The best pop music books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about pop music and why they recommend each book.

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Where the Girls Are

By Susan J. Douglas,

Book cover of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media

Where the Girls Are is about a particular generation of women growing up in post War America, and the impact popular media had on their lives, both for good and for bad. It weaves wonderfully smart, often funny, always engagingly written discussions of pop music, movies, and television shows with Douglas’s own experiences at the time. It’s unabashedly feminist—but it isn’t a speech or a political manifesto. It’s an exploration of the push-pull of growing up female at a transitional time, a time in which attitudes toward women were changing, unevenly, and how pop culture reflected the tensions of the times. This book is history, memoir, sociology, media studies, all at once – immensely informative and very entertaining.


Who am I?

I was born in 1947, in the first wave of the baby boom, and was part of the first generation to grow up immersed in television, movies, and popular music. I have always felt the force of pop culture in my life.  But it was only at a certain point that it became something that I felt I could write about and be taken seriously. Writers like Pauline Kael made it possible for me because they obviously adored popular culture but they neither puffed it up nor dumbed it down. They wrote about it with intelligence, honesty, and curiosity and also as a barometer of where people were at and where society was going. That’s what I’ve aimed at in my own writing, from my books on the male and female body to those on politics and the media to my most recent exploration of the impact of television on our lives.


I wrote...

TV

By Susan Bordo,

Book cover of TV

What is my book about?

Once upon a time, the news was only 15 minutes long and middle-class families huddled around a tiny black-and-white screen, TV dinners on their laps, awaiting weekly sitcoms that depicted an all-white world in which mom wore pearls and heels as she baked endless pies. If this seems a distant past, that's a measure of just how much TV has changed-and changed us.

Weaving together personal memoir, social and political history, and reflecting on key moments in the history of news broadcasting and prime time entertainment, Susan Bordo opens up the 75-year-old time-capsule that is TV and illustrates what a constant companion and dominant cultural force television has been, for good and for bad, in carrying us from the McCarthy hearings and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet to Mad MenKilling Eve, and the emergence of our first reality TV president.

Fire in the Rain...Singer in the Storm

By Holly Near, Derk Richardson,

Book cover of Fire in the Rain...Singer in the Storm: An Autobiography

A memoir by one of the most enduring women’s music performers, covering her background in peace activism and solidarity with Black freedom singers that led to the creation of Redwood Records. Wonderful material on the many tensions concerning concerts for women only vs. forming alliances with other progressive communities and performance partners.


Who am I?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.


I wrote...

The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

By Bonnie Morris,

Book cover of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

What is my book about?

The Disappearing L offers an overview of the rise and fall of lesbian cultural spaces. What was the soundtrack of the feminist revolution? How did artists, producers, and fans create a vast network of women’s concerts, recording companies, and festivals that offered meaningful performance spaces for women coming out as lesbians—and performers too radical for the mainstream?

The book examines how women’s bookstores, women’s studies programs, and other year-round institutions built spaces that included a music subculture—only to see independent venues vanish once LGBT rights and mainstreaming were attained. As women’s music spaces are disappearing, how will we remember them?

The Countdown Years 1974 - 1987

By Peter Wilmoth,

Book cover of The Countdown Years 1974 - 1987: Glad All Over

Every Sunday night for nearly a decade between the mid-70s and early 80s, most young Australians could be found in one place – in front of the TV, watching Countdown. Countdown was the most powerful force in the local pop/rock scene, the maker and breaker of hits. Published in 1993 in the afterglow of the show’s long run, Glad All Over, by former Age journalist Peter Wilmoth, is an appropriately loving tribute, which includes acknowledging the many (like me!) who loved to hate the show but still always watched it! As mostly oral history, it’s a sparkling story, and if the Countdown phenomenon still begs harder analysis – because as much as it was a great booster for Australian music, it actually blocked just as much – that’s the nature of a new historiography: the field has to get opened up first, and then is subject to increasingly…

Who am I?

