Book Review: Bottled Memories

The author of this book, Ritter, submitted this to my Review Requests page! I agreed to read it, and here you are with a review.

The Book

Bottled Memories
Author: David Ritter
2020
Amazon Link

I didn’t know Ritter before he popped in on the site, but here you go! An honest review.

I will admit that I may have bias due to shared faith. There is a lot of Christian references, imagery, and themes to the writing that you should be aware of if you’re considering this chapbook.

Non-Spoiler Review

Ritter’s book about his journey through addiction and recovery is emotionally intensive. Some of the poems describe quite horrible things that happened to him, around him, and to other people. He paints a story that does not hold back details, even the sordid ones. While I don’t think anything is especially triggering on its own, I do think it’s possible a reader may feel emotionally connected or otherwise drawn in by the book and its characters.

When I think of this poetry collection in its totality, I think of this as a sort of “wilderness poetry.” No, not like Ansel Adams or John Muir type wilderness – I’m talking the Israelites in the wilderness, or Jesus during the 40 days of temptation. In Christian mythos/theology, a wilderness period is a time in one’s life of indeterminate length during which there is suffering or struggle. The wilderness implies a “lostness” or a “search” in addition to deprivations or struggle. While much of Ritter’s poetry reminded me of Kevin Parrish’s What Words May Come, this set of poetry had a stark difference in that it marked one wilderness period and faith journey rather than a gamut of life lessons. Its themes and progression were very well done.

The poetry within the book is well done. I know a lot of people don’t like rhyming poetry, but I do, and Ritter does an excellent job coming up with new rhymes throughout. My biggest complaint about the compilation, however, lies in the steadfastness with which he sticks to the four-line stanzas and rhyming couplets or rhyming on alternating lines. Only six of the 28 total poems did not have this format. I would have liked to see greater variety.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I usually do with collections, I will choose 3 poems to talk about more specifically. My favorite, one that sticks out from the rest, and my least favorite.

Favorite: The Kind Man
I think this poem was probably chosen by Ritter as the central piece of the work, given that it is in larger font and tells a story with beginning, middle, twist, and end more readily than some of the others. The twist is easily expected, and yet it’s that payoff of getting the twist that made this poem one of my favorites.

Standout: Alone once Again
This one had that “haunted” flavor that just crept under my nails and hair. It just doesn’t sit well in the soul, and yet you can’t look away for hope that the speaker will change his wayward ways or that the mythical “you” and subject of the poem might show up. After reading “The Flower Never Blossomed,” just a few poems later, “Alone once Again” takes on an even more vicious and important meaning.

Least Favorite: Had My Share
Whether purposeful or not, the first line “I’ve had my share of constant sorrow” got me off on the wrong foot with this poem. It reminded me of the tune “Man of Constant Sorrow”, which while I enjoy the song, it’s too easy and too often referenced for a pop culture item. After that, the poem felt relatively repetitive after such goodies as “Material Things” which had a fairly similar message.

What I’m Reading Next:

This year, I’m not doing reading lists; instead, I’m going to be publishing posts as I read. However, I’m going to cheat a little bit this month because there’s four great indie books (including the one you just read about here) I read last year that are SCREAMING to be posted on the blog. Next in line is the “clean” sci-fi adventure The Outlands by Tyler Edwards.

Book Review: A Ghost and His Gold

A while back, I reviewed Roberta Cheadle’s Through the Nethergate, and I found the research behind it very impressive. As well, the plot moved well, and the goals were sensible. I’d been following Cheadle for a while, and soon after I finished Nethergate, she published a post presenting A Ghost and His Gold as an upcoming book. I kept my eye out and purchased it when I could. Cheadle, who lives in South Africa and already proved herself to be a history buff, has written a historical, supernatural fiction with a South African backdrop. I’m pretty hype.

