Konstantin Dyadyun; konstantin-dyadyun-UF2-gL3q-38-unsplash; unplash

Playlists within books – a hit or a flop?

If I asked you to think about what reading looks like, you would probably picture a bookworm flipping through the pages of a book (or scrolling through an ebook) in a library or a similarly quiet space. But what if I told you that reading can involve your ears as well as your eyes? That’s where the trend of playlists within books comes into play.

Some contemporary writers have created playlists to accompany their novels – although this is relatively rare. Most story playlists are curated by readers who love an author’s story so much that they compile a playlist for it. So, what are the pros and cons of this emerging trend?

One major bonus is immersion. If we listen to a soundtrack while watching a film to get more immersed in the story, surely listening to a playlist while reading a book can produce a similar immersive effect. Music can provide greater insight into characters’ emotions – a song like ‘Symphony’ by Sheppard is the perfect accompaniment to the scene in 100 Days of Sunlight where the protagonist realises she has feelings for the boy who has been managing her blog as she recovers from her temporary blindness (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/397l2IJNOpZOxVhacR1h2y?si=19dfc3a7dd2048bc).

Furthermore, a playlist can be a great opportunity to discover new artists. When listening to music, it can be so easy to stick to the songs and artists you know, but this can come at the expense of hearing songs you haven’t heard before that you might enjoy. Having music that is linked to your favourite novels can be an added incentive to broaden your musical horizons. Listening to the Turtles All the Way Down playlist (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3AaELNsBM4PYS8wcGAm3DH?si=d9dbf00ec7d94b27) introduced me to a new favourite song, ‘The Night We Met’ by Lord Huron.

For readers, making a story playlist can be a fun activity that brings the playlist creator (and those who listen to it) joy. These reader-made playlists are the most abundant: just type the name of one of your favourite novels in the Spotify search bar and tens of playlists should appear.

As for writers, playlist-making can help them get into the headspace of their characters and even inspire writing

As for writers, playlist-making can help them get into the headspace of their characters and even inspire writing. As a writer in my spare time, there have been times when listening to one of my favourite songs has inspired me to write a scene and I have subsequently incorporated those songs into my story playlist.

However, there are some drawbacks to story playlists. Information overload can occur if you are reading a book and listening to a playlist simultaneously: it is very difficult to focus on reading a book if headphones are filling your ears with lyrics.

Also if the playlist curator is not careful, they can inadvertently reveal spoilers in their playlists

Also if the playlist curator is not careful, they can inadvertently reveal spoilers in their playlists. A break-up song indicates there will be a break-up – something that a reader who has just begun the book does not yet want to know. Putting a story playlist on shuffle can lead to the song not matching the mood of the scene you’re reading, which can be jarring.

Perhaps the main reason that story playlists aren’t ubiquitous is that authors want the reader to focus on their story and not on songs that someone else has created. Authors work hard to craft their novels and this hard work deserves to be rewarded with undivided attention and appreciation. Playlists tend to favour people with music subscriptions, which cost lots of money – and if the reader has already paid £8.99 for a book, why should they have to pay £11.99 per month to have ad-free access to the accompanying Spotify playlist?

Ultimately, the decision of whether to listen to a playlist while reading a book is up to the reader. Some readers love reading their favourite novels with music in the background and having a curated playlist excites them, while other readers would rather read in the quiet in bed. For the record, I think story playlists are a fun addition to the book world even though I prefer to read in silence. If listening to story playlists gives you joy, go for it!


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