VJ Books Blog

(sacbee.com, Jan. 5, Allen Pierleoni)

The trend is toward layering entertainment, with playlists as part of the reading experience

We’ve become a society of multitaskers, and it’s no secret that some (Gen Y) are more adept at it than others (baby boomers).

So here’s a question, and be honest: Can you read a book and listen to music at the same time? Or does one distract from the other?

That’s a multitasking issue touched upon by JWT, one of the world’s largest specialists in “global brand communication” (read: an advertising/marketing agency), in its recently released trends forecast for 2009.

In JWT-speak, this particular trend – branded “distraction as entertainment” – goes like this: “Understanding that people do more than one thing at a time, content creators are turning what could be a negative (distraction) into a positive (an immersive experience). By layering a multitude of media into entertainment, they are creating content designed for simultaneous engagement.”

For our purposes, part of that picture is when authors compile playlists in tandem with their books, says JWT. The idea is for readers to listen to certain pieces of music while they read the authors’ books.

I phoned JWT’s director of trend-spotting, Ann Mack, to ask how trends are, well, spotted. Essentially, last year JWT spent time “talking with influencers and experts in several sectors,” she explained, and connected that input with “the insights we garnered from thousands of consumers, to see how ready they are to take on cultural shifts.”

As for the books-music issue, JWT was partly inspired by a posting on the Web site of mega-selling young-readers author Stephenie Meyer. With her four-book “Twilight Saga” vampire series, Meyer has become a pop culture star among teenage girls.

As Meyer says on her site, “I can’t write without music. This, combined with the fact that writing ‘Twilight’ (the first book) was a very visual experience, prompted me to collect (some of) my favorite songs into a soundtrack for the book. … Here’s the music I hear in my head while reading the book.” She lists 13 tracks by the likes of Muse, Linkin Park and Billy Joel.

Long before “Twilight,” British writer and veteran concert-goer Nick Hornby published the novel “High Fidelity.” The author, his 1995 book and the 2000 movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black all are obsessive and compulsive about music. Ditto Hornby’s 2002 “31 Songs,” essays on songs dear to him.

To hear samples of the “High Fidelity” movie soundtrack (Bob Dylan, the Kinks, Elvis Costello, Velvet Underground), go to www.hollywoodrecords.go. com/highfidelity.

Plus, Hornby recently posted his playlist of a dozen songs that “flavored 2008 for me” at http:// papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com (Queen, James Brown, Luke Doucet); search for “Hornby.”

Then there’s the case of Charles Frazier‘s 1997 National Book Award-winning “Cold Mountain.” Though an official music CD was not released with the hardback book, a CD of bluegrass tunes later accompanied the paperback edition. It was a playlist of 18 songs “inspired by (the novel) at 1999’s MerleFest and performed by an all-star band of bluegrass musicians led by Tim O’Brien, Dirk Powell and John Hermann.”

In addition, a movie soundtrack CD was issued for “Cold Mountain,” the 2003 movie; it features such artists as Jack White and Alison Krauss.

More to the point, a couple of authors we can think of released music CDs as companions to their books, a clever marketing scheme that, surprisingly, never caught on.

“I haven’t seen (the book-CD companionship) in years,” said David Brown, assistant director of publicity for Atria Books.

“It’s not a trend,” he added, echoing others in the publishing industry. “It was probably an idea a bunch of (editors and publicists) had at around the same time.”

In 2003, best-seller Michael Connelly published the ninth in his Harry Bosch PI series, “Lost Light.” The buzz at the time was that it was the first Bosch book written in third person instead of first person. That little upset nearly overshadowed the accompanying CD “Dark Sacred Night,” which Connelly called “the music I listen to (which) ends up in the books, usually on Harry Bosch’s CD player. It’s the music of Harry Bosch.” The author and his character both are jazz aficionados.

In 2005, Irish mystery-thriller writer John Connolly released “Black Angel,” another dark entry in his superlative Charlie Parker series. Part of the initial press run came with a CD, “Voices From the Dark.”

“The songs have resonances for me and Parker,” he writes on his Web site. The CD features haunting sounds by the Triffids, Seven, Hem, the Walkabouts, Blue Nile and others. Connolly’s site also refers to “a second collection, more eclectic than the first,” with tracks by Nickel Creek, the Delgados, the Czars and a dozen more.