The Book

A Ghost and His Gold
Author: Roberta Eaton Cheadle
2021
TSL Publications Link – can take you to Lulu page if you want to avoid Amazon
Amazon Link

Before anyone starts this review or the book, I wanted to say here that there are some disturbing and violent scenes. They all are necessary to have on screen for plot and character development, and Cheadle does an excellent job framing them as such. It’s really obvious that the scene(s) in question are coming, so they can be skipped if you need to, but I’ll tell you right now: this is one of those books where all the pieces are thematically essential. There is payoff for reading the hard parts.

Non-Spoiler Review

A Ghost and His Gold is an extremely ambitious work, and it’s quite impressive Cheadle was able to fit all of it into this short space. With multiple viewpoints, time settings, and an intensely researched historical backdrop, and deeply entrenched themes, there’s a lot going on. At the same time, Cheadle pulls it off by making an understandable story with compelling character arcs.

Probably the greatest achievement within the book was how the 1900-1904 timeline meshes so well with the 2019 timeline. While it does have the typical “figure out why the ghost is haunting us” sort of storyline to it, the way the two are connected makes it all the more intriguing. Estelle, who I’d consider the main ghost and at least the primary source of problems in the 2019 narrative, ties traits of modern-day Tom to people of the era in which she lived and died. Because of the necessary historical backdrop to Estelle’s demise, and because of Tom’s secret, the way the two timelines come together really works. I will admit that I was a little skeptical of having the 2019 part in the book, but I think it worked out. If you’ve read Through the Nethergate, you’ll probably get the feeling I did that Cheadle used similar mechanisms to mesh past and present as she did in that book.

Probably the most stunning part of this book, though, is setting. While the setting in Nethergate was well done, it didn’t have anywhere near the same feeling as in this book. There’s clear love and intimate personal knowledge here. I can feel the grit of the landscape of South Africa here. How she nonchalantly feels the seasons, like a frozen July and a hot February, isn’t something I think I could easily pull off. There is something magical about the way the land, not just the time, is treated in this book. It’s a very visceral connection to the veld that many of the characters have, even Michelle and Tom in 2019, and even if they don’t really know it. Land and the place our hearts are within it is a silent theme behind a lot of the book, but it’s a driving force. The British Empire wants it, the farmers want it, and Michelle and Tom’s attachment to their house and land brings together the tapestry.

The negative part of this ambitious scope is that, at times, there can be a lot of information dumps. Most of this comes through in descriptions of the war or the concentration camps. While I thought it was really interesting and, like with Cheadle’s earlier book Through the Nethergate, one of my personal favorite parts about her style, it did often interrupt the more character or plot-focused narrative. Though at times the footnotes regarding Boer or South African history can seem a little too easy, other times they’re essential or add a richness that would go unnoticed without them. As a whole, I think Cheadle weaved her way through the story and the subject matter well, but there are instances where I think it could have been smoothed. The book could have easily been twice the size and gotten away with it.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I don’t normally put spoiler reviews for pretty new indie books, but I think I will do so here, just a little bit.

Something I thought was interesting was how Estelle saw the world and how it treated her. It was very “teen”, even if very abused and dark. Estelle was brutally raped, and the way her (BIG OL SPOILER) stepmother Marta treated her was horrifying. She grew very bitter about it, but she did so in a way that was simultaneously inward and outwardly focused. How this combination of terrible abuse and festering hatred turned her into a haunting spirit felt so different from other ghosts I’ve read about or watched on TV. The sadness in her vengeance for her miseries and untimely death was quite palpable.

That being said, I think Estelle’s story could have been expanded. The period of time where she stays with Oom Willem isn’t very detailed, and yet it seems like it could have lasted a much longer time. Still, explaining Estelle’s relationship with Marta took quite a long time, and I think that made her my favorite character in this book.

Estelle’s story also pounded home the feminist themes of the book, and I greatly appreciate that. Though Estelle’s salvation came through forgiveness, the initial criminal is clear, and the need for kindness, equality, and more concern for human rights is apparent. There’s other themes that are important, but I’ve pointed out the ones I find most important in this review.

Join Me Tomorrow Night!

