Disclaimer: I do NOT know Harry Styles. All the information is taken from various social media posts, articles and interviews and could potentially be outdated.
The most popular feature on this blog is back with yet another installment of the reader compatibility series or celeb book club, as I like to call it! In case you missed the previous ones, which there are quite a few of by now, don’t hesitate to check out the following posts:
– Are Tom Hiddleston and I compatible (readers)?
– Are Chris Evans and I compatible (readers)?
– Are Sebastian Stan and I compatible (readers)?
– Are Pedro Pascal and I compatible (readers)?
– Are Lupita Nyong’o and I compatible (readers)?
And here comes the obligatory reminder that this is done with the sole intention of it being fun and not taken too seriously. I’m comparing my taste in books with that of actors and artists to see if we would be “compatible” on the basis of those reading tastes alone. There’s really no world in which my pseudo analysis holds any scientific value.
Harry Styles is the first musician I’m doing the reading experiment with and what better time than shortly before the release of his new album “Harry’s House” on May 20? But who am I kidding, he definitely ventured into acting more and more these past years. From Dunkirk to a character within the MCU, he has taken on leading roles in not one but two movies that are scheduled to hit theaters this year. I’m very excited for both, Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman. But how exactly did we get here?
Truth be told, I was never much into One Direction. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with liking the band, you do you, it just never was my thing. I stumbled upon Harry’s self-titled first solo album shortly before leaving for Canada and those tracks just became my soundtrack for Toronto. No joke, I’ll hear From the Dining Table and am immediately transported back to that empty dorm room thinking “What have I done!?”. There was no going back for me back then, I was hooked. I’ve showed up for every song and music video release since, but, strangely enough, I know very little about him as a person.
Obviously, some things will cross my timeline and I’m not completely oblivious, but I don’t tend to actively seek out information, which is unusual for me. Which makes my next decision so much stranger, but … I pretty much doubled the books for the experiment. It makes no sense, I have no good reason to do this, yet here we are. This is probably going to tell me a lot about him – books always do – and I have no clue if I’m going to like what I find out.
Without further ado, here is a list of books Harry Styles has previously read/mentioned/been seen with and that I’m going to read:
- In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
- My Policeman by Bethan Roberts
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
- Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
- Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
- You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense by Charles Bukowski
- Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag
Articles by the likes of Bustle and Buzzfeed have warned me that his taste might be “questionable”. I can kind of see that, just because when I first looked at the books I’d potentially require for the post, it turned out that I had read quite a few of them already and I hadn’t exactly loved all of them. Most I (re-)read for other experiments (e.g. Siddhartha for Chris Evans), but I decided I wanted some fresh takes for this post.
I don’t think my expectations are very high, but I hope to get through it fairly quickly (watch me regret those words later on), just because all the books are between 100-300 pages long. Not having to deal with any large tomes should definitely help, so even if I don’t enjoy the story, I won’t be trapped in it forever.
In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
Ugh, this book – where do I start? I’m having a very hard time of even trying to explain what it is about, because it is just nonsensical. I simply didn’t get In Watermelon Sugar and the longer I read it, the more it rubbed me the wrong way.
It’s this very weird, morbid, detached tale of a city (iDEATH) where everything is made of watermelon sugar and the sun shines a different color every day. People have forgotten about books and stories, which makes me think this is some odd dystopian world without consumerism and materialism and it’s failing? There’s also, as you may be able to guess from the city’s name, so much death and quite gruesome ones at that. Again, I can’t claim to understand what it was about, because for me there was no plot. I still don’t know what the point was, am surprised this was ever published and wish I could scrub some of the dreadful dialogue from my brain.
Now, here is where it gets tricky! Harry has confirmed that the book was in the studio when he wrote the song, but nowhere does it say he read it or that it was even his book. Since I really didn’t enjoy reading it, I might decide to not factor it into my final conclusion that much. I gave Chris Evans some leeway when it came to God Pharm as well, so why not do that again?
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts
Harry was seen with this book, likely in preparation for taking on a role in the movie adaptation of My Policeman. After reading it myself, not taking into consideration what my feelings about the story are, I think that Harry is the perfect casting for Tom. As for the rest, I do hope they will change quite a few things from the source material. Hear me out!
Set in 1950s Brighton, My Policeman is a tale of two people, both in love with the same man, during a time where it was dangerous to publicly display queer love. Initially, I was quite intrigued at the idea of exploring the feelings and thoughts of both lovers, but to never hear from the “object of desire”, policeman Tom, himself. Unfortunately, this is not a love story at all though. It’s rather tragic and about 80% of it is told from the POV of the straight woman, who more or less ruined the lives of everyone around her, and I’m just really not sure she was the right person for this narration?
