An initiative of the American Library Association

Core Collection: Music in Fiction

By Annie Bostrom, Susan Maguire, and Donna Seaman

Music is such a powerful force in our lives, expressing our desires and fears, love and heartache, providing consolation and inspiration. We are also intrigued by musicians and their lives. Because music is a wellspring for writers, it is also an alluring and fruitful subject for book discussions. We hope that these works of musical fiction will generate lively conversations and perhaps listening sessions, as each book suggests a soundtrack.

And After the Fire

by Lauren Belfer

In Belfer’s compelling blend of fact and fiction, a woman going through her late uncle’s belongings discovers an invaluable piece of music that poses ethical questions.

Harper, 2016.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

The Book of Harlan

by Bernice L. McFadden

When young Harlem jazz musician Harlan and a friend are invited to perform in Paris, they are drawn into the Nazi horrors, with devastating consequences.

Akashic, 2016.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

The Ensemble

by Aja Gabel

Former cellist Gabel’s stunningly resonant debut novel runs the gamut of human emotions as it follows the lives of the talented musicians—Jana, Brit, Daniel, and Henry—in a string quartet.

Riverhead, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

Half-Blood Blues

by Esi Edugyan

Jumping between 1939–40 and 1992 to tell the story of a German American jazz band and its presumed-dead star trumpeter, Edugyan’s novel features jazz history and palpable period atmosphere.

Picador, 2012.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

The Jazz Palace

by Mary Morris

In Morris’ transfixing historical novel of immigrants and migrants in Prohibition Chicago, jazz connects Napoleon, an African American trumpeter from New Orleans; Benny, a rebellious Jewish piano player; and his Pearl, the daughter of a woman who runs a speakeasy.

Anchor, 2016.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

The Music Shop

by Rachel Joyce

Frank’s nuanced musical knowledge and shop full of vinyl records connect customers to exactly the music they need—until a frail young woman challenges Frank to teach her how to listen.

Random House, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click to Read the Booklist Review.

Power Ballads

by Will Boast

Boast’s affecting linked short stories about a musician, Tim, who begins on the tuba and graduates to the drums, riff on contemporary youth culture, thirtysomething life, aging rock stars, and how disappointment and love shape every generation.

Univ. of Iowa, 2011.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

Sight Reading

by Daphne Kalotay

Composer-conductor Nicholas, a rising star when he joins the Boston Conservatory, falls in love with a student, violinist Remy, and leaves his wife and daughter, a cataclysm Kalotay sensuously dramatizes over two decades.

Harper Perennial, 2013.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

Wonderland

by Stacey D’Erasmo

D’Erasmo avoids clichés in this rhapsodic portrait of an American rock ’n’ roll diva who, during exciting and exhausting European tours, reflects on her bohemian childhood, adding up to a keenly observed, sharply funny tale of a questing musical life.

Mariner, 2014.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

Annie Bostrom is Associate Editor, Adult Books, at Booklist. She is a cat person, but also really likes dogs. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Annie.

Susan Maguire is the Senior Editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach at Booklist.

Donna Seaman is Adult Books Editor for Booklist, a recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, a member of the Content Leadership Team for the American Writers Museum, and a frequent presenter at literary events and programs. Seaman’s new book is Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists.

JOIN THE CLUB!

Sign up to receive Book Club Central reviews, author interviews, and SJP Picks.

JOIN THE CLUB!

Sign up to receive Book Club Central reviews, author interviews, and SJP Picks.

SPONSORING PARTNERS

CORPORATE PLATINUM PARTNER