We’re also having a “Book Signing” party on January 4th from 8 to 11 pm EST for the new release Collective Fantasy! If you’re in the Salt Lake area, the physical party is going to be at Under the Umbrella bookstore, and there’s a virtual Zoom link (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9630443174) for those who (like myself) are in other places. I’ll try to be on during the early parts, but no promises past 9:30 eastern, given my bedtime.

What I’m Reading Next:

This year, I’m not doing reading lists; instead, I’m going to be publishing posts as I read. However, I’m going to cheat a little bit this month because there’s four great indie books (including the one you just read about here) I read last year that are SCREAMING to be posted on the blog. Next in line is the indie chapbook Bottled Memories by David Ritter.

The Fountain of Forgiveness

My beloved: so dear and tender,
Soft beneath my fingers, 
Iron beneath your skin. 

I wonder how you render
My image into goodness
When I feel like a sin. 
My beloved: so bold and daring,
Don't fret about softness -
Steel is in your resolve.

I love your heart, your bearing;
Could I be so thoughtless
That your faults I don't absolve?
There is no cloak so opaque
As love, covering all things
With brightness and splendor. 

Love's appearance is not fake, 
But it must be maintained
Lest passion burn to cinder.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Reading List – November 2021

I read a lot of history books in my preferred era, but there’s always something missing. When I read about the Jacksonian Era without reading about the Revolutionary Era, it would be like a future historian reading about today without understanding the Vietnam War or who Reagan was. This month, I’m reading a variety of “prequel” books to my preferred era.

1776 – David McCullough

David McCullough is what one would call a “super famous” pop historian. 1776 is one of his more famous works, and I know it’s alright because I read it before (long ago, albeit). The focus of the book is on, of course, the year 1776 (which, for you non-Americans, is well known as the year history began).

From this book, I hope to glean information about the Revolution, including what average people thought and how infighting between tory and rebel contributed to the coming political age. If I remember correctly, though, it may just be a military history, which is interesting in and of itself.

Union 1812 – AJ Languth

The War of 1812 is a war easily forgotten in American classrooms. Even I, who really cared about my American history class, noticed that this important event was only briefly spoken about. Perhaps it’s because the capitol was burned, or perhaps it’s because the treaty of Ghent pretty much gained Americans nothing, but people just don’t know that much about the war unless they go looking.

Me? Oh, you know me. I’ve read up on this baby, but I admit my knowledge is quite stacked. I’m familiar with the Southern Theater and the associated Creek War, but I know little to nothing about the Northern Theater. I want to read this book with the intention to draw more information regarding that less-successful-theater, as well as look into the roles of the Madisons, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams.

You Never Forget Your First – Alexis Coe

The quirky title and a CNN article praising Coe’s You Never Forget Your First got me interested enough to rent this one from the library for a little perusal. This is actually a biography of George Washington, which I thought would go along well with 1776 up there.

Washington is one of the more interesting founding fathers (if only because he’s not Jefferson who, regardless of your opinion on him, I find incredibly dull to read about), so I’m excited to see what Coe has dug up. The articles I’ve read praising the book indicate she brings a new vision and interpretation of the historical documents, so perhaps I should have boned up on the more typical works first! 😉

Hint, however: I have already read this book as of posting, and I did read another George Washington biography in the meantime. I have a brief aside comparing the two, but you’ll have to read the review when it comes out to discover my thoughts!

Cherokee Mythology – James Mooney

I believe, wholeheartedly, that the history of Indians has been so woefully overlooked that it’s a sin. As a North Carolinian who grew up in the western part of the state, I’ve always been at least a little interested in the Cherokee. I even wrote about Sequoyah, an important Cherokee inventor, on the Carrot Ranch. Though it’s not terribly difficult to find information on the Cherokee post-colonization, I was looking for something more foundational and old. I wanted to see what pre-columbian history and thoughts are available to us.

This book contains a pretty in-depth history of the Cherokee people as well as a pretty large collection of myths. It was sanctioned by the government, and most of the information comes from primary source documents. There’s a companion, The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, that may be of interest to me later. Both are free on Project Gutenberg as they are now in the public domain.

