Everyone love year-end lists. Music Times is currently cooking up its best-of lists for 2014's albums and songs but one list has always gathered our attention more than any other: The New York Times' "100 Notable Books" of the year of course!
Unfortunately, as music writers, we can't dabble too often in the fairer art of writing (ha, ironic) but we can suggest some albums to accompany you as you tackle the titles from the Times' favorites. Below are ten published works and an album to pair it with.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
This is a work of fiction, not another chapter in Bill O'Reilly's Killing ______ series. Although this group of short stories doesn't actually pursue the killing of Britian's renowned/notorious Cold War leader, it does take a darkly humorous approach to all of its narratives. If we had to pick someone else who hoped for Thatchers death while playing the sardonic card, we'd have to go with Morrissey. We'll somewhat ironically suggest The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths here.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Holy crap. There are many plot points in this new novel from David Mitchell that can be loosely lumped into two parts: A) The part where the protagonist's biography after running away from home is spun over 60 years and B) the part where a fantasy/sci-fi war between soul stealing villains and a band of vigilantes ensues amidst all the other stuff. We're opting for progressive album to handle all of the confusing conceptual elements, specifically Mastodon's astral projection fable Crack The Skye.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Speaking of authors who enjoy bizarre plot developments, Haruki Murakami succeeded once again with his newest novel. We're going to let the author himself steer our decision, as Murakami frequently references jazz music over the course of his bibliography. As Tsukuru Tazaki doesn't employ magical realism as often as his previous works, we'll stay away from anything too avant garde, yet still not too straightforward. How about Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus?
Dying Every Day: Seneca at The Court of Nero by James Romm
This piece of nonfiction considered the relationship between philosopher Seneca and noted a-hole Emperor Nero while the former served as an advisor. This isn't a diss aimed at Donovan, the iconic British singer-songwriter, but one of his most well known albums, Sunshine Superman, features an "advisor" of sorts working behind the scenes: Jimmy Page provided the electric guitar on the album. Considering the place Page now has in rock history, we'll say he was overshadowed on this and all of his session albums.
Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke
Despite being totally nonfiction, Elephant Company packs one of the most made-for-Hollywood plots we've ever read. Billy Williams was a Brit in Burma who had a special relationship with elephants, and used his stable of the creatures to carry wounded soldiers and build bridges (although there's a distinct lack of crushing enemy soldiers). The narrative ends with Williams and his "troops" fleeing the Japanese army across the mountains into India. Rambo is not a series that comes up a lot when discussing soundtrack classics but we'll suggest Jerry Goldsmith's score for First Blood.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
This is the kind of book where tragedy and dreams destroyed don't necessarily get cured by a deus ex machine act ending, comparable to the nouveau-classic The Brief but Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There's no perfect soundtrack something as heart-rending as this novel but this year's ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin by The Roots is perhaps 2014's most depressing album but a new classic nonetheless.
Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War by Amanda Vaill
This engaging piece on nonfiction focuses on three couples at the titular hotel-most notably Ernest Hemingway and journalist and Martha Gellhorn-who have travelled to Spain amidst its Civil War looking for inspiration at great risk. Some were more respectful of the dangers inherent to such a conflict, such as Spanish playwright Federico Garcîa Lorca. Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar ("or fountain of tears") is a wonderful opera presented as Lorca's flashbacks as he stands for execution.
My Struggle, Book 3: Boyhood by Karl Ove Knaussgaard
Norwegian author Karl Ove Knaussgaard has become a sensation in his homeland thanks to a series of six debatably-autobiographical novels, amounting to more than 3,500 pages of reading (we've only gotten the first three entries in English thus far). The author set us up for this one, mentioning that he felt he had made a Faustian bargain by novelizing his own life. The obvious choice is an opera as grand as Knaussgaard's series, Charles Gounod's Faust, a play on Goethe's classic.
On The Run: Fugitive Life in An American City by Alice Goffman
This book, despite its Hollywood-ready title, has nothing to do with being on the run from the law. Kind of. Instead, it looks at the struggles of living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. With the exception of the aforementioned Roots, Philly hasn't gotten enough credit for its role in creating hip-hop that truly reflects "real" life in the ghetto. Instead, we got Will Smith. Let's flash back to one of the originator's of gangsta rap here with Schooly D and his classic self-titled debut.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
If you want to read 50 Shades of Grey while keeping your nose up in the air, perhaps consider The Paying Guests instead. The novel details the dirty details as a family opens it home to lodgers in post World War I Britain. It's harder to find but yes, sexy music from that time period exists. We'd recommend the more recent compilation Yes Sir, That's My Baby to showcase Eddie Cantor and the subtle sex he was selling during the '20s, such as "Makin' Whoopee" and "If You Knew Susie."