life by identifying the types of music we truly like and using it to cultivate desired emotions, sharpen our minds, and relieve stress. In addition, music made in groups boosts oxytocin, the attachment hormone, and Viskontas encourages us to use today’s music-making tools to create without embarrassment and not just be passive listeners.

Mark Your Calendars
Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s 35th annual Music on the Steps takes place on Mondays from 7–8 p.m., with the first several concerts held virtually because of COVID-19. Visit for the schedule, band information and updates.

Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.