Playlists in Books

Mpepper/ February 15, 2024/ Think Pieces, Writing

Because this subject has blown up recently, and I have feelings about it.

I’ve never read a book with a playlist printed in it. I doubt I read the kinds of books and/or authors that would feel compelled to include a playlist. So… yeah. There’s something somewhat juvenile about that, something that (to me) screams “newbie author.” High school mix tape vibes. It also feels a bit coercive, like the author is telling me how I should feel at certain points in the book. And if they need to give me a list of songs to do that, it means the writing itself is maybe not very good?

So those are my feelings when faced with the concept of a playlist in a book. BUT. Is it really so different from using epigraphs at the beginning of a book, or at the start of various chapters? Aren’t those likewise meant to set a tone for the reader? Why are those little poetic quotes and song lyrics considered fine—literary, even—but a playlist isn’t? I don’t have an answer to that, btw, but it’s something I would want to examine within myself as a writer and reader: why I feel one way about playlists and another about epigraphs. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned? Maybe, too, I need to be more open minded.

The image of the book and its playlist that made the rounds attached to the tweet condemning said playlists… Well, it told me that I wouldn’t be a fan of the book based on the music. So maybe that’s actually helpful to readers. But also, I had to wonder whether, if the author had used the song titles as chapter titles instead, or (copyright issues aside) had simply used lyrics as epigraphs, would there have been such a fuss? My guess is no.

Back when I wrote the Sherlock fic series A Game of Hearts, my author’s note included some of the songs/bands I’d listened to while writing. The music that had fueled the stories, so to speak. Not a playlist, exactly, but not so different. And yeah, fan fiction has a different vibe than “professional” writing. But, you know, I have a Spotify playlist for The Switchgrass Crown, too. I didn’t print it in my book, but it exists.

At the end of the day, authors (particularly the self-published ones more prone to publishing these playlists in their books; I have yet to see a mainstream book include one) get to choose how to present their work. And if that includes a “soundtrack” of sorts, well, that’s their call. I don’t know what a playlist would have to include for me to pick up a book and think it was for me, though. For now, right or wrong, a certain kind of book/author/story seems to feature these, and they aren’t the kind I enjoy.

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