The best books for inspiring 80s/90s mixtapes

Lisabeth Posthuma Author Of Baby and Solo
By Lisabeth Posthuma

Who am I?

As a latchkey kid with cable access, I was practically raised by MTV. In the 80s/90s, Music Television defined popular culture, and it’s through music videos that I received my education on how songs can enhance the motion picture experience (and vice versa). My favorite books are ones that read like movies, and since movie soundtracks are, essentially, mixtapes for stories, I work to incorporate the perfect songs into my writing to set the mood for my readers. I take note with other writers do that, too, which is how I developed this list.


I wrote...

Baby and Solo

By Lisabeth Posthuma,

Book cover of Baby and Solo

What is my book about?

Seventeen-year-old Joel Teague has a new prescription from his therapist—a part-time job—the first step toward the elusive normal life he’s been so desperate to live ever since The Bad Thing happened. Lucky for Joel, ROYO Video is hiring. It’s the perfect fresh start. Dubbed “Solo” after his favorite Star Wars character, Joel works his way up the not-so-corporate ladder without anyone suspecting What Was Wrong With Him. Until he befriends Nicole “Baby” Palmer, a smart-mouthed coworker with a chip on her shoulder about...well, everything.

When Joel’s past inevitably catches up with him, he’s forced to choose between preserving his new blank slate persona or coming clean and risk losing the first real friend he’s ever had. Set in a pop-culture-rich 1990s, this remarkable story tackles challenging and timely themes with huge doses of wit, power, and heart.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why did I love this book?

The way music is used in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it could be a character itself. Chbosky masterfully weaves a soundtrack into this story by his narrator Charlie’s commentary on songs and their artists, as well as his observations about literature and art as a kid in Pittsburgh circa 1991. The kind of music a person loves reveals so much about them, and I feel like I know Charlie on a deeper level because of how he feels about the song “Asleep” by The Smiths. I’d buy a cassette player just to listen to a mixtape made by any of the characters in this story. Even Mary Elizabeth.

By Stephen Chbosky,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Perks of Being a Wallflower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A modern cult classic, a major motion picture and a timeless bestseller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story.

Charlie is not the biggest geek in high school, but he's by no means popular.

Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is attempting to navigate through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and music - when all one requires to feel infinite is that…


Eleanor & Park

By Rainbow Rowell,

Book cover of Eleanor & Park

Why did I love this book?

It’s the mid-80s in Nebraska in Eleanor & Park, and a shared love for English rock bands is the fertile ground from which the titular characters complicated love story blossoms. Again, The Smiths would fill most of the A side tracks on this mixtape, as they are the band most mentioned throughout the book, which is apropos for this emo-before-emo-was-a-thing tale. Had John Hughes not somewhat wasted “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark on Blane and Andie, I think that song would’ve made a great love theme for Eleanor and Park, and I’d definitely include it on my E&P Mix.

By Rainbow Rowell,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Eleanor & Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love, but what it's like to be young and in love with a book' John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.

Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and - in Eleanor's eyes - impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to…


Pure

By Rebbecca Ray,

Book cover of Pure

Why did I love this book?

Unlike the previous two titles, Pure doesn’t have an author built-in soundtrack. However, this story, written in 2000 by a sixteen-year-old (!!!), is as paradoxically blunt and elusive as so many alternative music albums of the 1990s were. A mixtape for Pure would definitely include Hole, Radiohead, Tori Amos, an Explicit Content label, and just about all the trigger warnings you can think of. As difficult as some of the scenes of this book were to read, I found it deeply impactful and empathy-inducing. I’ve yet to meet another person who connected with this book that I don’t feel a certain kinship to. They are few and far between, like people who still own a Temple of the Dog CD.  

By Rebbecca Ray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sensational and accomplished novel that made its young author one of the most talked about in Britain last year, Pure is about fourteen -- the age when you know everything, except when you don't know anything. It's about first love and the end of innocence in all its passion and absurdity. It's about the raw transition between loving your parents as a child and understanding them as an adult. It's about the cool friend for whom everything seems effortless, and the impossibly embarrassing friend you're nice to when your cool friends can't see. It's about the struggle between desire…


My Mad Fat Diary

By Rae Earl,

Book cover of My Mad Fat Diary

Why did I love this book?

As we’ve established, you can’t have an 80s/90s mixtape without The Smiths, so it’s a good thing that they’re acknowledged early on in My Mad Fat Diary. However, since this story is set in the mid-90s in Lincolnshire, the majority of the musical mentions are BritPop. An A side of this mixtape would include Blur, Pulp, and Suede, while the B side would just be repeated recordings of “Wonderwall” by Oasis—except for the last track, which should be whatever 90s song you view as your personal mantra for self-love and congratulations.  

By Rae Earl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Mad Fat Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The funny, sad and compelling diary kept by an overweight teenage girl that became the basis for the British television sensation of the same name available to stream on HULU.

It's 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can't keep away from.

She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis…


Prep

By Curtis Sittenfeld,

Book cover of Prep

Why did I love this book?

Set in a fictional prep school in New England over four years in the 80s/90s, the only song that the Prep soundtrack would have to include is “Lay, Lady, Lay” by Bob Dylan since it is the one song narrator Lee Fiora mentions connecting with throughout her high school years. However, I would position that would she have been more open to indulging in music, Lee would have also developed a deep affection for bands like Pixies, Sonic Youth, Violent Femmes, and—obviously—R.E.M.. It’s their music I would feature on a Prep mixtape, anyway. Knowing Lee, she wouldn’t be into The Smiths if everyone else was, though I’d probably throw in “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get” by ex-Smith Morrissey because of her relationship with Cross Sugarman.

By Curtis Sittenfeld,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Prep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An insightful, achingly funny coming-of-age story as well as a brilliant dissection of class, race, and gender in a hothouse of adolescent angst and ambition.

Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when her father drops her off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She leaves her animated, affectionate family in South Bend, Indiana, at least in part because of the boarding school’s glossy brochure, in which boys in sweaters chat in front of old brick buildings, girls in kilts hold lacrosse sticks on pristinely mown athletic fields, and everyone sings hymns in chapel.…


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The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

Book cover of The Rosewood Penny

J.S. Fields

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction. 

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band, they rob the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is, maybe more than Marani herself.

The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

What is this book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction.

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band they rob from the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is,…


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