6 Ways Literature Has Inspired Composers

In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.


Musicals

Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables, Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame each captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.


Orchestral Works

As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.


Operas

Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?


Ballets

Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!


Plays

What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Film Scores

Last, but certainly not least, literature has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in the “book-to-movie” film scores we listen to today. This just might be my favorite form of literary influence on music; it’s always so exciting to see a movie recreation of one of your favorite books complete with costuming, scenery, and a beautiful soundtrack. To name just a few books that have inspired recent film scores, theres’ the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Hobbit, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.


The artwork featured on our blog was
provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.


You can find a Spotify playlist with the songs mentioned in 
our post below. We hope you enjoy the music collection!

ASU Book Group

Join fellow ASU students and faculty for a book discussion at the Piper Writers House. This month, the ASU Book Group will be reading and discussing By the Forces of Gravity: A Memoir by Rebecca Fish Ewan.

This illustrated coming-of-age book shares Ewan’s childhood friendship that was cut short by tragedy as well as her adventures searching for love, acceptance, and truth alongside her cohorts.

Professor Ewan teaches landscape architecture in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.

Be sure to pick up the book and bring a friend for this book discussion! A no-host luncheon will follow the meeting in the University Club next-door.


Location: Piper Writers House, 450 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe

Date: Wednesday, September 18

Time: Noon to 1 p.m.

For more information, click here.

5 Books for Fans of ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

Whether the recent book-to-film movie release got you to pick up Where’d You Go, Bernadette for the first time or reminded you how much you love this book, we’ve got you covered with a list of book recommendations sure to please fans of the book…and movie!


Mr. Penumbra’s 24–Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan. The Great Recession drives web-designer Clay Jannon to leave his San Francisco work and take up a new job amidst the book stacks at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The only problem: the book customers are rare and seem to only check out unusually obscure volumes from the dark corners of the store. Curious about this strange behavior, Clay sets out to investigate the clientele to uncover secrets about Mr. Penumbra’s book collection.


Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty. In this witty and hilarious novel, readers will follow the three Kettle sisters: Lyn, Cat, and Gemma. Each sister is a unique character, and—together—they bring laughter, drama and mayhem. Lyn has a (seemingly) organized life marked by checklists, work life, marriage, and expertise in motherhood. Meanwhile, Cat confronts shocking secrets in her marriage. And Gemma flees whenever her relationships hit that victorious six-month anniversary. They must work together to deal with the ups and downs of life; including their technologically savvy grandma, champagne hangovers, and parent drama.


The Rosie Project – Greame Simsion. Brilliant but socially awkward Don Tillman has decided it’s time to search for a wife. So, as a profound believer in evidence-based decision making, this professor of genetics creates an orderly, sixteen-page, scientifically-supported love survey to filter out bad marriage candidates. When he meets Rosie, Don decides she cannot possibly be a good match, but he agrees to help her track down her biological father instead. In the quest to find her father, Don realizes that, despite his rational analysis, love is surprising, making him wonder if he should change his mind about Rosie and his love survey.


On Turpentine Lane – Elinor Lipman. Meet Faith Frankel: at 32 years, she purchases a charming bungalow in her old suburban hometown and believes her life is finally on track. But, at the same time, she notices her fiancé is too busy to answer her texts as he posts photos of himself with other women on a crowdfunded cross-country walk. There’s also the issue with her dimwitted boss. And, oh yeah, returning to her hometown means she lives minutes away from her hovering mother and philandering father who is convinced he’s Chagall. As she settles into her new home, she questions her life choices as she grows closer and closer to officemate Nick Franconi.


Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple. Don’t worry; we couldn’t forget Maria Semple’s newest book, Today Will Be Different. A hilarious book about reinvention, sisterhood, and identity, this book follows Eleanor, a woman on a mission to become less of a mess. Today will be different. She will tackle problems, get a shower, do yoga, drop her son Timby off at school, and work on her marriage. But life throws her a few curveballs along the way, as life tends to do. Now, she must also deal with a son playing hooky, a husband who might be keeping one too many secrets, and a mystery lunch date with a former colleague.


And, of course, if you liked the book, Where’d you go, Bernadette, consider
heading to your nearest theater and giving the movie a shot!


