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Staff Picks: The Best Music Books Of 2011

Illustration: A music staff with books on it.
Priscilla Nielsen for NPR

How does the saying go? "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Overquoted, tossed off and attributed to the likes of Elvis Costello, Steve Martin and Frank Zappa, there might be some truth to those damning words, whose author remains unknown. After all, what makes music so powerful? It's the music, of course, not necessarily words about it.

But sometimes dancing about architecture is the best way to make sense of something that doesn't inherently make sense. Words can provide context and illuminate the unknown, and in 2011, our favorite books about music were mostly revealing biographies and wide-spanning analyses. Chosen by the NPR Music staff (and one of NPR's music librarians), these books are interpretations of a rich history written by the people who made the music and those who it affected, from a young, rogue music video network and a crumbling city producing radical music to the man who invented the modern album cover and a metal fanboy caught in the middle of a murder trial.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.
Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
Elizabeth Allin
Vivien Goldman
Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
Listen to the Viking's Choice playlist, subscribe to the newsletter.
Elizabeth Allin
Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.