Crank up the Tunes and Crack Open One of These 10 Great Books on Music (Exclusive)

"Lo Fi" author Liz Riggs rounds up two handfuls of novels, memoirs and nonfiction with music as the central theme

A few music books we recommend
A few music books we recommend

Building a list of excellent music books — especially as a person with a "music book" of my own coming out is a daunting task, though one I think about a lot. These were the first books I started to pick up in high school, once I’d watched Almost Famous and decided I wanted to be William Miller. I read compilations of music journalism like Let it Bleed, was gifted copies of Hammer of the Gods, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, and many others.

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<p>Riverhead Books</p> 'Lo Fi' by Liz Riggs

Riverhead Books

'Lo Fi' by Liz Riggs

The problem with compiling a list of great music books — and really it’s the best kind of problem to have — is that a lot of great ones have already captured so many equally great reads!

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Those include  books I love, like High Fidelity, books that make me want to live inside the 1970s, like Daisy Jones and The Six , books that break my heart, knowing I’ll never get to read them again for the first time, like Just Kids. Which is all to say: perhaps this is my way of cheating and including as many of the music books I love as possible. Here we go.

'IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas by Chuck Klosterman

<p>Simon & Schuster</p> 'IV' by Chuck Klosterman

Simon & Schuster

'IV' by Chuck Klosterman

This 2007 collection of previously published essays and interviews from the early-ish part of Klosterman’s career is not just focused on music, but I consider it a seminal music-lovers text.

Featuring fascinating essays and interviews with everyone from Britney Spears to The White Stripes, there are few better places to kick off a deep dive into mid aughts music culture. Klosterman is funny and astute, and his insights on music, art and fame rarely disappoint.

Related: PEOPLE's Best Books of June 2024: Dr. Fauci Shares His Hope for the Future in Latest Book and More New Reads

"Mary Jane" by Jessica Anya Blau

<p>Mariner Books</p> 'Mary Jane' by Jessica Anya Blau

Mariner Books

'Mary Jane' by Jessica Anya Blau

Okay, full disclosure: Jessica Anya Blau did blurb my book, but frankly, I gotta say: the love is mutual. I marathoned this in a 72-hour blitz, absolutely enamored with the story of Mary Jane, a super-sheltered 14-year-old girl who finds herself nannying for her creative, hippie-ish pot-smoking neighbors. The family just so happens to be housing their recently sober-ish rock star friend, Jimmy, from a band called Running Water.

It’s an ode to girlhood and coming into one's own, to finding your chosen family, your own voice, your own song. I loved every page.

"A Visit From The Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan

<p>Anchor</p> 'A Visit From the Good Squad' by Jennifer Egan


'A Visit From the Good Squad' by Jennifer Egan

This perfect, Pulitzer Prize-winning 2012 novel is a kaleidoscopic tale that spans decades, continents, genres and storylines — but somehow still feels intimate. I love this book for its breadth and ambition and heart, but also its peek behind the curtain of a fictionalized music industry.

We start with record exec Bennie Salazar and his kleptomaniac assistant Sasha and the book unfolds into tales of everybody and anybody connected to them. Egan weaves together these stories so seamlessly that any music lover will be immediately drawn in and happy to jump down the rabbit hole with her.

"The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" by Teddy Wayne

<p>Free Press</p> 'The Love Song of Jonny Valentine' by Teddy Wayne

Free Press

'The Love Song of Jonny Valentine' by Teddy Wayne

Love Song  is told from the perspective of a young, massively famous pop star — think Justin Bieber or Chase Dreams from The Other Two — as he embarks on a global tour and comes face-to-face with the harsh, odd, brutal, thrilling, sad, sometimes fun, bizarre reality of fame.

Wayne is a master of arc, and this is a fascinating look at the (fictional) lives of those youngest stars we anoint to fame. I found it irresistibly compelling, and, yes, unputdownable. If you’ve ever wondered how a young Justin Bieber handled his first Grammys or how a teenage Britney Spears dealt with the paparazzi, you’ll love this book.

"I’m With The Band" by Pamela Des Barres

<p>Chicago Review Press</p> 'I'm With the Band' by Pamela Des Barres

Chicago Review Press

'I'm With the Band' by Pamela Des Barres

Pamela Des Barres came of age during peak rock and roll in the U.S. and as she tells us right away, she “loved music and the men who made it.” In 1960 Los Angeles, her story really begins: Seeing her first Beatles show, running down to the Sunset Strip to see bands like The Doors and Iron Butterfly.

As she charts her sexual, musical and emotional coming-of-age, we get a look into the lives of everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Robert Plant to Jim Morrison and Keith Moon. This book is pure honesty and without shame; her stories are jaw-dropping, salacious and wonderful. It’s a book about music (duh) and the people who make and love it, but also fandom, coming into one’s own, agency and understanding your place in history.