Book Club: Long and Short of It

Are you hoping to meet more bookworms in your area? Changing Hands has answered your wishes with its latest book club: Long and Short of It. This new bimonthly club explores one book and one story collection that share a common theme in each interactive meeting.

The upcoming discussion features Chanelle Benz’s The Gone Dead and The Man Who Shot My Eye Out is Dead. Be sure to stop by Changing Hands before the meeting to pick up copies of the books. Then, meet fellow local book lovers at Changing Hands’ First Draft Book Bar to talk about your reads.


The Gone Dead – Chanelle Benz. Thirty years after her father dies unexpectedly in their Mississippi shack, Billie returns to her childhood home where she meets the McGees, a family who’s history has overlapped with her own family’s history in the days of slavery. As she reunites with this old home, she hears a disturbing rumor that motivates her to track down forgotten memories.


The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead – Chanelle Benz. The characters in this short story collection are each wildly different, but they all share a hunger for adventure that lands them in tricky situations, causing them to rethink morality, confront identity, and experience love. Some of the stories feature an outlaw, a 16th century monk, and a young Philadelphia boy’s incarcerated father.


Read more about the event here.

Location: Changing Hands, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Tuesday, August 20th

Time: 7 p.m.

Book Review

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Ratings: 5/5 stars

Summary

Outside a small town on the North Carolina coast, Kya Clark’s family abandons her in a shack on the marshland, where she must learn to survive on her own, living off of the land she admires and studies. For years, rumors and prejudice follow Kya, known as the uneducated, wild “Marsh Girl.”

When two men from town become entranced by her wild beauty, Kya decides to open her heart to the vulnerability of love—only to find herself hurt and in pain.

After the town’s beloved quarterback, Chase Andrews, is found dead, townspeople point fingers at “Marsh Girl,” the suspicious figure that looms behind the twists and turns of the marsh’s waterways. How did Chase Andrews die? Was it murder? And if so, did Kya have anything to do with his death?

Thoughts

This coming-of-age story is my favorite book of the summer so far. It’s hard for me to characterize this book—other than to say it is a work of coming-of-age fiction. In some ways it is a mystery, revolving around the suspicious death of Chase Andrews and borrowing tricks from the crime fiction genre. In other ways it’s a romance, but it only offers small glimpses into Kya’s relationships with the two townie boys. Owens chose to focus more on the development of Kya and pain the men caused her. Still, in other ways, it has some elements of a young adult book, where Kya learns about menstruation and womanhood from a wise woman named Mabel. However, it targets a more mature audience in its commentary on human behavior, especially that of sexuality and violence. I think the fact that Owens borrows elements and storytelling strategies from so many different genres makes her work more compelling. Her story isn’t confined by one specific genre expectation.

The novel is a nonlinear narrative, containing switchbacks between Kya’s story growing up in the marsh and the discovery of Chase Andrews’ body (and subsequent investigation and court trial). Although date-jumbling like this can be a risky writing choice, I think Owens executed her plan perfectly. It was easy to jump between the two story strands, and I felt that she switched between the two parts of the story at the right moments, keeping me interested and not letting me forget about one narrative strand or the other. She never lost me once in all of the switchbacks, but I can’t say the same for some of the other books I’ve read that use this technique!

The protagonist, Kya Clark lives mostly in isolation with only the landscape to keep her company throughout much of the narrative. It was interesting to see a character like this learn to open up to other people and try to apply her knowledge of other creatures to her understanding of humanity.

The one critique I had was about the poetry of Amanda Hamilton that is intertwined throughout the novel. To me, the poems seem a bit trite and on the nose, but I believe this is forgivable once you reach the story’s conclusion. I’m jumping around a spoiler here, but the unexpected ending ties the novel together and answered my remaining questions, leaving me feeling satisfied with the story.

Because the book borrows from so many different genres and explores such an interesting protagonist, I suspect many fiction lovers will adore this beautifully-crafted novel.

5 Best Dog Days of Summer Reads

I’m a sucker for a good dog story, even though, in the back of my mind, I know the story will break my heart. But, I think that’s why I love these books so much—because despite the predictable conflicts and resolutions, they elicit something in your heart that only dogs can. So to all of my dog lovers out there, this one’s for you. Get your tissues ready.


Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls. This beloved classic perfectly captures the bond between a boy and his dogs. When young Billy finally saves up enough money to take home two hounds of his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he is set on becoming the best hunting team in town. But, as with many stories about faithful pups, sadness awaits Billy and teaches him how hope can grow from despair. Warning: this book, along with the 2003 film, are wonderfully crafted tearjerkers. You may want to invite your own pup to be your reading buddy for this story.


The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein. Told from the perspective of Enzo the dog, readers will learn about his owner, race car driver Denny Swift, who helps teach Enzo what is means to be human. Enzo is there for his owner through the ups and downs of life, and alongside a considerable amount of television and people watching, the dog becomes a philosopher of sorts interested in the human condition. Be sure to pick up a copy of this heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting book before the film adaptation comes out next Friday.


Old Yeller – Fred Gipson. At first, Travis thinks Old Yeller is just a thieving, ugly, stray dog. He soon learns that Old Yeller is much more: a clever, loyal dog that wants nothing more than to help and protect his family on their ranch. After growing to love Old Yeller, Travis is faced with a tough choice when his dog is wounded. For those of you with Amazon Prime, you can take advantage of their e-book offer and enjoy this timeless classic for free.


Because of Winn-Dixie – Kate DiCamillo. After finding a suffering dog in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, Opal names the dog after the store and takes him home. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal learns how to make friends, grows closer to her father, and meets an eclectic group of people who teach her how to open up, forgive, and value friendship. This children’s book is perfect to read aloud with your children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews—or even to read by yourself and remember why you fell in love with the book in elementary school.


A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. In this book, a devoted pup provides humorous commentary on the human relationships he witnesses. He is reincarnated four times as different dogs and works to find a unique purpose through each of his four lives. The story focuses mainly on the dog’s time as Bailey, who belongs to Ethan, a young boy who encounters several obstacles in life beside his loyal dog. And, for any fans of this novel, you can also pick up A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to this heartwarming story.


The artwork featured on our blog is a watercolor and ink pen
art piece provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.


Book Signing: Thrillers @ The Poisoned Pen

Snipers, missiles, and conspiracies—oh my!

You won’t want to miss next week’s book signing at The Poisoned Pen. The bookstore will be hosting three authors for a thriller book signing event from 7 to 8 p.m. on July 29. Authors include Jack Carr of True Believer, Mark Greaney of Red Metal, and Stephen Hunter of Game of Snipers. Be sure to check out the bookstore before the author event to order your books!

True Believer by Jack Carr. Former Navy SEAL James Reece’s skill and cunning are put to the test when the CIA recruits him to travel the globe and target terrorist leaders. But be careful who you trust in this political thriller—the conspiracies may prove to be more than simple rumors.

Red Metal by Mark Greaney. Amidst attacks from Russian tanks and satellite killing missiles, an American Marine lieutenant, French Special Forces captain and his intelligence operative father, female Polish partisan fighter, A-10 Warthog pilot, American tank platoon captain, and German sergeant must all work together on Operation Red Metal to defend America and her allies.

Game of Snipers by Stephen Hunter. Master Sniper Bob Lee Swagger decides to help a young woman who lost her son to war by finding the sniper who pulled the trigger. However, this favor soon turns into a consuming obsession, putting Swagger back into the action as he teams up with others to track the assassin whose skills seem to match his own.

Read more information about the book signing event here.

Location: The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Date: Monday, July 29

Time: 7–8 p.m.

Book Review

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

Publisher: Ecco, 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

In this coming-of-age story, we see a young girl named Katherine grow up to become a well-respected mathematician with a fascination for all things numbers and a special interest in the famous Riemann hypothesis.

As she pursues a career in mathematics, she is forced to question and evaluate her identity. Growing up in the 1950s, she studies in a male-dominated field where she feels she must learn how to fit in when she can’t help but stand out. Hoping to find her biological parents for answers about who she really is, she uncovers a complicated, tangled family history that seems to raise more questions than answers.

Katherine learns to rethink her identity as she discovers beautiful mathematics as well as chilling stories of the women who came before her.

Thoughts

Before I begin, I do have a confession: I am a bit of a math nerd. Going against the stereotype that English majors fear and despise numbers, I actually enjoy learning theorems and even took a few college mathematics courses despite my academic advisor’s confusion and explanation that the classes wouldn’t help me graduate.

