A bibliophile rambles about The Great Convergence

It has long been a quirk of mine that I cannot listen to music while reading. At least not music with lyrics because I always feel obligated to analyze the wording and rhyme scheme of songs and doing that can be distracting. But I have always felt as though I were missing out by separating the two art forms: music and literature.

Recently I have been doing my personal form of research on the connection between the two, thinking that would explain to me why I can simultaneously write and sing along to the musical greats, but I cannot do the same while reading.

Through this informal research, I have found what I shall call The Great Convergence. Music is poetry. Poetry is literature. So, in my mind, listening to music while reading is akin to having someone tell you a story while you read another one. Clarity is sacrificed in the combination.

While writing my research paper, I made myself a playlist of 17 hours worth of “Slaughterhouse-Five” kinds of songs. (Harry Chapin, Three Days Grace, Bob Dylan, Third Eye Blind, Train, etc.) The paper was six pages long and earned me a 100% in the research category of my first semester AP Literature grade. I cannot help but wonder how big a part those carefully selected songs played in the execution of the essay.

It is interesting to note that a great multitude of song-writers have taken inspiration from the literary greats as well. In her song “All I Really Want,” 90’s darling Alanis Morissette references a character from Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” (“I’m like Estella; I like to reel it in and then spit it out. I’m frustrated by your apathy.”)  The Cranberries dedicated an entire song to Irish poet W.B. Yeats (“Yeat’s Grave”). David Bowie has a collection of songs based on George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984.” And the number of love songs with references to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is comical, considering how few people read the play for recreation.

The power of music is its ability to invade and conquer the minds of its listeners. This it also shares with literature. However, music is much more universally accessible in these modern times. Music easily satisfies our generation of instant gratification and exceptionally short attention spans. In a way, music is filling the shoes of books for the growing crowds of people who dislike reading. But because I love both, I have to savor them separately, preferably with a bowl of ice cream and a cup of black tea.


A big part of what makes this my favorite CD is the literary aspect of many of the songs.