The Power of Music and Books

Sarah M. Chenby Sarah M. Chen

For some reason, this is the summer of nostalgia. I’ll be attending concerts of artists I’ve always wanted to see when I was younger. Tomorrow night, I’ll be seeing Sting and Peter Gabriel at the Hollywood Bowl. Peter Gabriel is an artist I’ve always wanted to see (sorry, Sting). I still cry on cue when I hear the song, “In Your Eyes.”

It reminds me of the time I spent in Paris after high school graduation. I was homesick and listened to that song over and over until I felt better. It also reminds me of a boyfriend in college. We had a tumultuous relationship that ended horribly and desperately. Yet, I still think fondly of him every time I hear that song.

A couple years ago, I finally saw the film “Say Anything” which of course had that famous scene with John Cusack holding up the ghetto blaster (Remember ghetto blasters? Maybe it’s boombox but we said ghetto blasters.). He stands outside Ione Skye’s window, blasting that song and it became one of the most romantic scenes in film for Gen X-ers.

We saw it at one of those outdoor movies, over at Exposition Park, and Ione Skye showed up with about a dozen “Lloyds” who all raised their ghetto blasters above their heads to honor her and the film. 20140524_185607It was perfect. So now I think of that moment when I hear “In Your Eyes” as well.

Guns & Roses have reunited and are on tour and I’ll be seeing them next month. I loved Axl Rose and listened to my “Appetite for Destruction” tape cassette (yes, I had the tape cassette) over and over. “November Rain” from “Use Your Illusion I” reminds me of the summer I spent in Washington, D.C. interning at a TV station.

It was a wild crazy time as I’d never lived in a different state so far away from home before. I played that song over and over so when I hear it I think of 4th of July picnicking on the Mall, riding bikes over cobblestones through Alexandria, VA with my roommate, and our endless happy hours with too many Rolling Rocks in trendy Adams Morgan.

It got me thinking how music, especially certain songs, have such power. I can even recall the smells and sounds around me. It’s such a visceral experience. Does anything else do this so intensely? I guess photographs would do that, but it’s such a literal experience. You see the photo, you recall the moment it was taken and who you were with and where you were. Perhaps movies do, and yes, there are films I absolutely love, but it doesn’t transport me like music does.

I then thought of books that I love. When I recall my favorite books, like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or A LITTLE PRINCESS, I can’t remember where I was when I first read it or who even recommended it to me. (I guess my mom gave me A LITTLE PRINCESS). The book doesn’t bring back any memories or sensations of my past, not like music. I may recall who told me about an author or where I first saw the book or where I purchased it, but it’s not that same overwhelming emotion I get when I hear a certain song.

20160717_115525There is something else I feel when it comes to my favorite books. I get this fierce protectiveness over it, like it’s the best book ever and nobody will tell me otherwise. Thus, everyone else needs to read and love this book. “You HAVE to read this book!” Maybe it’s the bookseller in me. I get excited, and probably a little too intense, talking about a book I love. I talk about the characters like I know them personally, because, come on, I do.

It’s interesting to me how both types of art, music and books, elicit such strong emotions and reactions yet in completely different ways, at least with me. Anyone else feel this way with certain songs? Books? Other art forms?



Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, and, Dead Guns Press. Cleaning Up Finn is her first book available now with All Due Respect Books.



24 thoughts on “The Power of Music and Books

  1. Sarah,
    Music does the same for me. It transports me to another place a time. Even new music, that I’ve never heard before can bring on that reaction. Maybe it’s the musician in me.

    Books are another story. They become my escape world, and for some reason I don’t always want to share that. (I think I’ll ponder that for a bit.)


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting about books and how you hold that close to you rather than my reaction which is to shout it out to the world. I can see your point though. In fact, I’ll be pondering that for a bit as well! Thanks for reading and commenting, Doris!


