Some of these are fictional: Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” is probably the gold standard, but it’s far from alone in being a book that creates its own soundtrack as it goes along. Rob Sheffield’s “Love Is a Mixtape” comes to mind as a high mark on the nonfictional side of things: bittersweet and haunting, it perfectly documents life and love for people for whom music is essential to everyday life.

Peter Coviello’s “Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs,” also falls into the “memoirs with built-in soundtracks” camp. Coviello’s book will strike a particular chord (no pun intended) with aging indie rock listeners of a certain age: The book’s opening scene is set at a performance by the cult English band The Wedding Present, and subsequent chapters include meditations on the music of Gillian Welch, Neko Case and The National.

Readers of the alt-country periodical No Depression will find much to enjoy in Coviello’s periodic forays into lyrical analysis; as befits someone with a background in literature, he’s equally capable of evoking the visceral moods that a favorite song can summon up and taking a measured look at what the words being sung in that song could mean, how they got there and what they signify. There’s one section in particular that makes a convincing case for Gillian Welch’s subversion of the murder ballad that could stand alone as a sharp critical assessment of her virtues as a songwriter.

As the subtitle of his book suggests, however, Coviello’s approach to music here isn’t overtly scholarly. Early on, he describes his courtship of the woman he would marry – of the way that they bonded, then gradually forged a deeper connection – and of the way that he became stepfather to her two daughters. Through the first section of the memoir, he meticulously constructs a portrait of a life: teaching at a college north of Portland (it’s Bowdoin, though he never mentions it); hesitantly understanding his new role and new responsibilities; exploring whether or not to have a child.

The fact that this section ends with the collapse of his marriage is a major indication that the “Love Story” of the book’s subtitle is not what it first seemed to be. And while the bulk of the book chronicles Coviello’s journey of self-discovery after his marriage ends, the love story here is also not – apologies to Whitney Houston – the process of him learning to love himself. Rather, it’s of the way that his bond with his two stepdaughters outlasted the marriage that brought them together. Out of the chaos of his life, this remains one constant, and movingly so.

Coviello writes rapturously about the art of listening to and engaging with music. When expounding on the subject of mixes, he writes: “I have made them in delight and sorrow, in remembrance and expectation. I have made them for lovers, for friends, more lately for children.” In describing the delights of an epic-sized mix spread over nine CDs, Coviello also folds in another activity associated with extensive listening: driving.

In the midst of these tales of heartbreak and self-discovery, a subtle road narrative is buried just below the surface. Coviello describes taking a leave of absence from his academic job and roaming from city to city; interspersed with this narrative are some newly bittersweet memories of happier times in those same places. There’s a particularly charming anecdote about a Neko Case concert in Chicago, for instance, rendered quietly sad by its context within the overall arc of his marriage.

Coviello doesn’t impose too rigid of a structure on his book, and he doesn’t hammer home his thesis either. This isn’t a memoir in which grand epiphanies are had; instead, it’s more true to life, when you recognize that something’s been the case in your life for a while, but you can’t quite pin a start date on it. Through heartbreak and joy, this is a precise map of its author’s love, loss and dedication and all of the unpredictability that accompanied them.

New York City resident Tobias Carroll is the author of the novel “Reel” and the short story collection “Transitory” and has reviewed books for Bookforum, the Star Tribune and elsewhere.


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