The best books about the power of music

Why am I passionate about this?

For most of my life, I've been a professional classical violinist. I had my first performance on stage at the age of 4, went to a music conservatory at the age of 15, and have gone on to play on some of the best concert stages in the world, from the Elbphilharmonie to Carnegie Hall. My violin playing and writing inform each other, and I think of myself as a translator between the two. I love to do both, and I’m certain I couldn’t do one without the other. It's always a pleasure to see music in the books I read. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!


I wrote...

Natural Beauty

By Ling Ling Huang,

Book cover of Natural Beauty

What is my book about?

When an accident leaves her parents debilitated, our narrator has to abandon her promising career as a concert pianist for a job at a high-end beauty and wellness store in New York City. Holistik is known for its remarkable products and procedures—from remoras that suck out cheap Botox to eyelash extensions made of spider silk—and her new job affords her entry into a world of privilege and gives her a long-awaited sense of belonging. All the while, she is plied with products that slim her thighs, smooth her skin, and lighten her hair. But beneath these creams and tinctures lies something sinister.

Natural Beauty explores questions of consumerism, self-worth, race, and identity—and leaves readers with a shocking and unsettling truth.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Jitterbug Perfume

Ling Ling Huang Why did I love this book?

This book is so absurd and ambitious, I couldn’t help but laugh and marvel at it the entire time.

It combines so many of my favorite things like myths and craft (in this instance, perfume-making).

It is so wild, weird, and wonderful, I always return to it when I remember that reading should be fun and writing should be like playing! I was hooked from the very first page.

By Tom Robbins,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Jitterbug Perfume as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jitterbug Perfume is an epic. Which is to say, it begins in the forests of ancient Bohemia and doesn't conclude until nine o'clock tonight [Paris time]. It is a saga, as well. A saga must have a hero, and the hero of this one is a janitor with a missing bottle. The bottle is blue, very, very old, and embossed with the image of a goat-horned god. If the liquid in the bottle is actually the secret essence of the universe, as some folks seem to think, it had better be discovered soon because it is leaking and there is…


Book cover of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Ling Ling Huang Why did I love this book?

I love and will read anything by Abdurraqib.

His writing is so insightful and poetic which is just another way that his prose transports us closer to the music that is often his subject matter.

As a classical musician, I have so many gaps in my knowledge of popular music and I consider that a blessing now because I get to learn what I missed through his writing and experiences. These essays are diverse, covering everything from a Bruce Springsteen concert to Carly Rae Jepsen to being Black in America.

He has a true gift for making anything and everything compelling and powerful.

By Hanif Abdurraqib,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* 2018 "12 best books to give this holiday season" —TODAY (Elizabeth Acevedo)
* A "Best Book of 2017" —Rolling Stone (2018), NPR, Buzzfeed, Paste Magazine, Esquire, Chicago Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, CBC, Stereogum, National Post, Entropy, Heavy, Book Riot, Chicago Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, Michigan Daily
* American Booksellers Association (ABA) 'December 2017 Indie Next List Great Reads'
* Midwest Indie Bestseller

In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Abdurraqib's is a voice that matters. Whether he's attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown's grave, or discussing public displays of…


Book cover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Ling Ling Huang Why did I love this book?

Still my favorite Murakami.

I always appreciate how much he writes about classical music in his novels, but this is one where I especially felt the connection between the music written about and the form of the novel.

There was one beautiful moment where Mozart’s Magic Flute opera and the characters of this book collided and I experienced Mozart in a completely new way. Besides that, this book is just such a journey.

Arduous and lonely and beautiful, it moved and changed me.

By Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INCLUDES A READING GUIDE

Toru Okada's cat has disappeared and this has unsettled his wife, who is herself growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has started receiving. As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada's vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.


Book cover of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

Ling Ling Huang Why did I love this book?

I love this book so much.

As a fan of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia, I couldn’t not pick it up. Brownstein writes so profoundly and generously about her life in this deeply personal memoir.

The way that she took agency in her life inspired me to leave an abusive relationship. One of the many ways this book changed my life.

By Carrie Brownstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emma Watson's Book Club pick for July and August 2016

Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one of the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would…


Book cover of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Ling Ling Huang Why did I love this book?

This was one of the first books I ever loved as a teenager and it has always stayed with me.

A professor recommended it to me, and I didn’t know that it would heavily reference Beethoven’s last string quartet, which I was working on at the time.

I love the way Kundera can weave so many disparate things together, including Beethoven’s fate motif and the fate of the character’s relationships. It’s something I find very inspiring and try to do in my own works.

By Milan Kundera,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Unbearable Lightness of Being as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A cult figure.' Guardian
'A dark and brilliant achievement.' Ian McEwan
'Shamelessly clever ... Exhilaratingly subversive and funny.' Independent
'A modern classic ... As relevant now as when it was first published. ' John Banville

A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon; a man torn between his love for her and his womanising. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals; while her other lover stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by choices and events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems…


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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an…

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…


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