  2. Great post, Sarah! Although I don’t know the songs you mentioned, songs from my “younger days” when I went dancing at clubs, bring memories and elicit positive thoughts and smiles. You are so right — music and books help round us and offer us a connection to our past that can be very positive. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarah,
    I just recently heard, “great art elicits great emotion. That includes music, books, even magic shows. But I also thing it has to do with what’s going on in your life at the time you encounter great art – how for some reason, at that very time – in touches you.
    I know songs that came out when my brother died and bring about sadness but there’s other songs I hear that remind me the time he was alive and bring a smile to my face.
    I also think that songs are 3-5 minutes long and it’s easier to tie an emotion to them than a book that can take several weeks to finish.
    Great post to get one thinking
    – Stephen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t think of magic shows, but yes, that’s a good one. It’s true, what’s happening in your life at the time affects how you respond to certain songs or maybe not at all. Maybe because songs are brief, like you say 3-5 minutes, it’s easier to encapsulate a time in your life, whether it’s happy or sad. Also, how often you hear that song during that specific time. Thanks for sharing, Stephen.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Went to a fun Magic/Stand Up Comedy/ Entertainer show a couple of weeks ago. We really enjoyed it. There’s this little restaurant who has shows on Saturday evenings. I want to go to more of them, the next is an Elvis Impersonator. Cher’ley

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah, I feel the same away about music in particular. And especially music from my teen or young adult years when I was first experiencing many different things. I hear songs from those times and I’m just taken back to memories, both good and bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you have something there. Perhaps because we’re young and going through so many different emotions and new life experiences, our connections to music are more powerful then. Thus, resulting in more vivid memories and recall. Thanks for reading and commenting, Paul!


  5. The year was 1970 and the season summer… the song that takes me back to that time when I graduated from high school and prepared for the fall quarter of my freshman year at Ohio University? Jerry Mungo’s ‘In the Summertime.’ A movie? ‘Love Story’ was big at that time. Now you hardly ever see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t heard “In the Summertime” but I’ve heard of “Love Story” with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil. I never saw it but I know it had a lot of Academy Award nominations and is kind of an iconic film. Did you know the stars have reunited to do a “Love Letters” play?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Certain books and music can certainly give me the shivers of nostalgia. There’s an essence of them that embeds itself in you (as you were at the time of the original listening or reading experience) and it lingers ever after. Enjoy your revisiting, and experiences at the Hollywood Bowl, Sarah!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. For me the song that floods me with memories the most is Michael Buble’s “Home.” It takes me back to the best year I ever had as a teacher. I call it my golden era. I had a perfect collection of students who all just got loved each other and me. And it was my best friend’s final year as a teacher and so we really just spent that whole years celebrating. Every time I hear that song, I’m back there.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarah, music of all eras touch me. I always told my children, who were into the 80’s music, you need songs like I had that really made sense like “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine”. A lot of my music dealt with fast cars, motorcycles, and sexy guys, but we would never have used the word sexy without getting our mouth’s washed out. We had a few songs about death, and how the person who lost them felt. So my friends and I cried as we sang the songs while walking around the little village I grew up in. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman Hermits, The Monkeys. Those were the bands to make you want to dance and have fun. But as late as yesterday, I added a new song, that just came out to my music player. Doris and I share a love for the band Home Free, they have a lot of original songs, and they are an acapella group. You have touched me with the memories of music. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I”m so glad, Cher’ley! It’s funny, I’m a child of 80s music and absolutely adore 80s music. It really brings me back. I love how we all have our favorites. Thanks for reading and sharing.


  9. Sarah, I really enjoyed this post. It’s definitely music in my life that makes me recall certain events. I think that during my entire life I have associated a song or series of songs for the time and place in which I lived and the boyfriends, break-ups, young adulthood and even old age. Although I grew up on country and bluegrass music and it’s still my favorite today, I like all kinds of music, including Thriving Ivory (one of my favorites), Sinead O’Connor, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and a host of other singers who have walked through my life. Each has a song I remember from a time in my life and I enjoy the little flashes that happen in my mind when I am reminded of something in my past and a song comes to mind. Music is universal and I think because I have been singing and playing since I was three, music is so deeply ingrained that it’s what always touches me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I totally understand how music must affect you, being a songwriter, musician, and singer. I love how you phrase that, “I enjoy the little flashes that happen in my mind….” So true! I too love Sinead O’Connor. When I hear “Nothing Compares To You” I get teary-eyed and different moments in my life come rushing to the surface. Thanks so much for reading and sharing, Linda!


  10. Songs definitely have the power to carry me back in time. They also have the ability to ease my stress level especially when sitting parked on the interstate waiting for a tow truck to clear the accident that is blocking the road.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a very specific situation. Makes me think you were in that predicament before you wrote this! Yes, music definitely helps ease stress. Especially when I’m stuck in L traffic which is quite often. Thanks for reading and commenting, S.J.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s