My favorite books about people fixated on music

Why am I passionate about this?

I wrote Leaving the Beach because I was once bulimic and music-obsessed. After seeking help and recovering, I realized I wanted to write a realistic book about a bulimic woman; it was critical that I didn’t unintentionally romanticize any aspects of this insidious, potentially fatal disease.


I wrote...

Leaving the Beach

By Mary Rowen,

Book cover of Leaving the Beach

What is my book about?

Leaving the Beach is a novel about Erin Reardon, a woman suffering from a serious eating disorder. Erin spends countless hours fantasizing about rock icons like Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello, believing she has authentic connections with them. Then, one night, she experiences a chance meeting with an actual rock star and everything in her life changes.

Note from the author: Leaving the Beach is told in first person by an unreliable narrator named Erin Reardon. Erin is bulimic, she suffers from anxiety and depression, and she engages in dangerous behaviors. Other themes in the book include suicide and suicidality. If any of these topics might distress or trigger you, please read with caution or choose another book. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Music Book

Mary Rowen Why did I love this book?

If you’ve ever wondered if humanity could survive without music, Dave O’Leary’s The Music Book is for you. Set in Seattle during the post-Nirvana/Pearl Jam period, the story follows earnest, likable Rob through nightclubs, strip bars, and a prison on an alcohol-enhanced quest for love and an answer to his question about what music actually means to the world. A truly unique and compelling story.

By Dave O'Leary,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What does music mean? Can it be more than the sum of its notes and melodies? Can it truly change you? Rob, a musician turned reluctant music critic, poses these questions as everything important in his life appears to be fading—memories of lost love, songs from his old bands, even his hearing. He delves into the music of others to find solace and purpose, and discovers that the chords and repeated phrases echo themes that have emerged in his own life. The music sustains him, but can it revive him?

The Music Book is a story of loss, of fear…


Book cover of High Fidelity

Mary Rowen Why did I love this book?

This was the book that made me believe I could someday write a novel about a person whose life revolved around music. No, I’ll never write as well or prolifically as Nick Hornby, but after attending one of Hornby’s readings during his High Fidelity tour, I realized I wasn’t as odd as I’d once considered myself. Hornby’s protagonist—a male record store owner—embarks on a personal quest to understand why all his relationships with women have ended in breakups. Music finds its way into almost every situation in this novel, which, in many ways, is a romantic comedy. However, long after I forgot many of the plot details, the protagonist’s fixation with music and bands has stuck with me.

By Nick Hornby,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked High Fidelity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I've always loved Nick Hornby, and the way he writes characters and the way he thinks. It's funny and heartbreaking all at the same time."—Zoë Kravitz

From the bestselling author of Funny Girl, About a Boy, A Long Way Down and Dickens and Prince, a wise and hilarious novel about love, heartbreak, and rock and roll.

Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a…


Book cover of Girl

Mary Rowen Why did I love this book?

When I first read Girl, I thought Blake Nelson was a woman. That’s how convincingly this male author writes—diary-style—in the voice of female protagonist Andrea. Andrea’s a typical high school student in the Pacific Northwest who lives and breathes music and thrift-store clothing. But through her friendship with another like-minded woman, she becomes way more involved in the Portland, Oregon grunge scene than she ever imagined she would. One thing I love about Girl is the way we experience the world exclusively through Andrea’s eyes. She sees the world as it happens, without editorializing or offering any sweeping commentaries. I found this book impossible to put down.

By Blake Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Meet Andrea Marr, straight-A high school student, thrift-store addict, and princess of the downtown music scene. Andrea is about to experience her first love, first time, and first step outside the comfort zone of high school, with the help of indie rock band The Color Green.

"After I saw Todd Sparrow something deep inside me began to change. It was not a big change and I didn't shave my head and I didn't really think any differently about my life or Hillside or anything like that. But one glimpse of Todd and you immediately realized how limited you were and…


Book cover of Please, Pretty Lights

Mary Rowen Why did I love this book?

All the characters in this storyeven the minor onesare so three-dimensional and human that they must be based at least partly on real people. The protagonist, Via—who lost her parents to gun violence as a child and struggles with substance abuse and other things—isn’t a musician or a die-hard music fan, but music and the Seattle music scene play such a huge role in this story that I was compelled to include it on my list. Ina Zajac’s writing is impeccable. She doesn’t shy away from the gritty side of reality and demonstrates a deep understanding of musicians, the things that make them tick, and the people who love them.

By Ina Zajac,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An emotionally-charged urban cautionary tale with quirky characters who will stay with you: including Grandma Daney, a mystical star child who serves up universal inspiration with her milk and cookies.

It’s September when good girl Via Sorenson stumbles into a Seattle strip club, drunk and alone on her twenty-first birthday. Matt and Nick—best friends, bandmates, and bouncers—do their best to shield her from their sadistic cocaine-trafficking boss, Carlos. They don’t realize her daddy issues come with a forty-million-dollar trust fund and a legacy she would do anything to escape.

She is actually Violetta Rabbotino, who had been all over the…


Book cover of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting

Mary Rowen Why did I love this book?

This is the only nonfiction selection on my list. If you live in the Boston area and love music, you’ve probably read Brett Milano’s music reviews in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, or Phoenix. He’s also written numerous books—both fiction and nonfiction—about various types of music. Vinyl Junkies is a wonderful read, even if you’re not particularly interested in music, because although many people featured in it are well-known in the music and art worlds (Peter Buck, Robert Crumb), on a higher level, the book’s really about collecting and collectors in general. Why do people collect? What’s the difference between simply accumulating stuff and curating a collection? And where does one draw the line

By Brett Milano,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Not too far away from the flea markets, dusty attics, cluttered used record stores and Ebay is the world of the vinyl junkies. Brett Milano dives deep into the piles of old vinyl to uncover the subculture of record collecting. A vinyl junkie is not the person who has a few old 45s shoved in the cuboard from their days in high school. Vinyl Junkies are the people who will travel over 3,000 miles to hear a rare b-side by a German band that has only recorded two songs since 1962, vinyl junkies are the people who own every copy…


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Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Olympian Editor New Englander Rum drinker

Carol's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

James Malloy is a ferry captain--or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a "girl" named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a plan for a private golf course on wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep historic trees and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders--including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that's been kept from him for years.

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

What is this book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain-or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island's daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have…


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