I am an art school dropout and recovering rock critic who, since 1981, has published a dozen books on Australian music and popular culture, plus worked extensively in television and as a freelance journalist. I'm too old to be called an enfant terrible, but with the way I still seem to be able to court controversy, I must remain some sort of loose cannon! Sydney’s Sun-Herald has called me "our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture," and that’s a tag I’m flattered by but which does get at what I’ve always been interested in. I consider myself a historian who finds resonances where most don’t even bother to look, in our own backyard, yesterday, and the fact that so much of my backlist including Inner City Sound, Highway to Hell, Buried Country, Golden Miles, History is Made at Night, and Stranded are still in print, I take as vindication I’m on the right track…


I wrote...

Stranded

By Clinton Walker,

Book cover of Stranded

What is my book about?

Stranded is a cultural history of the Australian independent music scene that was spawned by the DIY punk movement in the late 70s and grew even despite resistance in the 1980s, up to a belated breakthrough in the early 90s thanks to the grunge realignment of the aesthetics of rock. It’s a blend of reportage, oral history, memoir, and criticism. When it was first published in 1996, it was considered somewhat contentious for its non-populist vision. What it was was prescient, putting its money on acts like Nick Cave, the Go-Betweens, and the Triffids who were so spurned in Australia in the 80s that they were forced into exile in Europe – and are now considered, worldwide, among the most enduring products of the period. After two decades out of print during which time the book’s legend only grew, it has just been re-released in 2021 in a new, expanded edition by the Visible Spectrum. 

The Brit

By Jodi Ellen Malpas,

Book cover of The Brit

I want to include a fellow British writer in my list and JEM is my favorite for suspenseful steamy stories. The Brit is the first in the Unlawful Men series. Dark and broken, mafia anti-hero Danny Black is brooding and bad. He is not supposed to fall in love with the women he takes as ‘collateral’ in a deadly game of power. Rose Cassidy has learnt to be tough to survive. Danny sees her as the mirror of himself. Their twisted attraction is not for the feint-hearted but I loved it!

Who am I?

I am a British writer and avid reader of a wide range of genres who’d harbored a life-long ambition to be an author. It wasn’t until I became addicted to seductive romance that I found my own writing flow. I love books that have the power to transport you. Indulging in an adult ideal for a few minutes (or hours) in a day, when your body reacts viscerally to the words on a page, makes you swoon, your cheeks flush and your heart race is my reading and writing heaven. I hope you will experience the same delicious escapism in my book choices as I have. 


I wrote...

Much Ado About Benedict

By Emma Perle,

Book cover of Much Ado About Benedict

What is my book about?

Beatrice, an up-and-coming corporate lawyer, is looking forward to taking some much-needed time off during a long weekend stay with her cousin Holly and her family, who are hosting a charity ball at their country house, along with some extra house guests, officers from her uncle’s regiment. On arrival, Beatrice is faced with Benedict, a charismatic but obnoxious army captain she had met the previous year, whom she loathes. She’s startled to realize that she and Benedict have explosive sexual and romantic chemistry that will change their lives.

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, this novel takes Beatrice and Benedict’s witty bantering to a whole new level.

Pop

By Tony Scherman, David Dalton,

Book cover of Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol

I’ve read a handful of Warhol biographies and this is easily my favorite. It does a good job of breaking down his life experiences, his art and the philosophies behind The Factory, his purposeful creation of himself as an icon, and his adaptations to the American fine art and underground art landscapes that changed throughout his career. The book also has plenty of great party stories involving countless celeb friends. And to offset that all, peaks into his spending. The one bummer for me was that there weren’t enough pictures. But, well, I guess that’s what all my other Warhol books are for.


Who am I?

I'm the writer and artist of the Johnny Hiro graphic novels. In those books, I use pop culture reference humor, but never simply as a joke. A reference can act as a hint to a world beyond the story the writer tells. I often dig slightly into an emotional resonance behind that reference—perhaps the (fictional) story of why it exists, or perhaps it even becomes an integral plot point. Popular media and culture often have a direct influence on our creative arts projects. And just sometimes, that art becomes an integral part of the popular culture itself.


I wrote...

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

By Fred Chao,

Book cover of Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

What is my book about?

