Music to Read By

So last night’s post about the blues was sort of accidental. I had intended to write about what I listen to when I read. For years I was the sort of person who could read anywhere, regardless of what was going on around me. In university, when reading suddenly became important to my future (in terms of my career, I mean; I’m a book critic—as in, reviewer—now, but I once wanted to teach university-level English Literature and work as an academic critic/theorist), I lost the ability to read in the same room as someone watching television. And then I couldn’t read while listening to music with lyrics. And then I couldn’t read while listening to any sort of music.

Most of that has passed, and I can once again listen to music while I read, although anything too heavy or uptempo, or with complicated lyrics I like to get lost in, is still a no-go. It’s as though they occupy the same space in my brain as whatever it is I’m reading.

But anyway, I thought I’d give you a brief list of some albums I like to listen to when I read (my total “Reading” playlist is 1,983 songs, or approximately 6 days of continuous listening, so I won’t be including it all), and if you like you can make suggestions for your own additions in the comments.

  • Various Artists – In the Mood For Love Soundtrack
  • Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – What Is Free to a Good Home?
  • Alpha – Pepper
  • Various Artists – Cinematic: Classic Film Music Remixed
  • Cliff Martinez – Solaris Soundtrack
  • Kronos Quartet – Pieces of Africa
  • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
  • Alexandre Desplat – Birth Soundtrack
  • Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
  • Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Superwolf
  • Esthero – We R In Need Of A Musical Revolution
  • Headless Heroes – The Silence of Love
  • José González – In Our Nature
  • Barbara Morgenstern – Nichts Muss
  • Masha Qrella – Unsolved Remains
  • Massive Attack – Mezzanine
  • Shugo Tokumaru – Night Piece
  • Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
  • True Widow – True Widow
  • Warpaint – Exquisite Corpse
  • The London Haydn Quartet – Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 20
  • Auryn Quartet – String Quartets Op. 76, nos. 1 – 6 (Haydn)
  • Hesperion XXI cond. Jordi Savall – Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805): Fandango, Sinfonie & Musica Notturna di Madrid
  • Various Artists – Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World Soundtrack
  • Vangelis – Blade Runner Soundtrack (Extended Bootleg Version)

Again, I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.


Writer. Editor. Critic.


  1. I thought I was the only one with a Cliff Martinez hangup. I love the Solaris sdtk.
    I usually read quietly, but Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 and Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain are always good picks. And if I’m reading something darker, usually a John Carpenter score.

  2. Sketches of Spain is good, but I’m definitely more a Kind of Blue man (and I’m quite fond of McCoy Tyner, thanks to Yashin Blake, who wrote about him in Nowhere Fast, one of my very first professional reviews).
    I have John Carpenter’s score for Vampires, but keep forgetting that I have it.

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