Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors ever… it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll like anything she writes. So it is so surprise that when I first bought and read Sing You Home years ago, I loved it – as thought-provoking, insightful, engaging and well-researched as ever. It’s well worth a read, if you can bear the sadness at how little has changed in the five years since it was published.
However, until this week, I had never read the book as the author intended, and with my recent experience of the multimedia content in Off The Page (another Picoult book) I figured it was about time I remedied that situation. Sing You Home comes with a downloadable soundtrack – ten songs, written especially for the book in the voice of one of the main characters, Zoe, who is a music therapist and singer-songwriter. The lyrics are by Picoult, the music and performance by artist Ellen Wilber, and each song is placed at the beginning of a grouping of chapters, so that the reader knows when to listen to each.
I really really wanted to love this. As a concept, I do love it – I’m musically inclined, and I am a big fan of multimedia content in all walks of life – but something about this didn’t quite flow smoothly with me. I think a major factor was that stopping to listen to the soundtrack slowed down my reading speed considerably; when downloading the songs, it was not easy to download them straight to my phone, so I ended up streaming them, which of course meant I could only listen when I had mobile network signal and/or wifi reception. A few times, I found myself stuck on the tube, having reached the section break, and had to stop reading and stare at adverts or the floor instead. (Oh, the HORROR!)
But, even when that didn’t happen, I still had to pull myself out of the narrative flow in order to hit play and listen to the song. It’s not that the songs aren’t great (they are) or that they didn’t add a slant of understanding to the story (they do) or that it wasn’t really cool to close my eyes and imagine Zoe singing them (it was). It’s that the physical faff of it kind of broke the fourth wall a little too much. And I’m so sad about that, because I really wanted it to work. Before I began, I imagined the reading experience to be a bit like a musical, where at a peak emotional moment, everyone suddenly bursts into song and it feels completely natural because the music sounds like what they’re saying anyway – but instead, with the songs being at chapter breaks, it felt like the real moment for the song had passed – or not happened yet.
Now, I want to be super clear – I still love this concept, and I completely still love Jodi Picoult. I also think I did myself no favours in that I didn’t prepare properly (how much easier would it have been if I had properly downloaded all of the songs so I could just cue them and go?) and that I had formed prior expectations (re: the musical theatre scenario) instead of keeping an open mind. I want to encourage you all to give this a go, because I honestly do think the format will work beautifully for some – and if you have tried this, and love it, please comment! I want to hear what worked! Ultimately, I still love the book, too. I’ll definitely re-read it… but probably not with the soundtrack.
Although… maybe as an audiobook…?!