The best books for inspiring 80s/90s mixtapes

Lisabeth Posthuma Author Of Baby and Solo
By Lisabeth Posthuma

The Books I Picked & Why

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why 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.

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Eleanor & Park

By Rainbow Rowell

Book cover of Eleanor & Park

Why 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.

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By Rebbecca Ray

Book cover of Pure

Why 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.  

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My Mad Fat Diary

By Rae Earl

Book cover of My Mad Fat Diary

Why 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.  

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By Curtis Sittenfeld

Book cover of Prep

Why 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.

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