If you’re anything like us, you’ve spent the past few weeks combing Instagram for clips of Taylor Swift’s new Eras tour, which has already kicked off over in the States. As the dates have not yet been confirmed for the European leg of her tour – and securing a ticket looks to be as probable as emerging victorious from The Hunger Games – most of us will have to satisfy ourselves with listening to Swift’s discography from the comfort of our own homes.
But whether you choose to dance around to ‘22’ or wallow with ‘All Too Well (10-minute version)’, we came to realise, as we do, that there’s a book for that song, one that complements its lyrical themes and is tailor-made (Taylor-made?) to scratch that same musical/literary itch.
Below, we’ve compiled a book guide to what should be on the top of your TBR pile, depending on your favourite Swift song.
In ‘Our Song’, Swift asks her boyfriend why they don’t have a song and he says they do: it’s the slam of screen doors, sneaking out late, and tapping on each other’s windows. It might sound like a cop-out, but Swift thought it was romantic.
However, if she had wanted a real song, she should have met Daniel from Jane Sanderson’s novel Mix Tape. Daniel and Alison were childhood sweethearts who bonded over their love of music. Now, they’re adults leading separate lives—that is, until Daniel sends Alison a song that brings back memories of their past.
Poppy and Alex are best friends – in the same ‘will-they-won’t-they’ way that Ross and Rachel or Harry and Sally are best friends. Every year, they go on holiday together but on the 12th year of this tradition, things have changed. This year’s trip is make-or-break.
Swift might as well have been talking about Poppy and Alex when she sang: “Can’t you see that I’m the one who understands you, been here all along so why can’t you see that you belong with me?” Fans of the friends-to-lovers trope will fall in love with this story.
If we were to sum up Dolly Alderton’s best-selling 2018 memoir in one line, we would probably say it’s about being happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. In Alderton’s book, she reflects on her twenties – the relationships, jobs and friendships that have shaped her, and how she learned to love herself. Swift’s song also has female friendship at its core; after all, isn’t every night an opportunity to “dress up like hipsters, and make fun of our exes”?
In ‘Champagne Problems’, a woman can’t give a reason for why she turned down her partner’s proposal. Likewise, in Truman Capote’s iconic novel, the magnetic Holly Golightly quite literally runs away from commitment due to trauma from her past. When Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ protagonist moves into Golightly’s apartment building, he falls in love with her and wonders if they can make a relationship that lasts. (NB: Don’t expect the same ending as the Audrey Hepburn film.)
In The Paper Palace, Elle loves her husband Peter. But while staying at her family’s holiday home, she has an affair with Jonas, her childhood sweetheart. The choice between a stable partner and screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain with your first love is at the heart of Swift’s song ‘The Way I Loved You’, and while we can’t help feeling that, like Peter, Swift’s new beau seemed perfectly fine (sensible, respects her space, gets on nicely with her parents), both Swift and Miranda Cowley Heller know well that the heart wants what it wants.
‘Sparks Fly’ – The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (1996)
There’s nothing more intoxicating, and maddening, than falling in love for the first time. This sensation is at the heart of The Notebook, a story about a city girl and country boy who fall in love one summer before being separated by family, class and circumstance.
The intensity of Noah and Ally’s love, which reverberates throughout the book, is captured by Swift’s ‘Sparks Fly’,especially in the line: “Drop everything now, meet me in the pouring rain, kiss me on the sidewalk, take away the pain.” Fans of the film adaptation will know what we’re talking about.
Swift’s heart-breaking song about a loss of innocence, growing up, and the casual cruelty of teenage boys is a fan favourite for a reason. While the trio of best friends at the heart of Girls in Love are not quite 15 (they’re 13), they learn a lot of the same lessons when one of them starts dating an older boy. This book is skewed to a younger audience but, like most of Jacqueline Wilson’s books, it deals with darker themes in a sensitive way.
Nora sees herself as the archetypal cold-hearted city girlfriend in a small-town romance novel: all of her boyfriends leave her for nice country girls who are bakers or manage family-owned businesses. Career-driven Nora, therefore, believes she is the “Evil Villainess in [her] own life” – defining herself in a manner similar to Swift in ‘Anti-Hero’, when she sings that she is the problem.
Henry’s novel, however, takes a turn when Nora goes to a small town herself, and bumps into the ambitious and cut-throat editor, Charlie. Sparks fly and she learns that maybe she isn’t the problem after all.
We already knew that Swift was a master lyricist when 1989 was released, but it was the song ‘Blank Space’that showed an edge we had never seen before. In this song, Swift satirises the claims from tabloids and trolls that she has a “long list of ex-lovers” who run because she is “insane”.
Victoria Mas’ novel, about women who have been confined to an asylum in 1885 and must attend a ball to entertain the Parisian elite, raises the same question: who gets to decide if a woman is “mad”?
OK, yes, Swift directly mentions Gatsby in the lyric: “feeling like Gatsby for that whole year”. But this song also paints a vivid picture of lavish parties that evokes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about an enigmatic man whose wealth can’t buy him happiness – he still pines for his ex-lover, Daisy, who is now married to someone else. Not to spoil the ending, but both Fitzgerald’s novel and Swift’s song involve a betrayal that means their extravagant ways of life can’t continue.
‘Cruel Summer’ – Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018)
‘Cruel Summer’ is many things (ridiculously catchy, robbed of being a single, etc.) but at its heart it’s about a new relationship that feels so fragile that one wrong move could break it. This fragility, combined with a strong sexual attraction, could easily be describing the main characters of Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel. Marianne and Connell run in different circles at school, but when they embark on a sexual relationship – one they keep secret from their peers – their lives become entwined and changed forever.
Swift’s song imagines what would happen if she were able to enjoy the success of a male artist, away from the hypocritical criticism she receives as a woman. Naomi Alderman’s novel takes this power-reversal theme a step further, and imagines a world where women discover they can electrocute men with a new-found power in their hands. Needless to say, the results are not pretty.
In this retelling of a Greek myth, Clytemnestra is a warrior princess whose life is turned upside down when Agamemnon murders her husband and son and takes her as his wife. His numerous other cruelties transform Clytemnestra into a woman who is hell-bent on taking revenge when he returns from the Trojan War. Swift’s character in ‘No Body, No Crime’ is equally calculating when she takes justice into her own hands and avenges her murdered friend.
In Acts of Desperation, the unnamed protagonist embarks on a relationship with an older man who is not right for her, leading her down a path of obsession and self-destructive behaviour.
It’s a similar narrative to what we see in Swift’s song, where she sings about a woman putting all of her energy into a relationship and going to self-destructive lengths to try and impress people (see: “I hosted parties and starved my body, like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss”), only to finally realise that she’s on her own – meaning, she needs to take care of herself. It’s a lesson that you’ll be rooting for Nolan’s character to learn over the course of this novel.
Given the title of Greene’s novel, it will hardly come as a surprise that The End of the Affair is about the devastation caused by a relationship ending. The protagonist Maurice looks back on his passionate affair with a married woman called Sarah after she ended things abruptly two years earlier.
This beautifully written novel, which deals with the complex, all-consuming and sometimes dark nature of love, shares Swift’s retrospective from ‘All Too Well (10-minute version)’. We can particularly imagine Maurice claiming that Sarah kept him like a secret, but he kept her like an oath.