I get that perspective is key, I also understand that the author maybe didn’t necessarily condone the woman’s actions throughout the story and that Marion suffered in her own way. Whether it be through ignorance or unwillingness to accept what she was told and shown from the start (by several people), her obsession with Tom eventually backfired and led to a life of misery. There were times I pitied her, where I thought she was almost gaslit by her husband and his lover, but ultimately I’m not even sure what she felt for her policeman was ever love. Marion barely knew him, but wanted him just for herself anyway. She made some unforgivable choices and didn’t consider anyone’s feelings but her own.
What ultimately put me off the most was that a queer “love story” (I remain of the opinion that you can’t call it that) was told from the straight person’s POV and I just don’t think that should have been the case. Especially, since we never know how it ends. She tells her side of the story, vanishes and that concludes the book. I was really disappointed in how this was handled, because the author was allegedly inspired by real life relationships, but decided to make her version much more cruel and unkind? This book didn’t have to be as dark as it was, so that was definitely a choice.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
According to several interviews, but notably one with Rolling Stone, Harry loves Murakami and especially Norwegian Wood. He’s definitely not alone in that feeling either, as many of my friends have cherished this coming-of-age novel focusing on mental health, sexuality and grief. From that mini-description alone it sure seemed like a promising read and I’m genuinely sad it didn’t hit home with me.
Originally published in 1987, I’m afraid it just doesn’t hold up in this day and age. In general, I find it hard to fall in love with books that heavily focus on the male gaze. I found myself not really interested in the author’s lengthy descriptions of sexual acts, but felt particularly disturbed by one tale that lasted several pages of a 13-year-old-girl seducing a 31-year-old-woman that did not further the plot in any meaningful way. It also didn’t help that the lead character, Toru, casually mentioned that he didn’t want to sleep next to a girl, because it would be too much of a struggle for him and he might just force her. There were off-hand remarks like this all the time and I just kept wondering, “I’m supposed to root for him?”.
That doesn’t mean I want to take away from some of the more beautiful prose, because there were some real gems in there. But all the lovely quotes were overshadowed by the sheer bleakness of it all. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were FOUR instances of suicide mentioned throughout the book and the majority of them involved women. Most characters weren’t depicted as “normal”, but what is normal anyway? I’m not any closer to finding out after finishing the book.
As a final note, I will admit that the song Norwegian Wood by the Beatles is a bop and I love to listen to it on repeat.
Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
The above picture really did numbers back in the day and I think that shirtless Harry is a fabulous marketing idea, but I’m just really glad that it led me to picking up Love Is a Mix Tape, possibly my favorite book out of the list. But what is it about?
Essentially, it’s a non-fiction account of the author’s love for his late wife, Renée, through mix tapes. From the get-go, I loved the idea of this beautiful tribute to a loved one via music. Much like certain smells can take you right back to a memory, certain songs and tunes have the same power and I could relate to that all too well.
As I mentioned in the opening of the post, Harry Styles’ self-titled album was kind of my soundtrack for Toronto, but there’s so much more. When I hear “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes and close my eyes, I see a beach in Vancouver and a crowd of people chanting the song in unison with the cast of Sense8. “Ich geh heut nicht mehr tanzen” (or really any AnnenMayKantereit song) accompanied me through Berlin and me wanting to do it all, but not having the energy to go out after work. I could just keep going! Music, even if it differs a lot from what was on those mix tapes, is such an integral part of my memory, so I felt deeply connected to the premise of the book.
“I realize that I will never fully understand the millions of bizarre ways that music brings people together.”Rob Sheffield in Love Is a Mix Tape
There’s very little to criticize. When someone tells their own story, you just kind of have to let yourself get swept up in things. I will say that I think it lost the plot a couple times, especially when it veered away from Renée, but overall, it came full circle and had a lot of heart.
This is a side note: If you are interested in something similar, and I’m not saying the loss of a loved one through the cause of death can be compared to a break up, but James Acaster wrote Perfect Sound Whatever, where he obsesses over music from a very specific year mixed with personal anecdotes. I guess that just made sense to me as a comp title.
Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
Here we are again with another Alain de Botton book. For those of you who don’t know, I read The Course of Love for a reading experiment with Sebastian Stan (check that out here) and enjoyed the writing style quite a bit. It was the content and de Botton’s views on love that I didn’t exactly agree with. Harry mentioned The Course of Love in an interview with Zane Lowe for the album release of Fine Line, but as I said previously, I didn’t want to repeat books, so I picked Essays in Love instead. I figured that reading another book would be okay, because Styles was seen with a hoodie featuring the author’s face. I may be going out on a limb here, but that made me assume he was a fan of de Botton in general?
Essays in Love was the book that brought Alain the Botton literary fame, making him a spokesperson on philosophy in many regards. As I’ve said, I really like his style of writing. He approaches these topics of feelings and emotions in a very clinical and almost scientific way, without losing any of the whimsy. However, I’m still not on board with his thoughts on love.
First of all, for someone who is a writer, he really uses the word “love” too freely. Someone please explain to him the difference between infatuation, attraction, like and love. Did he manage to depict the beginning, middle and ultimate demise of a relationship? Sure. And I know that not all relationships are healthy and an example of great communication, but the ego of the narrator, the judgment he bestowed upon his love interest … none of those traits were pointed out as faulty or wrong. It ended up sounding very pretentious and patronizing. To be loved in that way, it made me – as the reader- feel claustrophobic and exhausted. I was genuinely glad to be done with it.
You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense by Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski seems to be Harry’s favorite poet, as he’s been seen with his books in public several times and the name has come up in a couple interviews. Now, here’s the thing. I’m a girl on a budget and I cannot go around buying dozens of books each month (although I wish I could), which meant I had to do a reread.
I read You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense at some point in High School, either because I had liked a single poem from the collection (shout-out to “no help for that“) and figured I should read the whole thing or because of the movie Beautiful Creatures. Hard to tell in hindsight. Let’s just say … it did not go well. I didn’t enjoy much of his other works, but was willing to try again. A lot of time has passed and maybe my feelings towards Bukowski would have changed, right? Wrong!
Anger can be such a powerful tool with poetry, but Bukowski’s anger is just mean-spirited, cruel, judgmental and indifferent. Never mind that a lot of the language he used didn’t age well. The man lived through trauma and I understand that it can leave someone jaded, but his tainted history with women really became obvious to a point of unnecessary repetition. I get that him writing down these emotions was probably a necessary release for him, but he was a mean alcoholic and that really overshadowed the more beautiful poems he created. I wish I could feel different about it, but I just don’t.
Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag
This one, I don’t have that much to say about. Back in 2019, Harry Styles co-hosted the Met Gala, which had the theme “Camp: Notes on Fashion“. So, it’s rumored that Harry read Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag in preparation and I think that’s a fairly smart approach to an event like that.
I feel kind of bad for including Notes on Camp in this post, because the book is literally out of print, or so I was informed by my local bookstore. Mostly it’s just Susan Sontag’s very strong opinions on the topic of what constitutes Camp in art. It’s a very interesting essay if you’re interested in art theory, but I’m not sure it entirely holds up to this day as the meaning might have shifted to include more than Sontag would have liked.
Anyway, I understand why Harry would have read this, also because a lot of his fashion choices (even outside the Met Gala) could be constituted as camp. He tends to wear these bold and at times outrageous outfits, but he does so with a seriousness and without ridicule that it just works.
Okay, I may have gone a little overboard with this post. I really don’t think SEVEN books will be necessary in the future … especially since I’m not entirely sure I’ve gained that much more insight into Harry Styles?
In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said that he hadn’t really been into reading until an ex-girlfriend gave him some books and he didn’t want to seem “like a dummy”, if he didn’t read them. This makes me very aware that his taste in books might be majorly shaped by others. As of now, I’m more sure in my own bookish tastes than ever, but I remember that I used to fall in love with things just because people close to me loved it. Sometimes that still happens and other times I just don’t get it. Not saying that’s the case for everything here and that he can’t think for himself, but it’s just something to consider.
What I can say is that I respect his willingness to do research for the projects he is involved in, reading up on matters in general or the source material for movies etc. It shows commitment that I can certainly admire. As for the books themselves, I can’t claim to have loved them. Some were alright, but I don’t think any new favorites popped up in this one.
If I were given the choice, then I don’t think I would read anything more that Harry recommended. (She said while having The White Album by Joan Didion on her bedside table.) HOWEVER, like with so many of my “test subjects” for these reading experiment posts, I would absolutely love to curate a book box with things I could see him liking and/or broaden his horizon. A girl can dream …