Because of my love for numbers and logic, I really adored Catherine Chung’s well-researched novel about a young mathematician. The book contains quite a few hidden math gems such as a variation of the Gauss addition story, the Königsberg bridge problem, and several references to historical mathematicians and scientists. That being said, you don’t have to love math to appreciate Chung’s beautiful novel that explores identity, family history, and legacy.

Since the theorems and math references are written about in more of a metaphorical way than a technical manner, the book makes imagining the experience of a young woman trying to find her place in the world of mathematics accessible to a wider reading audience.

The main character, Katherine, grows up with the understanding that she is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and World War II American veteran. However, she soon learns that her family history is much more complicated than her parents once claimed. This, in addition to the realization that some people questioned her place in mathematics, forces her to redefine her identity and learn to make a contribution to mathematics—for herself, and by herself.

It’s a beautiful novel that examines what it means to truly know yourself and act independently of societal expectations, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical or bildungsroman fiction.


If you are, in fact, a math nerd like me, you can learn more about the Riemann hypothesis, which Katherine attempts to tackle in the book, in the video below.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Bully Love by Patricia Colleen Murphy

Publisher: Press 53, April 2019
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 84
Format: Paperback
Buy Local

Summary

Winner of the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry, Patricia Colleen Murphy shares her journey from Ohio to Arizona in her latest book, Bully Love.

The collection offers glimpses into the harsh but beautiful Sonoran Desert, painful but important memories, and an unexpected but powerful love for landscape and people.

Amidst the many life changes—from Ohio twisters to Arizona monsoons, childhood to adulthood, and solitude to love—the poet examines how she finds peace and beauty in spite of hardships, including death and grief, as she leaves a broken home behind to build up a new life.

Thoughts

Although I consider myself to be more of a fiction junkie than anything else, a few poetry collections have found their way onto my bookshelves. Usually these collections sit on my shelves for years as I pick away at them one poem at a time. A poem here during a stressful finals week. A poem there to break up my reading flow during the hot summer months.

Reading Bully Love was a different poetry experience for me as I read it in its entirety (and even reread some of the poems) over a few short hours. I really appreciated the curation of this collection. Although each poem captures a specific scene or memory, they each clearly belong together to explain the poet’s transition from Ohio to Arizona. There’s a contrast between these two different landscapes that’s mirrored in other areas of the book: having parents and being parentless, being alone and finding a companion, remembering childhood and reflecting on adulthood. I think it’s this contrast in both the moments and scenery that tie the poems together and kept me reading.

I found the most haunting—and perhaps most revealing—poem to be “Tell Your Story Walking,” where the poet admits,

There are two ways to tell a story.

When I was fifteen you went mad and I saved you.

When I was fifteen you went mad and I never forgave you.

This collection embraces all of life—both the suffering and happiness it brings—bravely and without being timid. Although Murphy grapples with some difficult topics in many of her poems—such as loss, loneliness, and madness—the poems are still very digestible because of the imagery she couples these topics with. By sharing descriptions of the landscape and those who inhabit it, the poems make reflecting on life’s hardships feel more manageable.

As a fellow Arizonan hiker, I absolutely loved the landscape imagery and was even able to recognize some of the desert locations described. I think the writing brings the Sonoran Desert to life almost as a character of sorts. It was interesting to see how place, especially the desert, is so important to these poems. In fact, many of the poems’ titles are place names, reflecting the importance of the land in these shared memories.

I suspect that I’ll return to this collection soon—if not to read it in full, then to tuck a poem or two away for a stressful week, or a change of pace, or a reminder that unexpected beauty can be found even in hardship.

Book Discussion: Found in Translation

Changing Hands’ newest book club, Found in Translation, focuses on international literature to feed all book lovers’ appetites for travel, folklore, distant lands, languages, and foreign cultures.

This month, attendees will discuss Dorthe Nors’ Mirror, Shoulder, Signal over happy hour coffee, beer, or wine from First Draft Book Bar in the Changing Hands Phoenix location.

In the novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, Sonja tries to set her life on track while overcoming obstacles including a sister who won’t return her calls and a wandering mind that keeps bringing her back to childhood memories in Copenhagen.

Read more about the event here.

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Wednesday, July 10

Time: 7 p.m.