Johnny Hiro is about a young sushi chef-in-training and his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi trying to live a happy-enough life in NYC. But such a big, chaotic city is hard, especially when filled with giant lizards, chef rivalries, ancient gods, ronin businessmen, and NY Times food reviewers. But with all the chaos, it’s essentially about trying to live happily enough as a young couple.

I felt like there was so much drama in romance stories, and I wanted to tell a story about a healthy-enough relationship with the responsibilities of rest of the world often causing the stresses that hurt us. Because, well, sometimes simply making rent is hard enough.

Back in the Day

By Katrina Jackson,

Book cover of Back in the Day

Jackson’s novel shuttles between present-day Oakland and the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival as music journalist Alonzo Reid remembers and recounts to his grown children how he met his now-deceased photographer wife, Ada. What I love about this book is the fact that although the family is grieving, so much joy infuses Ada’s memory. And while Back in the Day mourns a death and the end of one love story, it ends on a hopeful note and marks the beginning of a new chapter.


Who am I?

I’m a romance novelist who writes about otherwise smart people who deal badly with their feelings. Love, sorrow, jealousy, anger, hopelessness, and grief make appearances in my books because I write in a genre that centers the emotional lives of its characters. When I’m not wreaking havoc on fictional people, I take long walks and eavesdrop on conversations. I’m a recent transplant to Toronto, Canada, after having lived in New York City for more than 20 years.


I wrote...

Open House

By Ruby Lang,

Book cover of Open House

What is my book about?

Accountant Tyson Yang spars with debt-ridden real estate associate Magda Ferrer when she attempts to broker the sale of the empty-lot-turned-urban garden in Harlem that he’s found solace in helping maintain since the death of his mother. But as Ty and Magda uncover more about the lot and why it was abandoned, they grow closer, and in doing so learn about the complicated ways we’re bound to those who are no longer with us, and the importance of holding tight to those who are.

The Birth of Korean Cool

By Euny Hong,

Book cover of The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture

At a time when academics tend to look down their noses at Korean popular culture (Hallyu, literally “the Korean wave”), which in recent years is driving popular culture worldwide, The Birth of Korean Cool is a refreshing analysis based on the supposition that Korea is finally “getting even” with the rest of the world for being underappreciated for thousands of years.

Who are we?

A couple who have been claimed by Korea—Bruce as a US Peace Corps volunteer there and Ju-Chan as a native Korean and an English teacher—and its culture, society, history, and especially literary heritage. We have been translating modern Korean fiction into English since 1980. Bruce was fated to become involved with Korean literature by virtue of being born on October 9, the day in 1446 when Great King Sejong promulgated (officially announced) the creation of the Korean alphabet, hangŭl, to the people of Korea.


We wrote...

Mina

By Kim Sagwa, Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (translator),

Book cover of Mina

What is our book about?

A novel about the love-hate relationship between two high school girls, penned by the author who best understands the rage that permeates Hell Chosŏn—the underside of the South Korean Economic Miracle, evidenced by the highest suicide rate among the OECD countries; a negative birthrate; and a divorce rate hovering at 30 percent. (Chosŏn is the name of the most recent monarchy to rule the Korean Peninsula—from 1392 to 1910.)

Garden Animals

By Lucy Cousins,

Book cover of Garden Animals

Garden Animals by Lucy Cousins was our number one favorite when my daughters were babies. The graphic images of small friends they might meet in their own garden were loved. Hand-lettered with rough edges, characters pop from the pages with their own free renderings. Counting the bee on the cover, there are only 12 words to the work, and with many, many readings, we created a spoken rhythm for Lucy’s creatures. Today, we can all still recite Garden Animals with delight.


Who am I?

In the course of everyday life, when I’m writing books for middle grade and young adult readers, board books spring to my mind. Sometimes they come from catching a glimpse of a child hugging a parent, or they may spring from a phrase I overhear or say myself. That sounds like a board book, I think, and I write it down quickly. Sometimes, I’ll wake in the night, and a board book text will come to me in rhyme. Along with writing board books, I’ve been recommending quality works at the readertotz blog since 2009 in order to raise the profile of the format. Authors, illustrators, and publishers must create the very best quality, and then we must support, enjoy, and celebrate the works. A simple eight words may introduce a first reader to a love of books for life.


