Just read: Rob Sheffield's 'Love Is A Mix Tape'

"Just read" is a blog where I blog about a book I just read. I'm trying to read more books this year and I don't wanna forget about them; blogging will probably help me remember, but who can be sure.

Love Is A Mix Tape is not particularly new (it came out in 2007) and it's pretty well-known amongst the types of people who frequent websites like AbsolutePunk for news about indie bands or pop-punk. That being said, I've never read it though I've meant to, and now I'm glad I have. 

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I didn't know much about this book going into it; it's about a man (the author, Rob Sheffield) who marries a woman, and she dies unexpectedly at a tragically young age. That might sound horribly sad, and there are parts of this book that are indeed horribly sad, but the reason it's become a fixture in music communities is because of the way Sheffield presents his story. Each of the book's 15 chapters begins with a tracklist of a mixtape that Sheffield frequently listened to during the time of his life discussed during the given chapter. 

The idea is that, for some people (like Sheffield and his wife, who both consumed a crazy number of Pavement songs during the '90s), a certain song, or album, or mixtape can bring forward a rush of memories and emotions. Hearing one song, album or mix tape can instantly transport you to a certain place and time from the past, if you listened to it enough that you associate that time and place directly with that music. Here's a decent thesis: "Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they add up to the story of a life." 

This book gets better the deeper you get into it. I think in the first few chapters, Sheffield is trying a bit too hard to be witty, and he is witty, but his story is also interesting enough and being told in an interesting enough way that his wittiness drowns out some of the better substance. This issue is more than easy to look over and fades out quickly; the book settles down as a commentary about how music affects and colors our lives while Sheffield tells his story. 

Here's the one passage I would highlight if I wanted to convince someone to read this book. The author's wife has just passed away, and he's gone out with a couple of her friends to find the pair of shoes she should be buried in (very morbid, I know). The three are driving back to his wife's parents' house, where funeral preparations are happening:

On the way we talked about the road sign BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD. I always wondered, If that’s a problem, why don’t they just build the bridge out of the same stuff they use to build the road? Drema explained that the bridge isn’t made out of different material than the road, but that the bridge ices quicker because it’s alone, hanging there without the land under it to keep it warm.

I almost dropped the damn book when I read that. Love Is A Mix Tape is very well written overall, but there are certain rays-shining-through-clouds moments like this when Sheffield is poetic without being too much so, in a way that just kind of happens to you, like when you get shocked by a piece of metal because your clothes are static-y.

The balance between the compelling story and Sheffield's overarching commentary is what makes this book a keeper. I'd recommend it to anyone who's ever made a mix tape, but I'd also recommend it to people whose interest is piqued by the idea of the story itself. If I remove my own attachment to music from my experience reading this story, I still think I'd be happy I read it.

If you click this link, you can get a 30-day free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks; you can make one of those Love Is A Mix Tape, which I've just confirmed is indeed available on Audible. Even if you cancel your subscription after the first month, you'll still get to keep the first two audiobooks you select. This is an affiliate link and the small kickback from it supports the writer of the blog you're reading.