Reading List – July 2021

It’s the summer indie book month, and boy do we have some hot reads this July! You’ll want to stick around for these.

1NG4 – Berthold Gambrel

I recently met Berthold Gambrel through his website, and I then also followed his twitter. Peter Martenuac (of His Name Was Zach fame) retweeted that 1NG4 was on a free weekend, so I had to check it out!

Not only that, this is a pretty short book. That’s why, on THIS WEDNESDAY, I’m going to be posting one more review than usual on my blog!

Amazon Link

Liars and Thieves – Diane Wallace Peach

I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). Peach is a reliably good author, and I’m excited to see what this new series entails. One of Peach’s sneak previews that she posted on her blog indicated that at least one of the main characters was going to be a goblin, and any sort of non-human character excites me. I don’t believe I’ve read anything published with a goblin main character, so it’s time to see how Peach pulls that off!

Amazon Link

His Name Was Zach – Peter Martuneac

Last year, Peter Martuneac submitted his book Her Name Was Abby through my review request form. Though it was the second book in the series (Zach, here, was the first), I was blown away. I assume Martuneac experienced some artist growth between the two books, but I was very into Abby and looked forward to reading this installation. The third book is out, too, so I have to catch up!

Amazon Link

We All Die In the End – Elizabeth Merry

Elizabeth Merry and I follow each others’ blogs, and I know she’s got great style. Her characters are vivid, and her prose beautiful. This collection of shorts (“scenes”) look to be connected by setting, and I think the book as a whole may benefit from this connection. Definitely looking forward to what each tale may hold for me.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Reading List – May 2021

May has become my “hardcore classics month,” and this year I’ve got some doozies for you.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickinson

Charles Dickinson is pretty famous, and I can dig him. I enjoyed Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol is of course a good annual read (also, I played Scrooge once while in school!). I have no idea what A Tale of Two Cities is supposed to be about, but that’s why we’re here: to read old books and realize what kinds of mistakes life is made of.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’ve never been a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any shape, form, or media. Even the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock didn’t do it for me. I didn’t like the Robert Downey Jr. version, and I didn’t even like it when Data played Sherlock Holmes in Star Trek. I also know I don’t like another of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, The Lost World. So why am I doing this?

Two reasons: for that stupid “100 Books to Read Before You Die” (I’m not even sure what year my list is – is it 2018? 2019?) and because I like to give authors two chances. I’m almost certain I’ll hate this one, but it’s shorter than the others on this list and by god that’s going to be necessary as I prep for this month. I’ll go ahead and reveal that I had to start WAY early on reading this stuff.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Last year, I read The Count of Monte Cristo and thought it was really good – unexpectedly good. This book, for whatever reason, gets associated with The Count of Monte Cristo in my mind a lot, even if that’s stupid. As a result, I decided to give this one a shot with great hopes.

Also, my mom hates this story. She refuses to tell me why, so I do fear that it’ll get a bit too erotic for my typical tastes. That’s just the way my mom operates, though – one penis, and it’s curtains. Tears for days with her. We’ll see.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

One of my favorite books from 2020 was Gone With the Wind. The printing of Gone With the Wind I borrowed from my library included a forward from someone (Pat Conroy, maybe? I don’t know for sure). In this foreword, Anna Karenina was mentioned as an earlier work with an unlikeable, female protagonist that works. 

After finishing Gone With the Wind, I was like, “By God, Scarlett was one of the best-conceived characters I have ever read.” And, if Anna Karenina has some similar traits, I want to know. I want to see if Margaret Mitchell has a stranglehold on cold-hearted bitch.

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Book Review: Marriage Unarranged

Ritu Bhatal’s Marriage Unarranged has been on my radar for quite some time. This debut novel is in a genre I don’t normally read, but its international flavors and promises to visit cultural norms I’m not used to interests me.

Besides, I’ve followed Bhatal’s blog for some time, and I trust her craft enough to give this a whirl!

The Book

Marriage Unarranged
Author: Ritu Bhatal
2020
Amazon Link

Marriage Unarranged is billed as “chickpea lit,” which in and of itself attracted me. I can dig a good pun.

