Your High School Reading List Reimagined as Pop Songs
There are some books (SparkNotes) we all remember reading (skimming) in high school. As the new crop of 9th through 12th graders head off to their first days of school, we’ve compiled a list of songs to listen to while reading those infamous novels.
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' & Ke$ha's "Die Young"
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, which was recently adapted into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is one of the books most commonly found on high school reading lists. Nick Carraway, the narrator, recounts his summer with Jay Gatsby and the Buchanans. Gatsby’s over-the-top, glamorous parties are legendary, but his love for the married Daisy Buchanan remains relatively unknown. Ke$ha’s 2012 song "Die Young" touches on many of the same themes as Gatsby, despite lacking the eloquence of Fitzgerald’s prose. The feel-good sound and lyrics evoke the imagery of Gatsby’s Roaring 20s parties and extravagant lifestyle. Lyrics like, "Oh what a shame that you came here with someone / so while you’re here in my arms," and, don’t care who's watchin' when we tearin' it up / that magic that we got nobody can touch" are reminiscent of the adulterous relationship that develops between Gatsby and Daisy. Finally, the concept of "the last night of our lives" reflects the (SPOILER ALERT) tragic ending of the story, in which Gatsby is murdered for revenge.
(I realize that Fitzgerald is probably rolling over in his grave at the thought of being compared to Ke$ha. However, I do not care, because I think it’s very fitting, and anyone who says they don’t turn this song up incredibly loud when it comes on is either boring, or a liar.)
2. Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter' & Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good"
The Scarlet Letter is the perfect companion to the teenage angst that floods the hallways of high schools everywhere. Hester Prynne’s isolation and persecution at the hands of her peers is relatable for almost every teenager, and Hawthorne’s scandalous tale of adultery makes this classic irresistible for literature lovers everywhere. Plus, Pearl is the perfect way to prevent teenage pregnancy, because she is quite possibly the creepiest child character aside from Chucky. Amy Winehouse’s distinctive, throwback-style vocals evoke the sense of nostalgia that's necessary for digesting the Puritan setting of Hawthorne’s novel. The theme of adultery is prominent in both the song and the novel. Furthermore, the repeated lyric "you know I’m no good" is most likely what the Puritans planned to write on Hester’s tomb after she died.
While we're on the subject of The Scarlet Letter, you should watch Easy A. It’s not an exact remake (really, it’s not even close) but it does mention the book, and it kind of has some similar themes. Plus, it’s absolutely hilarious.
3. William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' & LMNT's "Juliet"
Shakespeare is the bane of every high school student’s existence. Reading him is much like deciphering a foreign language, but more frustrating, because he's writing in English. Romeo and Juliet follows the tale of what is arguably the most famous couple in history. The short version: a man and woman from rival families fall in love, chaos ensues, and they both (SPOILER ALERT) end up dying (the play promotes the always-inspirational feminist concept that a man is worth killing yourself for).
LMNT is the awkward stepchild of boy bands. The song "Juliet" is about a teenager's unrequited love. For students in the present day, lines like "I tried to page you twice" and "got my best DJ on the radio waves" may seem as obscure as anything Shakespeare had to say, given how outdated those technologies are. The song's protagonist imagines that "maybe, someday, you and me can run away," much like Romeo and Juliet plan to in the play. Finally, the song makes explicit reference to the doomed romance, stating, "I just want you to know / I wanna be your Romeo / Hey Juliet." Not the most romantic proposal, considering the ending of the story, but relevant nonetheless.
Sorry about the terrible video quality. Like I said, LMNT is a forgotten stepchild. Nobody bothered to put their video on YouTube.
4. Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' (Jane Austen) & The Click Five's "Just The Girl"
The novel Pride and Prejudice may be the cause of every woman’s high standards for men, and is definitely one of the most beautiful love stories ever written. The tale of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy’s inability to express their feelings for each other — combined with Elizabeth’s intimidating demeanor, and her family’s overwhelming enthusiasm for all things related to celebrations, romance, and pigs — essentially defines my romantic life to this day. Had Pride and Prejudice been written from Darcy’s point of view, and in the manner of a boy band song, it would have been "Just The Girl." Could lyrics like, "Strange as it seems / she’s the one I’m after," "she’s bittersweet," "she’s a mystery," and "she’d rather be alone" fit Elizabeth any better? I don’t think they could. Plus, the song is very upbeat, and will keep you going through even the dullest portions of Austen’s prose — of which there aren’t many, because she’s incredible.
5. Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' & Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy"
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s one and only novel, is about a woman who loses her mind and becomes suicidal. It’s definitely a strange book, but Plath was a strange lady, and it’s worth a read simply because Plath managed to write one of the best-known books with feminist themes.
The song "Crazy" was completely inescapable when it came out in 2006. Simply hearing the song was enough to make you feel like Esther: devoid of hope and disillusioned with society. However, the lyrics to the song are also fitting, as they are somewhat disjointed and confusing, from “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind / there was something so pleasant about that place,” to, “I was out of touch / but it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough / I just knew too much,” the song's protagonist seems to be just as troubled as Esther is, as she confronts the unsatisfactory state of affairs for women.
6. Jane Austen's 'Emma' & Usher's "Make Me Wanna"
I know there’s probably a rule against using the same author twice in a list like this, but let’s be rebellious for once. Emma Woodhouse is the original girl you love to hate. She's immature and naïve, but completely irresistible. The plot of Jane Austen's Emma can be confusing, with its many characters and plot twists, but the book is truly worth reading.
Usher's "Make Me Wanna" is a great match for the unfortunate storyline involving Emma, Mr. Elton, and Harriet. After Emma attempts to set Harriet and Mr. Elton up, Elton falls madly in love with Emma instead. Cue awkward silence. Usher’s song about falling for "the one that hooked us up"” fits in perfectly with this storyline — plus, it’s one of his better songs. Who wouldn’t want to hear Usher croon about, "a ring and the things that come along with it"?
If you haven't, you should really watch Clueless. The plot is close enough Emma that when you go to read the book, you sort of know what’s coming. And again, it’s hilarious and worth watching anyway.
7. Emily Brontë's 'Wuthering Heights' & Mario Vasquez's "Gallery"
Arguably the greatest book ever written, Wuthering Heights is the ultimate story of being placed in the friendzone. The love story takes place between childhood friends Heathcliff and Catherine. Heathcliff is rejected when Catherine decides to marry Edgar for his fortune. Mario Vasquez description of the woman he loves is incredibly beautiful, which makes them a good fit for Heathcliff’s passionate and slightly violent feelings for Catherine. Take, for instance, the lyrics "she’s breathtaking, but so much more / she walks in the room, your lungs close / makin' you never want to breathe again." The line, "She knows she deserves more … but his money’s hard to ignore” explains the choice Catherine makes to marry Edgar instead of Heathcliff. Vasquez also sings that, "her boyfriend has got so much dough," which is likely how Brontë would have described Edgar had she lived in the present day.
8. Charlotte Brontë's 'Jane Eyre' & Fabolous' "Trade It All (Part 2)"
If you’re really interested in reading this 400(ish)-page novel, I’m very impressed. It’s essentially a love story about a poor girl (Jane Eyre) who falls in love with a rich man (Mr. Rochester), but the man is married to a woman who’s off her rocker and lives in the attic. There’s way more material, but that’s the best part. I highly recommend reading it, because Jane is a really amazing character, but I recommend reading it quickly, because it’s really long. Fabolous's "Trade It All (Part 2)" sounds like the song Rochester would make if he traveled forward in time and became a famous R&B singer. He says that he would trade everything — "money, cars … even give up my street dream" — to have her in his life, which I think is a truly sweet sentiment, even if the definition of "street dream" is up for debate. Also, this isn’t entirely accurate, because it took Rochester a long time to decide he was willing to give up his certifiably insane wife, but he did eventually, and that’s all that matters.