If you’re not an avid music listener, the landing of Spotify in South Africa might have passed you by. The figures pertaining to the global music-streaming service burble with millions and billions: 159-million users worldwide, 2-billion playlists, 35-million songs, and so on. This might mean nothing to you if you prefer to hang on to your perfectly good iPod.
If you’re an avid reader, though, Spotify has got stuff for you.
Most obviously, it carries audiobooks and readings from novels, poems, and short stories. Next, it features writers reading their own work: think Allen Ginsberg reading his demented poem Howl in Chicago in 1959: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night”, or Sylvia Plath talking, slightly strangledly and nervily, about poetry: “Poets must manipulate their experience — even the most terrifying, like madness — with an informed and intelligent mind. Poetry should not be a shut box, mirror-looking, narcissistic experience. It must be relevant to larger things.”
And here’s a stentorious Robert Frost intoning on birches, walls, and the road less travelled.
For a while in the book world, publishers took to handing out CDs with books, collections of music that had informed or influenced the author while they were writing, or which they referenced in the work. John Connolly released a collection of suitably atmospheric music on a CD that accompanied his book The Unquiet, bringing in a whole new audience for Indie bands such as The Willard Grant Conspiracy and The Delgados. It was an intriguing, immersive experience, another insight into a writer’s mind, but costs became too high and the idea died away.
Spotify takes this to a whole new level, featuring playlists to listen to while reading certain books. Some are compiled by the authors themselves, others by publishers and fans. Haruki Murakami is famous for the musical references in his novels — usually classical, jazz, or American pop. So for the book 1Q84 the playlist includes some of his favourite pieces: The Beach Boys’ California Girls, Haydn’s Piano Sonata No 32, and Richard Harris bellowing out MacArthur Park.
Fans of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have chosen a playlist of rousing female anthems, such as Beyoncé’s Run The World (Girls) and Survivor by Destiny’s Child, to accompany her book We Should All Be Feminists.
To enhance your experience (because everything is about experience these days) you could listen to 1920s jazz standards while reading The Great Gatsby, or the plucking of a Turkish tambour for Orhan Pamuk. Time to send that iPod to the Hospice shop, methinks.
BE GONE, GIRLS
Publishers are a jealous lot. Too often when there’s a word-of-mouth breakout book they scramble to emulate its formula. Bones had a moment after Keri Hulme’s The Bone People shot the lights out: there was The Lovely Bones, The Wisdom of Bones, and so on.
When Schott’s Original Miscellany sold by the shed load, publishers set about commissioning dozens of small books of facts and trivia. Christmas — and the loo — has never been the same. And so it was with the runaway books Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. Every third thriller seems to have “girl” in the title these days, and there’s no letting up.
Coming this year, there’s The Girl in the Moon by Terry Goodkind, The Girl in the Woods by Camilla Lackberg and Elizabeth J Church’s All The Beautiful Girls. Enough already. As writer AJ Finn observed when discussing his novel The Woman in the Window: “These ‘girl’ books condescend to women readers. Can you imagine if we referred to grown men as ‘boys’? Creepy.”