An arranged marriage falls apart, causing Aashi to go on a semi-spiritual journey to discover what comes next for her. The book is a contemporary about a woman who must deal with the difficulties of being a woman of Indian descent who has been “shamed” by a broken engagement.

Non-Spoiler Review

I always feel happy when my expectations are met in a good way – and Marriage Unarranged did that! Many times when I read books about non-English speaking cultures (or cultures that didn’t used to speak English, which is what I think India is now), authors assume too much of the reader’s prior knowledge. Either Bhatal got the right amount of beta readers or she’s a natural at leading someone to understand situations, because rarely did I feel like I needed more information about how the characters were processing their issues. I think I learned a lot of Hindi words, and I definitely learned more about modern India than I knew before!

In addition, the story itself gets off to a fast start. You don’t have to build up a relationship between Aashi and Ravi very long before you get to the inciting event. That drew me in quickly despite romance and contemporary not being my preferred genres.

I also enjoyed some of the secondary characters like spunky Kiran and Bali (who reminds me of my own brother). The various relationships explored in this book really did show many facets of Indian culture and what sorts of things might not be acceptable in the society: things like dating on your own, or how women are mistreated for a man’s mistakes. Kiran and Bali (as well as another couple that I won’t spoil because it’s theoretically not obvious) served as a great foil for the other romantic relationships because of how they are perceived compared to others.

Something that I could complain about a little was the story with Ravi. I thought some of the characters in that storyline were moustache-twirling levels of evil, and that just doesn’t do it for me. They weren’t very nuanced, and I wasn’t entirely convinced I needed all the information given to decide if Ravi was a good match for Aashi or not.

And, last, the book was very hopeful. Babaji (their God) was always there for them, and it was uplifting even during the harder parts. There were more places than I would have liked where a grammar error or weird wording could have been fixed, but it doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed reading this travel/romance/contemporary more than I usually do with those genres.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book is so easy to spoil because it’s romance, essentially, and you don’t want to know beforehand who gets together with who. I strongly suggest you don’t continue reading if you don’t want that sort of thing spoiled.

I thought this book had a great theme of restoration and new beginnings. At one point, the group of young people (eventually all lovers, haha!) go to the Golden Temple to do sewa, a sort of ritual baptism. After that cleansing is done, the characters all seem to have a new lease on life and start a new journey – even though they’re on a journey as it is. I liked that symbolic shift.

Honestly, this book is pretty literary. There’s a lot of comments on English and Indian culture without bashing either (though there is some bashing of dirtiness). It looked at someone caught in between things culturally, romantically, and financially. If there’s anything that makes this book, it’s the themes, symbols, and metaphors.

Next week:

It’s a new month! Stay tuned!

Book Review: What to Do With Baby Ashes

Once upon a time, several years ago, I got a comment on my blog from someone I didn’t recognize. Because I was so new to blogging, I immediately clicked follow – and that just-so-happened-to-click moment led to me following one of the most brilliant poets I think I’ve read. She’s more active on Twitter now, if you want to follow Marnie Heenan @MarnieWriting. You can also find her website https://www.marnieheenan.com/

She’s published several poems in many outlets, but I’d like to present to my little corner of the blogosphere a book of poetry that will send you on an emotional ride.

The Book

What To Do WIth Baby Ashes read 2021

What to Do With Baby Ashes
Author: Marnie Heenan
2020
Amazon Link

The subtitle for this book (which isn’t on the cover) is Poems From My Life Before, During, & After Pregnancy Loss.

=O

Before I get much further, yes – this book does get pretty intense. As someone who will probably never become pregnant, I didn’t think it would be hard. I was there for the nature poetry (and whoo boy, can Heenan pull out some beautiful naturalism), and I still got hardcore heart thumpies. If miscarriage/pregnancy loss is going to be too intense for you, you might want to consider how or when you read this.

Non-Spoiler Review

There are two ways to read this book, and I will admit I did both of them because I just felt like the book deserved it.

