When Is A Story A Soundtrack?

There's music in movie soundtracks, of course. But there's music too in words, easy to hear if the words are poetry, and still there in sentences and stories; in the flow, internal rhyme, the lilting rhythm and cadences of speech; and old-fashioned storytelling around the fire. Those first storytellers, memorizing their lines, must surely have heard them to music in their minds--that's why they turned so many tales into song. But what about the written word? I wonder sometimes if those first storytellers didn't argue that pen and ink might spoil their craft. When printing came, surely all the uniqueness of sound would be lost to identical shapes on identical page. And then the internet...

But there's music in words, and the best of stories still sing their songs to us, subliminally or deliberately sliding sound into our minds as the words reach our eyes. It's not a music that depends on a sound recording--it's the storyteller's song.

I love to read aloud. I really do hear what I read if the writer manages to bring me "into the zone." And, oddly, I really haven't learned to enjoy recorded audio-books--they take too long (I read too fast), and the speaker's voice so often comes between me and the song. But perhaps I just haven't had enough patience to listen to the right ones yet.

I enjoyed two very consciously musical books this week, so I'm going to start my collection of book reviews with them. Find a nice soothing coffee and enjoy.

First is The Music Of Us by Uvi Poznansky, billed as the third in a set, it tells the beginning of a story already offered in Apart from Love. It's a love story set between a soldier and a musician, at the start of the second world war, but it's so much more than that. Music, classical and modern, echoes through the lines, and an aching sense of impending loss is balanced against the way the memories are inspired by tune. The writing is beautifully lyrical. Symbolism is natural. Emotions, from laughter to tears, are very real. And the story has a compelling honesty that's truly beautiful. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee, and enjoy the soundtrack to a life.

Second is A Piper’s Song by C. K. Johnson, a wonderful take on the Pied Piper, and a pleasingly different teen novel - sometimes dark but not dystopian, musically convincing, and with a fantastic climax that combines music, magic, and real character development. Think Harry Potter crossed with a touch of C.S. Lewis, add music, and pay the piper. Enjoy with another elegant four-star coffee.

These books are both consciously musical of course, with characters to whom music is supremely important. But Pepe: homeless slum kid versus evil wired up president (a cyberpunk urban fantasy) by Robby Charters, despite its intriguingly long subtitle, has a music all its own - the quick-witted, sharp-edged, fast-flowing beat of street-kids, combined with the magic of Prince and Pauper, coolly natural future-history, and allusions ancient and modern. It's another great teen novel, pleasingly (completely) different, and great to enjoy with a dark, intense five-star coffee.

Music and the sound of words matters even more in books meant to be read aloud, I guess. Janet Ruth Heller's A Passover Surprise is a chapter book for young readers, so you can easily imagine it being shared between parent and child. It works well, simply and clearly written, with interesting questions addressed very naturally. Should a girl get the same rewards as a boy? What was going on in the Civil Rights movement? How were soldiers treated in war? And how does communication solve problems? Perfect for Passover or anytime, it's one to enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.


Jean Harkin said…
That's a nice way of saying that writing needs to flow as easily as music; poetic language not limited to poetry. And look at ALL the books you've written! Impressive!
Sheila Deeth said…
Thank you Jean. It's kind of fun that our critique group looked at poetry just as I was preparing this post. Makes me want to collect another poetry book together.
Food for thought Sheila. I had originally thought your post was about a book that has a soundtrack but I see that it is about reading aloud. I never read aloud anymore because after so many years of reading with my kids well... my mouth is dry. haha! I'm sure it must be fun to listen to a book read by a good actor who can add nuance in his/her voice.
Sheila Deeth said…
I know what you mean about that dry mouth! I go through endless cups of coffee when I'm "quietly" editing.

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