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Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time (2007)

by Rob Sheffield

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1,686647,913 (3.86)72
"In the 1990s, "alternative" was suddenly mainstream, and bands like Pearl Jam and Pavement, Nirvana and R.E.M.--bands that a year before would have been too weird for MTV--were MTV. The boundaries of American culture were exploding, and music was leading the way. It was also the 1990s when a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renée, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway. He was tall. She was short. He was shy. She was a social butterfly. They had nothing in common except that they both loved music. Music brought them together and kept them together. And it was music that would help Rob through a sudden, unfathomable loss. Here, Rob, now a writer for Rolling Stone, uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renée.--From publisher description."--From source other than the Library of Congress… (more)
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Memoirs are dangerous and tricky things. They can be selfless and selfish at the same time, an expulsion of emotion and memory that you just needed to get out for your own sanity, while simultaneously inviting everyone through the door, basically begging them to ask for even more probing details than those laid out in the book. A common problem that arises in the development of a memoir is that you have to come off as someone interesting enough to read about, while still remaining human and humble enough that people don’t hate you for having an actual book written about your life. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but as Matthew Good points out so eloquently in his song 21st Century Living:

Ambition, ambition’s a tricky thing
It’s like riding a unicycle on a dental floss tightrope over a wilderness of razor blades (Matthew Good – Avalanche)

How much do you give of yourself before turning back from that line in the sand? How far do you walk away from the past to allow yourself to put it all down on paper, leaving others a breadcrumb path to wander back into those days gone by? Most importantly, how do you wrap it all up into a package interesting enough to make others want to ignore their own lives, step out of their shoes and walk a few hundred pages in yours? All of those questions and more plague the writer of a memoir, but now and again one finds the right combination, or in this case, the right mix, and everything flows in and out with the regularity and rhythm of the tides. It becomes relaxing and thoughtful, peaceful and terrifying, ever-changing yet always familiar. These are the ones that you read and somehow feel we all lived in our own way.

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield is a musically charged farewell letter to a person we’ve all met at some point in our lives. The one who in normal circumstances we would never have the courage to talk to because the worlds were too far apart, but whether through cosmic destiny or the luck of the draw, that person enters your life and ignites the change you always knew would come. The book follows his relationship with his wife Renee and carves out each section in relation to a mix tape made during those cherished moments in history. This harmonic trip into Rob’s life also reminds us of the true power of music, the passion it can instill, the sorrow it can unfold and the memories it can unearth.

I saw this book a long time ago at the store and was instantly drawn to it because I was in the middle of writing my own memoir. My main reason for not reading it back then was I could already tell it was done well and something I would feverishly enjoy, but I didn’t want to consciously or subconsciously rip-off any of Rob’s devices, so I left it lying on the bookstore display table and hid it away on the shelf in the back of my mind. Years later, with my memoir wrapped up, destiny once again dropped this book in my path while trolling through Borders on the first day of their store closing sale (Everything Must Go!…and I want it all to go home with me.).

Any author of a memoir wants the reader to find something to identify with, one portion of their personality or circumstances that can draw the reader that much farther into their world. While I do enjoy my iPod injected rides to work in the morning, singing my way into the work day, hoping it will hold me through, I definitely do not identify with the level of knowledge or intensity Rob has for music (mine is more on the movie front). But as the pages turned and Rob begins to reveal his loss and how it was to walk through the fog of those weeks and months, the words spoke in an entirely new level of honesty and bravery. Anyone who has come through to the other side of a terrible tragedy will find portions of his story incredibly reminiscent of their own, although probably put in more colorful language and set to a better soundtrack. Even those who might still be lost in the fog of sorrow would benefit from this tiny playlist of memories, almost an attempt at one person’s “Guide to Life after Life”. Die hard music fans, especially those who grew up in the angsty revolution of the 90′s, will constantly chuckle with recognition at each song listed out on the mix tape covers, but even those less musically inclined will find their heartstrings played beautifully by this story of rambunctious love and loss.

My recommendation, read Love is a Mix Tape to remind yourself there is music in everything, pleasure and pain, and to never tune it out.

p.s. Favorite line: “We were just a couple of fallen angels, rolling the dice of our lives.” ( )
  LukeGoldstein | Aug 10, 2021 |
This book wasn't really my cup of tea, but I gave it to a friend and she loved it! ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
A heartbreaking love letter to Sheffield's dead wife. Lovely and moving, even though most of the music references went over my head. ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
Absolutely heartbreaking! It made me pull out my tiny collection of mixtapes and fly back in time, tears still in my eyes. Tops. ( )
  adaorhell | Aug 24, 2018 |
This is a seriously heart breaking yet a phenomenal pick me up read. I've re-read it several times and I love it. ( )
  JesEcho | Aug 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
I wasted all yor precious time. I wasted it all on you. - Pavement
Dedication
For mom and dad.
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The playback: late night, Brooklyn, a pot of coffee, and a chair by the window.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

"In the 1990s, "alternative" was suddenly mainstream, and bands like Pearl Jam and Pavement, Nirvana and R.E.M.--bands that a year before would have been too weird for MTV--were MTV. The boundaries of American culture were exploding, and music was leading the way. It was also the 1990s when a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renée, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway. He was tall. She was short. He was shy. She was a social butterfly. They had nothing in common except that they both loved music. Music brought them together and kept them together. And it was music that would help Rob through a sudden, unfathomable loss. Here, Rob, now a writer for Rolling Stone, uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renée.--From publisher description."--From source other than the Library of Congress

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Book description
Mix tapes. We all have our favorites. Stick one into a deck, press play, and you're instantly transported to another time in your life. For Rob Sheffield, that time was one of miraculous love and unbearable grief. A time that spanned seven years, it started when he met the girl of his dreams, and ended when he watched her die in his arms. Using the listings of fifteen of his favorite mix tapes, Rob shows that the power of music to build a bridge between people is stronger than death. You'll read these words, perhaps surprisingly, with joy in your heart and a song in your head - the one that comes to mind when you think of the love of your life. (918-1-4000-8303-9)
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