Pho­to by blocks on Unsplash

As a Jew­ish girl raised in Mia­mi in the 1970s and 1980s, I was shut­tled around in my mom’s Buick Estate sta­tion wag­on while Neil Dia­mond and Simon & Gar­funkel crooned over the radio. Lat­er, when she tucked me into bed, it was Bar­bara Streisand play­ing from the 8‑track stereo down the hall. And when the tape came to an end, I reached for my flash­light and hid beneath the cov­ers with my friends Judy Blume and Sid­ney Sheldon. 

This music and these books raised a gen­er­a­tion; and I know that they raised me. Songs and words have an immense pow­er to shape us. 

I remem­ber being stretched across the shag­gy, green car­pet watch­ing The Jazz Singer for the hun­dredth time, bro­ken by Can­tor Rabinowitz’s renun­ci­a­tion of his son. But then I was put back togeth­er watch­ing the last scene at Kol Nidre ser­vices and Jess find­ing Mol­ly on the beach. Hel­lo, Again” played in the back­ground. My very first short sto­ry was enti­tled Hel­lo, Again.” And, admit­ted­ly, there was a peri­od when I sang — rather poor­ly and dra­mat­i­cal­ly — a ren­di­tion of Tevye’s Match­mak­er, Match­mak­er” after watch­ing Fid­dler on the Roof. My old­er broth­ers still poke fun at the memory. 

If the day end­ed with the let­ter y,” my sib­lings and I were typ­i­cal­ly at our syn­a­gogue attend­ing Hebrew School. There we learned the Hebrew alpha­bet, chron­i­cles of wise men and coura­geous women. Through these tales and melodies, I began a life­long con­nec­tion to my faith. Grand­pa Max singing Dayenu at the Passover table, my best friend and I singing Adon Olam in a series of rounds. And these sto­ries, they inspired me to write my own.

Music and books have the abil­i­ty to trans­port. A nov­el drops us inside anoth­er world, while a song takes us back to long-for­got­ten mem­o­ries. The col­lab­o­ra­tion of the two can be time­less and evoca­tive, push­ing us to dig deep and feel. It’s no won­der I based my lat­est nov­el, What You Do To Me, on a song. 

Here are some of my favorite books that weave togeth­er music and books.

Windy City Blues by Renée Rosen

Lee­ba Groski’s pas­sion for music lands her a job at a Chica­go record com­pa­ny. There she real­izes her dream as a song­writer while meet­ing and falling in love with a Black blues gui­tarist from Louisiana, Red Dupree. But this is 1960s Chica­go, and seg­re­ga­tion pulls them apart and Leeba’s Ortho­dox Jew­ish fam­i­ly renounces her. Can these lovers defy the forces that try to sep­a­rate them? A beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed sto­ry that illus­trates the pow­er of music.

Mary Jane by Jes­si­ca Blau

Mary Jane is an inno­cent four­teen-year-old girl grow­ing up in 1970s monot­o­ny with her nose in a book. When she lands a sum­mer job as a nan­ny for an upstand­ing psy­chi­a­trist, her moth­er believes it’s the per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty. But the doc­tor is secret­ly hous­ing a rock star (and movie star wife) in his home, with the goal to dry him out. Over the course of one sum­mer, with music play­ing loud­ly in the back­ground, Mary Jane faces the pull of both worlds — chaos and con­ven­tion­al­i­ty — as she fig­ures out who she is and what she wants from life. 

High Fideli­ty by Nick Hornby

When Rob’s girl­friend dumps him, we are tak­en on a jour­ney through music-lov­ing Rob’s his­to­ry (and mind) as he suf­fers with rejec­tion, lack of moti­va­tion, and ques­tion­ing his every deci­sion. Rob finds solace in his fledg­ling record store and quirky cast of employ­ees while music and pop cul­ture guides him through what tru­ly mat­ters. A quin­tes­sen­tial sto­ry of love, loss, and rock and roll. 

The Vio­lin Con­spir­a­cy by Bren­dan Slocumb

Ray McMil­lian is a Black vio­lin­ist who nev­er let prej­u­dice keep him from his dream of per­form­ing. His prized Stradi­var­ius vio­lin is an exten­sion of him­self, con­nect­ing him to the world around him. On the eve before the Tchaikovsky Com­pe­ti­tion — the most pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion of his career — Ray’s beloved vio­lin is stolen. What fol­lows is a jour­ney of grief and self-dis­cov­ery as Ray ques­tions who he is with and with­out music.

Nick & Norah’s Infi­nite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

When they first meet, Nick and Norah are bro­ken-heart­ed, ques­tion­ing their lives. With noth­ing more than a shared pas­sion for music, they end up on a jour­ney to find a famous band’s secret show which turns into an all-night first date. Here, music is the cen­ter­piece of a roman­tic tale which is filled with adven­ture, heart­break, angst, and the humor that comes with young love.

A Vis­it from the Goon Squad by Jen­nifer Egan

Ben­nie Salazar is an aging musi­cian, and Sasha is his per­son­al assis­tant. Egan weaves a bril­liant nar­ra­tive around these two spir­it­ed char­ac­ters, intro­duc­ing the col­or­ful pasts that made them the peo­ple they are today. Beau­ti­ful and clever, this book cap­tures the essence of both time and music and how the two have the abil­i­ty to connect.

As I wrote this piece, my twen­ty-three-year-old son walked through the door. We have a fam­i­ly bond through music. Anoth­er gen­er­a­tion steeped in sto­ries and tra­di­tion, where Sonos speak­ers con­trol our moods and feel­ings. At once, Mah Tovu” played on the speak­ers. It’s the song he plays to let us know he’s home, to remind us how he’s root­ed in his Judaism and music, but it’s most­ly the way in which he lets us con­nect with him, with­out utter­ing a sin­gle word.

Rochelle Wein­stein is a USA Today and Ama­zon best­selling author. A for­mer enter­tain­ment indus­try exec­u­tive, she splits her time between Mia­mi and the moun­tains of North Car­oli­na. In her spare time, she writes month­ly book columns for books​by​women​.org, teach­es pub­lish­ing work­shops, and is co-host of Book­Talk, a South Flori­da show ded­i­cat­ed to authors and books. Her eighth nov­el releas­es 2/25/25.