It’s rumored that Penny Lane in Almost Famous was a composite character based loosely on Ms. Des Barres and Bebe Buell, but I’d ask Pamela to confirm that for us first.

"How to Be Famous" by Caitlin Moran

<p>Harper</p> 'How to Be Famous' by Caitlin Moran


'How to Be Famous' by Caitlin Moran

London. 1994. 19-years-old: What could go wrong? Moran has always known music, and she manages to reference Beastie Boys, David Bowie, Blur and Oasis by page 10 in this fantastic novel. It follows a young music journalist on the rise who’s just starting to find her own footing in her career when her ex, John Kite — and his band — suddenly begin their separate, sexier ascent.

If you love reading about a scene that you probably weren’t in (Britpop, London, mid-90s), this one has all the elements for you: writing and drinking and sex and love, crying in the bathroom, drugs, crying some more, f—ing it up and then finding it out, and then f—ing it up some more.

There is hilarious honesty in this book—one of Moran’s trademarks. The vibes are messy and the writing is great: you’ll love it.

"Gone To The Wolves" by John Wray

<p>Picador</p> 'Gone to the Wolves' by John Wray


'Gone to the Wolves' by John Wray

This has one  of the best covers I’ve seen in ages, with the writing and story to hold it up. John Wray does what I always want books to do: Take me into a world I know nothing about and captivate me. Pull me in until I’m begging to stay there. Wray manages this by plunging the reader into the underground heavy metal scene in Central Florida in the 80s, but from there, we are catapulted to Los Angeles and beyond.

He captures this specific scene and music in all its seedy, DIY (and sometimes terrifying) glory and manages to weave in complicated friendships and a pretty great love story. Turn on Metallica (or perhaps even something a little less mainstream) and let this one devour you.

"Her Country" by Marisa Moss

<p>Henry Holt and Co.</p> 'Her Country' by Marissa R. Moss

Henry Holt and Co.

'Her Country' by Marissa R. Moss

Moss’s book has done for country music what the artists she writes about have done for country music — Maren Morris, Mickey Guyton, Kacey Musgraves — for each of them you can say: even if you don’t “like country,” you’ll still dig it. As someone who also was never “really into country music,” I found her book hard to put down.

It’s a meticulously researched, thought-provoking deep dive into the women in country music, with a special focus on the three aforementioned artists who all carved unique paths for themselves in a white, male-dominated industry. Moss is a master of weaving in historical and political context while simultaneously describing the music and artistry of her subjects, and it’s a book that will leave you feeling inspired, awestruck and smarter.

"Stay True" by Hua Hsu

<p>Doubleday</p> 'Stay True' by Hua Hsu


'Stay True' by Hua Hsu

Maybe this is cheating, as Hua Hsus’ gorgeous, Pulitzer-Prize winning memoir isn’t really about music at all, but I know music devotees will adore it. Set in Berkeley during the time when Hsu lost his close friend Ken in a tragic, random act of violence, Stay True is an entire coming-of-age journey told through the lens of grief.

It is deeply intellectual while still being emotionally resonant — Hsu’s obvious love of art and music bind the pages together in a way I never would have expected. It was easy to feel like you were looking for records with him at Amoeba Music, or talking about Nirvana with Ken, or riding around listening to Pearl Jam’s "Ledbetter," or  making mix cassette tapes or scribbling in one of Hsu’s zines. The music and art he describes add such texture, contour and context to Hsu’s memories that the book feels almost soundtracked. It's a work of art I’ll never forget.

Related: 20 Memoirs PEOPLE Staffers Love — That Aren't Written By Celebrities (Exclusive)

"White Tears" by Hari Kunzru

<p>Knopf</p> 'White Tears' by Hari Kunzru


'White Tears' by Hari Kunzru

Calling Hari Kunzrus’ excellent White Tears a “music book” feels like calling Friday Night Lights “a football show” or, perhaps more accurate, calling Munch’s The Scream a “painting of a guy yelling.” In the early pages, we are dropped into Seth and Carter’s audiophiliac, blues-soaked, white, downtown New York. Recording sounds walking down Orchard Street, playing them back in $1,000 headphones, chasing ghosts over pina coladas on 14th street.

What starts as friends listening to and recording music in New York in their early twenties quickly becomes a nearly-off-the-track speeding train thriller of a story.  Kunzru takes us deep into the belly of what appropriation means as the two friends begin a search for Black blues god Charlie Shaw — but are they chasing him or a ghost?

An endlessly impressive, complex novel about art and race and history, I’ll probably still be learning from this years from now.

Lo Fi by Liz Riggs is available now, wherever books are sold.

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