Love is a litany of things to a multitude of people*, but when you come right down to it, love is a story, and Love Is a Mix Tape is one of the best books I've read about love as it happens. Not as you want it to happen, not as you wish it could have been, but incontrovertibly as it is. This is not a hard, lonely memoir about a man who lost his wife. It is a searching, and at times searingly funny, story of Rob Sheffield and his wife, RenÃ©e, who gave each other just what they needed. Music, of course, accounts for much of what brought them together, and there are wonderful stories of their early years, living hand-to-mouth as students and fledgling writers, taking road trips, seeing shows, making tapes. The mix tapes that kick off every chapter are total time-capsule candy for anyone who grew up with, say, Duran Duran and U2 and grew into the indie-era of Pavement and Superchunk and others (in fact, many others: the mixes are delightfully mixy and eclectic, criss-crossing time and genre: you'll quickly understand why he listens to them over and over). And keep in mind you're in the hands of a die-hard fan here: there's no shortage of bits on songs and bands that only a writer for Rolling Stone could do justice:
I've always dreamed of a new wave girl to stand up front and be shameless and lippy, to take the heat, teach me her tricks, teach me to brave like her. I needed someone with a quicker wit than mine. The new wave girl was brazen and scarlet. She would take me under her wing and teach me to join the human race, the way Bananarama did with their "Shy Boy." She would pick me out and shake me up and turn me around, turn me into someone new.
This may be one of the best--and, the more that I look at, most bittersweet--passages to convey what RenÃ©e meant to him, how she changed his life, and how music was their conduit to each other and their emblem. It wasn't all wine and roses: they disagreed, they raged, they misunderstood each other, they struggled to make ends meet and figure out their version of husband and wife. There are songs for all of that, too, but as important as music is to this story, it really is only the soundtrack. He's as honest about their shared victories as he is about their failings: their love is the refrain, the thing they always come back to, and this is ultimately what gives the story its staying power and--in the face of tragedy--its sense of hope. --Anne
Recommended for fans of The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, Our Noise, or Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
*Particularly to songwriters: see very last paragraph of LIaMT for evidence of this.