Also because the story linking the poems was intense enough that I didn’t stop.

Usually when I read a book of poetry, I read one poem a night just before going to bed and then put it down. I happened to read this one in a single sitting (easy to do – it’s short), and HOLY CRAP WHAT INTENSITY. If you read this in one go, it’s like “Oh, this is pretty neat”, then it goes bam-bam-bam with shooting your heart right out of your chest followed by trying to sew it back together with a rusty needle and floss.

I finished it and was like, “Wow, that sent me somewhere.”

After that, I read a poem at a time (or maybe two, something like that).

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I do with compilation books, I’m going to talk about my favorite, a standout, and least favorite poem.

Favorite: Family Photo
This last poem in the book wraps everything you just read together. It draws the three sections – Before, During, and After – into a nice, tight bundle, and I love it. It was placed perfectly, and I think it did so much to the overall feel of the chapbook in addition to being intense, raw, and well-written on its own.

Standout: Drive Home
I thought about this one being my favorite, but it’s too perfect a fit for standout. It’s unforgettable. It’s such good stream of consciousness, and it has almost a Faulkner sort of feel. It’s short enough that the stream doesn’t become burdensome, and the emotional intensity of it might have been the climax for me.

Least Favorite: Subtropics
Honestly, this is kind of a bullshit section for me because all the poems were good. I chose this one because it was, once I flipped through it to write this review, the one I remembered the least of. It’s necessary to the story because it marks a shift in the author’s situation, but it’s a poem of nature that leads very quietly into the next scene. That’s all.

Next week:

I’m reading the first craft book I’ve ever read – Colleen Chesebro’s syllabic poetry book! Get hype!

5 Tips About Music In Your Writing

Music’s important to a lot of people. I know I have excellent taste in music:

Because music is so important to people, I’ve seen it discussed in literature quite a bit. Sometimes, it’s done well – and other times, it’s not.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned over my brief years in life.

5. Keep Poetry in Prose Short

Songs written out in a book appear as poetry, unless you’ve figured out a way to use magic and include actual noise in your pages. Though songs are usually longer than a few lines, you probably don’t want to include the whole thing in your book.

I would say that about 95% of the time, I skip poetry of any sort – including songs – when I’m reading a prose novel. The last 5% is either the REALLY impressive stuff (like the songs in The Lord of the Rings) or something on the order of 3-10 lines long. And I’m someone who reads poetry on my own!

People who don’t study poetry often don’t even like poetry. Poetry in English is strange because the forms are all sorts of weird. In East Asian poetry, the number of syllables and shape of the poem is important and gives it life. In the Romance languages, the words flow and rhyme easily. In English? Our bastard tongue makes either of those types of poetry difficult difficult lemon difficult.*

That means the quicker you get your poem out, the less likely you are to throw off a prose-liking audience. If you want my suggestion for how to include poetry (and thus song fragments) in a book, I would suggest reading Where the Crawdads Sing.

4. Keep the Lyrics Relevant

Poems and songs carry a lot of weight in real life, and it should be even moreso in a novel. When you take the time to include a piece of a song in your mostly prose story, that break in the narrative needs to pack as much punch as possible.

Luckily, poetry can shove a lot into a small space (which I still don’t understand how). While poetry rarely forwards the plot, you have an array of important things you can include to enmesh it more fully with your story. Here’s a brief, brief list of things you can include in your poetry to help glue it into your story more fully.

  • Characterization
  • Symbolism
  • Foreshadowing (SO common with poetry and songs in books – just read the Tolkien songs in LotR)
  • Background information (but be careful! it can bog down easily)

Once you get that done, it’s still important to carry through what you wrote. Make the foreshadowing come true, perhaps call back to the song without being explicit. People will carry the words of a poem on their hearts – let the words fall in when you crack their shells rather than shoving the poem in. Soft, yet forceful.

Like I’ve said before, do at least two things at once when you write. Don’t just put in a bit of poetry as a puzzle and expect it to be important. Make it be a part of your story and carry it.

