8 books you should read with music from films and TV shows
It might seem like sensory overload, but reading while listening to music from films and TV shows can enhance your experience.
Some scores sit well alongside the stories that inspired their on-screen adaptations (Showtime’s Dexter or the Picture of Dorian Gray, for example), but the most exciting reading experiences can stem from pairing books with a left-field choice of soundtrack.
A tip: listen on shuffle. If the track doesn’t fit the chapter, skip it. If the scene is calm, you’ll need a track to match.
Here are some highly recommended combinations you might like to try.
8. Life on the Preservation (Jack Skillingstead) / House of Cards (Jeff Beal)
The story of Ian Palmer, a Seattle based graffiti artist who slowly realizes he’s stuck in an endless time loop, is well accompanied by Jeff Beal’s score to the Netflix original political drama House of Cards. As it turns out, Ian’s also trapped in an enormous impenetrable bubble, preserving Seattle from the outside world, which has been struck by an apocalypse. It’s a mystery!
Beal’s score often presents a safe, happy-go-lucky sort of sensation — sweeping symbols, fleeting tingles — but sinister undertones do occasionally creep in. Intermittent bass adds a level of uncertainty and contemplative strings give life to scenes in which Ian’s world simultaneously begins to make sense and lose its meaning.
7. The Hearing Trumpet (Leanora Carrington) / Dirk Gently (Daniel Pemberton)
I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of The Hearing Trumpet. The prose rambles on and on with no chapter splits to differentiate between events or perspectives. It was on my reading list in my first year at uni and despite my initial distaste for it, my experience was improved by listening to Daniel Pemberton’s darkly comic and thought-provoking score from BBC’s Dirk Gently series.
Sometimes, to get through a book that’s disagreeing with you, you simply need to shift your headspace: alter the genre, recast it, add color, or strip it bare. Selecting the right score, or indeed choosing one at random, can reignite a difficult read. Leonora Carrington’s 92-year-old Marian Leatherby lends herself nicely to Pemberton’s deranged arrangements; an unlikely hero who inconveniently drags her reader through a befuddling landscape full of fantastical creatures, characters, twists, and turns.
6. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) / The Cabin in the Woods (David Julyan)
As one of my first classic bits of literature, I was surprised that Shelley’s Frankenstein is quite a different beast from the bombastic majority of movie adaptations. It chugs along at a much slower pace. Its aesthetics are bleak and disturbing. It dwells near incessantly on human suffering, segregation, and the ethical implications of playing God. The Cabin in the Woods, however, is a teenage horror flick from Joss Whedon dead set on rejigging the horror genre in such a way that it renders any previously established tropes unusable in a serious context.
David Julyan’s gradual, brooding score is consistently eerie, imbuing the film and Shelley’s novel with a shivering understated sense of dread. Even its safest, calmest moments suggest impending doom, which underscores the monsters’ monologues beautifully. Rage, fear, and heartbreak are baked in thick.
5. The Odyssey (Homer) / The Chronicles of Riddick (Graeme Revell)
Another book I wouldn’t have read voluntarily, The Odyssey was the first title I read for uni and so, despite its length and an unrealistic deadline, I rattled through it at lightning speed. Large quantities of coffee aided me and Graeme Revell’s frantic score from Chronicles of Riddick set me neatly against the clock.
I’ve not seen the film — rather, I fell asleep during its opening titles — but I awoke in time for its closing sequence and gorged on its thundering, choir-heavy, panic-stricken orchestra. Faced with archaic prose, I was in need of audio that would keep me awake and heighten my imaginative capabilities; I found Revell effortlessly supports Homer’s gargantuan imagery. Odysseus’ epic journey was immediately jolted into marvelous technicolor.
4. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Stieg Larsson) / The Gunman (Marco Beltrami)
Don’t judge me. I didn’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first, but still found its sequel a joy to digest. I couldn’t understand exactly how to pronounce half of its Swedish names and quite often had to retrace my steps by flicking back to previous chapters. But, if ever there’s a book that encompasses the term ‘page-turner’, it’s Stieg Larsson’s second Salander Blomkvist cat/mouse mystery thriller.
At times, I used the score from Spooks: The Greater Good by Dominic Lewis, which works well for a few of the novels’ tech-oriented segments, but it’s generally a quieter score all round. Certainly, towards the narrative’s second half, Larson ups the ante which demands some of Marco Beltrami’s urgency from The Gunman. Throughout, there are occasional prangs and buzzes that allude to a digital chase too. Both his score and the book are sweaty and chaotic.
3: A Study in Scarlet (Arthur Conan Doyle) / Jack Reacher (Joe Kramer)
I discovered this combo on a coach from Exeter. I’d been trying A Study in Scarlet alongside David Arnold’s score for BBC’s Sherlock series, but the books move slower than Cumberbatch’s manic portrayal. I fell upon the Jack Reacher score, mostly because I wasn’t in a position to stream and it was one of the few I’d downloaded. Lo and behold, it worked.
Joe Kramer’s score is a chin stroker, which perfectly suits the mystery of any Holmes story. Unbeknownst to me, the second half of the book tells a series of events set in Salt Lake City that barely feature the famous detective at all. Despite this, his presence can be felt lurking somewhere in the background, and thanks to motifs in this score, I was pondering how the stories would intersect. Sometimes, Kramer sways from serious detecting into subtle romance, and with a love story at the second half’s heart, this serves up another layer of delicious precision.
2. War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells) / X-Men: Apocalypse (John Ottman)
One of the best reading decisions I’ve ever made: H.G. Wells’ sci-fi disaster meets John Ottman’s operatic accompaniment to, let’s face it, a lackluster X-Men outing. Beyond the score’s feverish initial tracks (The Transference, Pyramid Collapse) there are softer pieces so achingly full of pain and drudgery that one can’t help but feel a stretched sense of loss: the collapse of civilization, the burden of survival, and the uncertainty of any kind of future.
As if Wells’ stakes weren’t high enough, Ottman brings the Martians hefty mechanical presence into startling HD. His choir’s fearful vocals provide vivid scale. The narrator, squirming at the foot of one of these contraptions, pairs seamlessly with loud momentary clatterings of sound. If the timing works in your favor, this will be followed by an awe-inspiring, grandiose flurry of trumpets. Later, ceremonious tones take hold, as if to respect the dead and herald the next red weed-laden path for our narrator to navigate.
1. 1984 (George Orwell) / Wayward Pines (Charlie Clouser)
It’s as if they were made for each other. George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, blends so perfectly with Charlie Clouser’s dead-eyed score for Wayward Pines that I pity anyone who hasn’t experienced both at the same time. I’ve not seen the TV series but discovered its soundtrack because I’m such a big fan of Clouser’s work on the horror franchise: Saw.
Needless to say, Wayward Pines is a lot more sedated. He does ramp up the tension in places though, begrudgingly building towards some huge, dangerous unveiling. With a patchwork of conspiracies forming 1984’s central premise, these revelatory surges help underline Winston’s daily turmoil. Grimy twangs, rattling bass, and blusterous energy work hard to push the reader into a claustrophobic, grating environment fixated on submission, suppression, and betrayal.
There you have it!
So why not try them yourself? My personal preference is to read alongside scores from TV shows or even video games as they usually feature a lot more music than movies. That said, so long as you aren’t a hopelessly slow reader, sticking Spotify on loop should serve you well.
This article started life as a video project I made for YouTube. Watch it here.