One Direction Songs as Books
A reading list for fans and non-fans alike
Have you ever been listening to One Direction and thought, “gosh, I would love to read a book that has the same vibe as this song?” Probably not. But, on the off chance that you have, the list below is for you. I can’t exactly explain my methodology here—I just took the idea and ran with it. Whether your a directioner or not, I recommed all the books on this list.
"What Makes You Beautiful": Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
We’ll start with the unfortunate poster children of both One Direction and English literature. “What Makes You Beautiful” and Pride and Prejudice are the same in that everyone knows them, at least in a vague sense—you hear the baseline of WMYB and you think “oh, this sounds familiar.” You’ll feel the same way about Darcy, the novel’s basic, wet sock of a male lead. There’s nothing particularly exciting or new there, though it might be comforting. They’re not “good” in the strictest sense of the word, but maybe they’re a good place to start.
"Girl Almighty": We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
One Direction confused millions of people with the line “her light is as loud as many ambulances as it takes to save a savior.” A graduate poetry seminar could be dedicated to the complexities of that first line alone—not to mention the second line, “she floats through the room on a big balloon, some say she’s such a fake, that her love is made up, no.” We’ll be puzzling over lyrics for a long time. The same is true for Karen Joy Fowler’s We’re All Completely Beside Ourselves. I have never enjoyed the feeling of confusion so much as when I was reading this book. Whenever I recommend it, I tell people to go into it with no information—don’t Google a summary or even read the back of the book. Just take the plunge. At the end, you’ll definitely be wanting to have a toast to the girl almighty (Ms. Fowler herself).
"Drag Me Down": The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
“Drag Me Down” is both one of the band’s simplest and most popular songs. The lyrics don’t change between verses, but I genuinely did not notice this until I had listened to the song about a hundred times already. It goes in circles but keeps you hooked. The same goes for The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell’s fantasy novel from 2014. While The Bone Clocks is anything but simple—it might make your head hurt a little—like “Drag Me Down,” it goes in circles that nevertheless keep you hooked ‘til the end. You’ll see characters and scenes over and over again, but Mitchell makes it feel different each time. This book is incredibly hard to summarize, but I recommend it for anyone who likes reading fantasy, solving puzzles, and learning new British insults.
"Olivia": Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Just like “Olivia,” Alice in Wonderland is known for its wordplay. “Is Olivia even a person?” Harry Styles asked cryptically in 2015 in response to an interviewer asking about the eponymous Oliva. “Is she an emotion? Is she a place? We may never know.” In the years since, many fans have theorized that “Olivia” is actually an anagram and play-on-words of the phrase “I love (you).” But we will never know. Alice in Wonderland is much the same: everything is not what it seems. No character, scene, or even word means exactly what you think it does. Most have more than one meaning—the literal, and then the metaphorical. There’s nothing that Carroll likes more than a good pun. Much like “Olivia,” Alice in Wonderland is confusing, engrossing, and full of double meanings.
"Stockholm Syndrome": Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
When One Direction’s fourth studio album came out, you might have taken one look at the title of this song and thought, “they’ve finally lost it.” But then you listen to “Stockholm Syndrome” and realize how good the song really is. You completely underestimated this song just because of the title, and it’s maybe romanticizing a toxic relationship, but God is this song good. The first time I heard the title Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, I giggled and dismissed it—but quickly came back when I saw the glowing reviews and read the synopsis. It’s now one of my favorite books (and “Stockholm Syndrome” is one of my favorite songs). Balli Kaur Jaswal handles the cultural complexities of this novel with such a deft hand that you really understand where all the characters are coming from—even those you might not agree with. The novel is strikingly feminist, kind-hearted, and gripping. Honestly, it’s probably better than “Stockholm Syndrome,” but don’t tell the boys I said that.
"Another World": Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
I almost feel bad equating a One Direction song with an Octavia Butler novel—but I couldn’t resist the whole space exploration parallel here. For those who have not heard of Butler’s prophetic and timeless book, Parable of the Sower, the summary is as follows: it’s told from the point of view of a teenager named Lauren Olamina as the United States slowly collapses at the hands of climate change, corruption, and inequality. In the process of survival, Lauren creates a religion called Earthseed, whose destiny is to “take root among the stars.” It is for this reason alone that I paired this novel with “Another World”: both promise their listeners and readers alike that there’s a world better than this one, and that we’ll get there soon enough.
Just read this book. It’s so much better than the song, I swear.
"Happily": The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
It is no secret that One Direction occasionally—okay, often—has some queer undertones to their music. Let’s take “Happily” for example: “I don’t care what people say when we’re together…I know you wanna leave so come on baby be with me so happily.” While it’s not as overt as, say, Lil Nas X’s music, you can see how lyrics like this would resonate with the band’s queer fans (who are by no means a minority among directioners). But, obviously, “Happily” appeals to everyone. It’s got a bouncy beat, singable lyrics, and the band does a great live performance of it. I paired “Happily” with The Miseducation of Cameron Post because even though this novel is about gay conversion therapy, I think anyone of any sexuality should read it. Emily Danforth is an insanely good writer, one of the only MFA graduate novelists I know who doesn’t fill their books with pretentiously big words and metaphors. Cameron Post is an achingly relatable narrator, and while her story is heartbreaking, it’s not trauma porn—the whole thing rings with authenticity. Just like “Happily.”
"Fireproof": Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
I end with One Direction’s best song: “Fireproof.” I’m not sure how you could argue against this opinion. I cannot think of a song that matches the caliber of “Fireproof.” How could you not like that song? That’s how I feel about the Percy Jackson series. Almost anyone who liked to read as a child in the 2000s has probably encountered this series, which follows 12-year-old Percy Jackson as he finds out that he’s the son of a Greek god. Percy finds refuge at Camp Half-Blood, where the demi-god campers learn to fight like ancient Greeks, sing campfire songs, and hone their powers. The jokes in this series still make me laugh—it’s silly, adventurous, and so, so unique. Percy Jackson, with his wry humor, raging ADHD, and undeniable wit, is probably one of the best narrators of the 21st Century. Percy Jackson, like “Fireproof,” is for everyone.
That’s all for today! I hope the above list reminded you of some of your favorite One Direction songs or offered you some good book suggestions. Happy reading (or listening).