Millionaire, pop star, philanthropist, activist: Taylor Swift’s business card would be totally blackened by size-3 font if she tried to squeeze in all her titles and accolades. But while she’s best known as a pop and country singer, the blond superstar actually considers herself to be a songwriter above all else.
In the first blush of her youth, Taylor was deemed a songwriting prodigy — and for good reason. Her songs are tight and catchy, packed with big hooks and exquisite details. Don’t be fooled by the zero percent body fat or dulcet tones! Taylor’s greatest gift is her ability to communicate moods and emotions and twine them together into heartfelt, lyrical stories. And aren’t those stories delicious! A green-eyed bad boy, a reckless driver, a sweet 15-year-old girl; new love and lost love and ruined love; mothers, brothers, parties, friends old and new.
What kind of greedy fan doesn’t want more of this stuff? Luckily for us, storytelling is a craft as old as language. Choose your favorite Taylor Swift masterpiece, and read on: there’ll always be a novel that digs deep into the heart of that song.
Book: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
“You learn my secrets and you figure out why I’m guarded… You saw me start to believe for the first time,” Taylor croons, in a song that painfully parallels Rainbow Rowell’s bestselling YA novel about a young romance in 1980s Nebraska. Like the cautious young woman in "Mine," Eleanor’s past is troubled, and she’s slow to trust or love. Park’s patience and tenderness, and Eleanor’s courage and kindness, intertwine in a gorgeously balanced narrative: each character helps the other transcend crushing hardship. (Several years after the novel’s conclusion, in the unwritten epilogue, Eleanor meets and so impresses Taylor Swift that Taylor writes a hit single in her honor. Obviously.)
Song: “Better Than Revenge”
Book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Edmond Dantès’ iPod is encrusted with precious stones and stocked with Taylor Swift’s angstiest classics. He has a playlist consisting of just two songs, "Better Than Revenge" and "Bad Blood," which he listens to on repeat. Normally too grim to sing along, he occasionally allows himself to darkly mutter a chorus after finalizing a particularly nasty and elaborate revenge scheme. He despises "22" (wrongful incarceration), scoffs at "Innocent" (“Who you are is not what you did”? LOL), and wept the first time he heard "Should’ve Said No" (“You should’ve said no! You should’ve gone home!”).
Book: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Joan Didion, long beloved for her shrewd observations on culture and relationships, dedicated The Year of Magical Thinking to examining her own grief over the sudden death of her husband of nearly forty years. This exquisite memoir demonstrates the transformative powers of both love and loss, and the ways in which each compounds the other. Although the subject of Taylor’s "Red" almost certainly didn’t die, Taylor’s aim is always true, and she too strikes to the heart of loss: “Losing him was blue like I’d never known, missing him was dark grey all alone ... because loving him was red.”
Song: “New Romantics”
Book: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
“We’re all bored,” Taylor sings, deliberately wooden, “We’re all so tired of everything.” Jong’s classic protagonist and Taylor’s “new romantics” are restless, caged, obsessed with image but sick of obsessing about image, fragile yet astonishingly resilient. “Every day is like a battle,” indeed. The novel grapples with feminism, marriage, fidelity, female sexuality, and isolation through a unique combination of humor and melancholy, sensitivity and brutality. We might be tired and we may be beaten — but we still can’t help waiting for trains that just aren’t coming.
Song: “Begin Again”
Book: The Best Man by Kristan Higgins
A woman’s nightmare: just before her wedding to the man of her dreams, he tells her he’s gay; her glorious day goes up in flames, and she flees. A woman’s dream: a super-sexy reformed bad boy who supports his little sister and knows how to use his big, calloused hands. A woman’s nightmare: technically that reformed bad boy is the monster who wrecked her wedding! In this delicious romance, a beautiful woman slowly topples toward the beautiful man who (sort of, barely) ruined her life, learning that love (and passion, ow ow!) truly can begin again.
Song: “Blank Space”
Book: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
The Odyssey immortalizes Odysseus as the prototypical adventurer and his queen, Penelope, as the ideal wife. While Odysseus seduces princesses and goddesses, Penelope languishes at home, unswervingly devoted despite her husband’s twenty-year absence and nearly certain death. Twenty years! In The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood presents an alternate reading of The Odyssey, narrated by a Penelope who is both amused and infuriated by her own mythology. “I realized how many people were laughing at me behind my back — how they were jeering, making jokes about me ... how they were turning me into a story, or into several stories,” Atwood’s Penelope reflects. This Penelope would adore Taylor’s "Blank Space," in which Taylor, like Penelope, mocks the obvious impossibility of her public image. In Taylor’s case, the best defence is a magnificent music video, which builds up her reputation as a crazed man-eater until it collapses under its own ludicrous weight.
Song: “You Belong With Me”
Book: Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern
Show me someone who has never pined after a friend — not even briefly, not even from a respectful distance — and I’ll show you a liar. We’ve all known the misery and yearning of watching people we love with others: “Can’t you see that I’m the one who understands you? Been here all along, so why can’t you see—you belong with me.” It’s this torment that Cecilia Ahern captures in Love, Rosie, in which longtime best friends Rosie and Alex move apart and pursue different relationships—all while haunted by the possibility that they truly belong with each other.
Song: “Back To December”
Book: Atonement by Ian McEwan
In Atonement, a woman writes a novel to try to make amends for destroying two lovers. In "Back To December," Taylor apologizes for spoiling one of her own romantic relationships. Both women use storytelling to correct a wrong. And in both cases, the result is a tragic — and tragically fruitless — compilation of regret and lost opportunity. Such deep regret is uniquely agonizing, and a person who craves absolution lingers in the past: “I’d go back to December, turn around and change my own mind… I go back to December all the time.”
Song: “All Too Well”
Book: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
The stories in this collection deal with relationships — especially their decline, and the ways in which people in love fail each other and themselves. The narratives are delicate and devastating, the characters messy, flawed, often desperate. In other words, they’re very human. With compassion and kindness, Díaz describes the multitudes of ways in which love marks and changes — or fails to change — those who love. And Taylor is right there with him: “I know it’s long gone, and that magic’s not here no more; and I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all.”
Song: “Out of the Woods”
Book: Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Kristin Cashore’s gorgeous fantasy world contains all the usual goodies—kings, queens, border disputes, arranged marriages—as well as “gracelings,” people who are feared and admired for their supernatural abilities. Graceling is basically my ideal novel: nothing gets my blood pumping quite like a rollicking fantasy yarn starring a kickass female protagonist who relishes using her superior skills to teach her hottie love interest a lesson. Cashore introduces us to Katsa, a goodhearted princess forced to use her violent gifts to subjugate her uncle’s enemies, and Po, the foreign prince who harbors dangerous secrets. Neither trusts easily, and each turning point in their relationship leaves them hoping that they’ve finally, finally made it out of the woods and into the clear.