words about sound: love is a mix tape

In addition to music, one of my big passions is books.  Many of my weekend afternoons are spent at the coffee shop, listening to music and reading.  But weirdly, in proportion to other topics, I read surprisingly few books about music.  Unless you’re interested in reading about a handful of well-known artists (see the zillion books about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones), it can be hard to track down solid books about indie music.  So, I thought I’d start recommending some quality books about music I have found.

To kick things off, I’ll start with what is probably my favorite music-related book: Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.  This isn’t a traditional book about music – it doesn’t explore a particular genre or retell the antics of a particular band.  Rather, it speaks to the emotional connection between your life and your music that all of us experience.

The book, a memoir of sorts, tells the story of the author, Rob Sheffield, as he meets, marries, and then ultimately loses his love, Renée Crist.  And for each chapter, there is a mix tape that accompanies that specific time – maybe a mix tape made to woo the other, or just a tape made to play at summer parties.  Anyone that has ever made a mix tape – or even anyone that’s ever had a favorite song – can relate to this format, knowing that just a few lines of a particular song can send memories flooding back.

The book is set in the late 80s and early 90s, and it’s full of the music of that time, both indie and mainstream.  It’s a pretty quick read, due in part to its length (a bit over 200 pages) and to the author’s conversational writing style.  Be forewarned though – this book is as much about love and loss as it is about music.  The story mostly explores how Sheffield deals with Renée’s sudden death, and how a massive loss like that one can completely alter your relationship with certain songs, and perhaps with music altogether.  In all honesty, I probably spent the last 50 pages crying.

This is one of those books that I finished in one week, then spent the next week trying to convince everyone I’d ever met to read.  It gripped me in a way few books do – perhaps because I saw so much of my own life in Sheffield’s, and saw how quickly that could all change.

  1. I definitely have fond memories of mix tapes from back in the day. Sounds like a good read… adding it to my reading list :)

    • btw… Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

      • Thanks! Hope you enjoy the book.

  2. You are right that there aren’t enough books about music. Looking forward to reading this one.

    • I think I need to make music-themed book reviews a regular feature :)

      • nestfullofbirds said:

        I’d love it if you did! :) New follower here. Nice post!

        • Awesome! I will definitely do some more, then.

  3. I can’t bring myself to throw away the mix tapes I have from high school, even though I know I probably should… Going to download this book asap – thanks for the rec.

    • I have cassette mixtapes, and no cassette player!

  4. Roshni said:

    It didn’t really seem like a review … Because you have talked about the book in such a touching, endearing way. You’ve convinced me, anyway! I definitely want to read it! Books, Music and Love are what keeps me going (not necessarily in that order). And this book seems to have all of it! :) Hoping to get hold of it soon. Do let me know if you could get an e-copy or something. And congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thanks! The book is definitely worth tracking down – I’d see if there’s any cheap used copies on amazon.

  5. You sold me on reading this book – I can’t wait actually!

    • Hope you love it!

  6. I loved this book. Read it a couple of years ago and it is back in the rotation for this Summer’s reading list. Sheffield wrote abother music themed book. Both were great. but love is a Mixed tape really capture’s what sharing passion is all about.
    I miss the days where that was a regular part of communicating interests in the person recieving as well as the music itself.

    • I saw he had written a second book, but I hadn’t checked it out. I’ll definitely add it to my reading list now.

  7. Ninay said:

    I’m into books which gives me catharsis, leaving me in pool of tears. Your review compelled me to definitely dig into this one. :)

    • Oh man – then this sounds like the book for you!

  8. Fate said:

    I will be adding this one to my reading list.

  9. Sounds like a great book, I’ll check it out. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

    • Thanks! Hope you enjoy!

  10. I had the exact same experience with Love is a Mix Tape, particularly the part about spending the following week trying to convince everyone I know to read it. It is lovely.

    • Did you have success at convincing people? Because everyone pretty much was like “oh, that sounds cool…” and never read the book. :)

      • No, I had no success. Everyone responded as your friends did except one friend who responded “yes, I am sure that is a book that you loved” and he did not read it either!

        • Haha…well hopefully we’ll get some people to read it now.

  11. I hate you. Because you added another book to my already infinite list. Congratulations. :)

    I love the way you give a hint of the taste of the book and what you felt without really fleshing out all the beauty of it, making it more mysterious. Reading this makes me feel like running to the bookstore right now. It sounds like the perfect book.