3. Music Doesn’t Define a Character (and yet it does)

Does your character only listen to the darkest things like “Homicidal Retribution” by Dying Fetus**?

Sure, that defines the character… but it could easily define them in the wrong way. Hear me out.

When a character is very into a certain type of music, it doesn’t just define them: it puts them in part of a group. Music is rarely enjoyed by a single person, and the group of people then becomes important. Characters who are loners? Music still puts them in a group. It’ll give them a label.

For good or ill, yes, music and the groups that listen to them are usually defined in middle and high school (or whatever you foreigners call school for people between 12 and 18). The group you associated with in high school will forever have a certain place in your heart, and you’ll see the music you listened to differently from someone who hung out with a different group. Same thing for age – you’ll have different feelings about music from your time period in high school than other people will.

So when your character listens to “Second Death” by Abysmal Torment**, you may see them as a hero of edge, sass, and darkness. Other people will see them as losers. Other people will see them as scary. Clowns like me will be like “lol”.

Your character’s music may define them, but it doesn’t define them in the same way for every reader. It’s such a double edge sword that it must be considered very, very carefully.

2. Music Doesn’t Define Your Setting (and yet it does)

This is going to have a lot of similarities to the above, but it really has more to do with talk about technical things.

A relatively common trope I’ve seen is the use of songs to give a sense of place and, more importantly, time. Just name-drop the Beatles and put in a “Yellow Submarine,” and you’ve set your book in the 1960’s (or you’re trying to say your character listens to old music, but you can see #3 for that). The time period in which certain musical styles, songs, and artists were popular can easily be defined.

At the same time, it’s all just references. References are good for people who get them, but no one else.

Ready Player One is the grand poo-bah of all reference books. Including elements of music as well as everything else, the book makes extensive use of anything 80’s pop culture in attempt to build its world. From what I can gather, it works.

But only for people who already knew the information.

People who weren’t around during the 80’s (such as yours truly) and who haven’t studied up on it will get only a smattering of references. While dropping names of people and songs can help your intended audience feel in the moment, it can cause readers unfamiliar with it some stress. Any time something needs to be researched, it dampens the narrative.

My suggestion is to not reference music unless the information is almost universally known. The Beatles, for instance, are a household name and common knowledge. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley also maintain a similarly important cultural niche (for now at least). Lyrics are almost impossible for people to catch, as well, so I wouldn’t rely on them as references at all.

In the end, know your audience and make your passage easy to read.

1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T RELY ON A SONG’S WORDS

I said earlier to avoid lyrics for the purpose of setting. Now I’m going to tell you why you should just avoid putting in lyrics at all:

CHEESINESS.

Yes, that’s right. You can usually get away with referencing things or including small bits of a song, but here’s the thing: every time I’ve seen this done, whether in an indie book or a traditionally published book, it’s usually not… good.

Like with the danger for characters and for settings, music evokes different feelings for different people. Your feel-good music could scream “PSYCHO KILLER” to someone else. Trying to find depth in lyrics is hard (with the exception of American Pie, I guess).

Most people reach their peak “into music” phase as a teen. Many teens define themselves by what music they listen to, and defining a book by a song reminds me of that. It makes me, at least, feel like a book is a teenager. Regardless of the defining song, it seems…

angsty.

By a long shot, this article has been the one relying least on research and most on my opinion so far. Do you agree with what I’ve said? Have a bone with me to pick? Let me know in the comments!

*difficult difficult lemon difficult is supposed to be making fun of easy peasy lemon squeezy.

**I enjoy listening to the local college station at 5-7pm on Friday night. The DJ is this Aubrey Plaza sounding woman who explains why the maggots on such and such album cover thrills her, and it makes me laugh endlessly. I just have to put up with vomit sounds, oinking, and people singing about putting pig blood on their penises in order to listen to this fantastic, anonymous person.

Reading List – April 2021

We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!

What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan

I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.

Amazon Link

A Choice for Essence – Katelyn Uhrich

This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).

Amazon Link

Marriage Unarranged – Ritu Bhatal

Marriage Unarranged read 2021

Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here