I wrote...

I Love All of Me (Wonderful Me)

By Lorie Ann Grover, Carolina Búzio (illustrator),

Book cover of I Love All of Me (Wonderful Me)

What is my book about?

What do you love about you? Find out in this book full of wonder and love! I love my wiggle toes. I love my smelly nose!

From head to toe, there's so much to love about you! With charming illustrations and a bouncy text that begs to be read aloud, this padded board book is a joyous reminder to little ones to love their whole selves -- just as they are. A glorious celebration that's full of humor, love, and heart. Wonderful Me: Books that celebrate the milestone emotional and social moments of little ones!

Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays

By Steve Martin,

Book cover of Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays

I read this play before I saw it, and it was great as a read. Steve Martin is obviously known as a comedic actor. But if you like the few movies he’s written, think Roxanne and LA Story, then you might want to give this one a try. It’s the fictional meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein circa 1904. Picasso has started gaining fame for his breaking of artistic boundaries, and Einstein is a year away from releasing his theory of relativity. The two men have a chance meeting in a bar and drunkenly philosophize about art, science, society, meaning, and sex. And because it’s Steve Martin, don’t be surprised if Elvis comes along.


Who am I?

I'm the writer and artist of the Johnny Hiro graphic novels. In those books, I use pop culture reference humor, but never simply as a joke. A reference can act as a hint to a world beyond the story the writer tells. I often dig slightly into an emotional resonance behind that reference—perhaps the (fictional) story of why it exists, or perhaps it even becomes an integral plot point. Popular media and culture often have a direct influence on our creative arts projects. And just sometimes, that art becomes an integral part of the popular culture itself.


I wrote...

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

By Fred Chao,

Book cover of Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

What is my book about?

Johnny Hiro is about a young sushi chef-in-training and his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi trying to live a happy-enough life in NYC. But such a big, chaotic city is hard, especially when filled with giant lizards, chef rivalries, ancient gods, ronin businessmen, and NY Times food reviewers. But with all the chaos, it’s essentially about trying to live happily enough as a young couple.

I felt like there was so much drama in romance stories, and I wanted to tell a story about a healthy-enough relationship with the responsibilities of rest of the world often causing the stresses that hurt us. Because, well, sometimes simply making rent is hard enough.

Delusional

By Farel Dalrymple,

Book cover of Delusional: The Graphic and Sequential Work of Farel Dalrymple

I love the publications of cartoonists’ sketchbooks—getting a peek into the visual culmination of ideas that eventually gets turned into comics. Farel Dalrymple is an indie comics creator whose book Pop Gun War astounded me when I first saw it. His illustrations involve cityscapes and brownstones, and very slow-feeling movements, kind of urban-ethereal. It’s quite obvious Dalrymple has a respect for the settings his comics take place in. In Delusional, we get to see his quiet yet bizarre sketches and unpublished slices of comics that take place in his Pop Gun War and Wrenchies worlds.


Who am I?

I'm the writer and artist of the Johnny Hiro graphic novels. In those books, I use pop culture reference humor, but never simply as a joke. A reference can act as a hint to a world beyond the story the writer tells. I often dig slightly into an emotional resonance behind that reference—perhaps the (fictional) story of why it exists, or perhaps it even becomes an integral plot point. Popular media and culture often have a direct influence on our creative arts projects. And just sometimes, that art becomes an integral part of the popular culture itself.


I wrote...

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

By Fred Chao,

Book cover of Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

What is my book about?

Johnny Hiro is about a young sushi chef-in-training and his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi trying to live a happy-enough life in NYC. But such a big, chaotic city is hard, especially when filled with giant lizards, chef rivalries, ancient gods, ronin businessmen, and NY Times food reviewers. But with all the chaos, it’s essentially about trying to live happily enough as a young couple.

I felt like there was so much drama in romance stories, and I wanted to tell a story about a healthy-enough relationship with the responsibilities of rest of the world often causing the stresses that hurt us. Because, well, sometimes simply making rent is hard enough.

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