    (I’m ready to. )

    • The good thing about having this one on your list is that I don’t think it’ll take you too long to finish. Once I started reading it, I didn’t want to stop.

      • I believe you. I’m so excited to hunt for it tomorrow! The author seems to have used a very unique way of writing it. The way he entwines the music and the words and makes it real. I’m excited. Thank you for this.

  12. You have got me interested into this book.
    Which is no mean feat.
    I think that I’m going to add this book onto the ever mountain-y list of I must read in the future.

    • I hope you like it as much as I did :)

  13. Mix tapes rule!
    Thanks for the look back…

  14. This sounds like a really good book. I might go check it out. I’m one of those people who listens to music when I write specific scenes. The flow of the story can suddenly take another direction when the mood of the music changes. Even something as simple as the tome can change my entire feel for the scene. Its just truly amazing.

    • That’s a great review!

  15. Praiseworthy….

  16. I’ve seriously not wanted to read this book for just that reason (crying for the last 50 pages). I think I’ll have to pick it up though because I’m so curious to see the songs that made up each mix tape. This is a great review.

    • I totally know what you mean. I avoid watching movies that will make me cry. At least, with this premise, you know what you’re in for. Nothing worse than reading at the library or coffee shop, and starting to cry uncontrollably!

  17. oh the book sounds very interesting….def going to read it v soon!!!

  18. lijiujiu said:

    Yes, I will be adding this one to my reading list.
    Thanks for sharing.

  19. I LOVED this book. And then I read Sheffield’s other one, Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, which I loved also but it’s less emotional and heart felt though funnier. Check it out.

    • Okay, sounds like I definitely need to find that second book to read.

  20. I found Love is a Mix Tape sitting in a discount bin some years ago. I loved it, and every time I pick up a Rolling Stone, look for Sheffield’s name in the review section. The guy’s got good taste.

    • For some reason, I found it really reassuring knowing that he stuck with the music thing.

  21. Thanks for this! It is now on the top of my must read list!

  22. I loved this book as well. It’s hard to find a book that I just love from beginning to end and you described it and it’s connection between relationships and music perfectly. Great blog!

  23. Love the mix tape. It was always so personal.

    The book with a tape for each chapter is genius, but it sounds like a heart-breaker. I will have to save it for a day when I feel like having my heart ripped out through my eyeballs.

    Eek! There’s a disturbing picture.

    Thanks for writing about Love is a Mix Tape and bringing it to our attention!

    • Yeah, it’s a heart-breaker for sure, but those are good every so often :)

  24. hipstergomez said:

    Reblogged this on vinylphishrecords and commented:
    I used to make mixtapes all the time for my friends and boyfriends. Sometimes you can only say the things you really want to say with music.

  25. One of my favorite books, no doubt. Sheffield just does it for me on many levels, and this book wraps all that I like about him up in one neat package. Glad you posted about it, because it looks like some peope will be reading it for the first time because of you, and this is a book that deserves to be picked up in a big way. Nice post!

    • Definitely agree. Forget Eat, Pray, Love – everyone should read this book.

  26. The book sounds like a labor of love and what a great idea to have the chapters correlate with a mix tape!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! They must be giving them out at midnight eastern so you had a nice morning surprise!

    • It was a totally awesome way to start my Tuesday :)

  27. I will also look for this book! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  28. One thing that I really like about this post is that I can definitely relate to the power of a mixtape and how it tells its own story. I’m going to make sure I go out and read this book because if it’s half as good as you convey in this post, it’s certainly worth my time.

    Cheers to great books, great posts, and more music — keep on spinning!


  29. Wes B. said:

    Just the title of the book and its illustration is enough to get me to read it. :)

    • Right? That’s what made me pick it up in the first place.

  30. Rae said:

    I made my boyfirend a mixtape playlist this weekend (after he made me one that made me fall in love with him all over again). He was amazed. I had new music, known music, etc on there. Love this post. I’m getting him this book! Please be sure to add more book posts!! (and of course Congrats on being ‘Freshly Pressed’)

    • My boyfriend (now husband) totally wooed me with mixtapes, and now I make him one for Valetines day. Getting a mixtape is like the best thing ever, right?

      And yeah, I’ll definitely make sure to do some more book posts in the future. :)

      • Rae said:

        Ha ha!!!!! I love that!!! I do believe it’s the best way to get to him other than food. Yes – I downloaded Hype Williams (the group) free CD that’s available for two weeks and loaded it on his iphone. He’s totally all over it. I think that’s his love language. Thanks so much for the future book posts. I know he’ll love this one.

    • Very cool – thanks for sharing!

  31. Love is a Mix Tape is one of my favorite books, I constantly recommend it to my friends. I even used it when I wrote an essay about mixes for a Rock as Lit. class. And I’m pretty damn obsessed with mixes — like many others I spent sooo much time in front of my stereo hitting record and compiling what I thought to be the perfect mix. Sheffield’s story broke my heart and made me long for the days when making mixes was like developing film — a really long, tedious, but rewarding creative process.

    Back in February I blogged about the mix I made for my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day: http://thefancygeek.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/love-is-a-mixtape/ <– sorry, I don't mean to plug my blog on yours, I just wanted to share my love for the art that is the mix tape. :) Cheers!

    • Don’t apologize for the plug – I’m glad you shared it! I make mixtapes for my husband every year for Valentines day, so it’s great to have some more track to pull from!

  32. Jill said:

    I’m in! On to my reading list as well – may actually pick it for my book club! Thanks!

    • Jill, did you see I left some questions from a book club? Sheffield’s book is one of my favorites!

      • Jill said:

        I’ll check those out – thanks so much William!

    • If you do, I wanna know how many of your book club members cried while reading it :)

      • Jill said:

        You’re on….I’ll keep you posted. :)

  33. vin said:

    I read this. I even have it in hardcover. I dare anyone not to cry at least once while reading it. Since I’m so familiar with the music listed within, I could hear the songs in my head as I read along.

    Great book.

    • That’s awesome. Wish there was a way to actually hear those mixtapes while reading it – someone on the Internet needs to get on that.

  34. speaking of Mix tapes, I just saw this funny as heck video of Aziz Ansari when he lost a bet and had to carry around a big boom box playing “The world’s shittiest mix tape”. I felt bad because I liked almost every song he played.

    • Haha. What did he play? I’m crossing my fingers for early 2000s R&B

      • Butterfly by Crazy Town
        How Bizarre by OMC
        Summer time girls by LFO
        Kiss Me by i don’t know who
        there were others, it was cool

        • Oh man, those are a lot of bands I haven’t heard of in a long time :)

          • 90’s were awesome! Take me back, I could have thought of Facebook!

  35. I LOVE that book! Definitely one of my favorites.

  36. Sergio said:

    Reblogged this on Book Review Monster and commented:
    And now for something completely different!

  37. I felt the same way about this book. So far most of the people I got to read it have loved it too.
    It is quite the tear jerker! I have not gone on to read any of his other books though… Have you read any of them?

    • I think he has one more book, called Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, which I hear is a lighter read. I haven’t gotten to it, but I’m planning to.

    • I read Sheffield’s Talking to Girls about Duran Duran. I liked it. It was smart and funny. It’s just a very different book in that Love is a Mix Tape takes the reader through all that grief.

  38. I defintitely enjoyed this; both the title and cover art are perfect. I did feel like he kind of forced the music into the conversation at points.
    Have you read Perks Of Being A Wallflower? It is top-5 favorite books, CHbosky uses music a key factor throughout.

    • *Chbosky uses music as a key factor throughout.

    • I read that book a long time ago – I think when I was in high school. I don’t remember it to well, but I’ll definitely add it to my reading list.

  39. thanks for sharing. i’ll definitely check this out. sounds like a really good read. love. music. and it’s all in a book! congratulations on being freshly pressed! :)

    • Thanks! Hope you like it!

  40. I’m definitely going to have to read that book! From what you wrote…i’m sure i’m gonna love it! Thanks for posting this!

    • Thanks – hope you enjoy!

  41. Yep, that sums up, just about every day of my life. No matter if it’s an old song or a new one I just heard it becomes part of my storybook of life.

  42. ruolngulworld said:

    I still have my mix tapes and I still listen to them everyday on my car stereo. I’m probably the only one still taking my daily dose of music from cassettes :) In fact, I made a new mix tape just last weekend, though I had to unpack my cassette player, hook in a CD player, etc.

    • There’s been a trendy resurgence of cassette releases in the indie scene, so you’re ahead of the curve!

  43. Reblogged this on pulpcapsule and commented:
    A nice little blog post about mix tapes – how retro :)
    I need to get this book.

  44. maha said:

    I have a feeling i am going to like this book, thanks for the post and recommendation.


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