LOVE IS A MIX TAPE by Rob Sheffield

Sheffield I was very excited to read Love Is A Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield, the memoir of a young, music-obsessed husband who suddenly loses his wife in his early 30s to a pulmonary embolism.  Each chapter is named after a mix tape that he or his wife made, and provides a backdrop, both thematic and chronological, for that part of the book. I expected to love Love Is A Mix Tape. I've been mix-obsessed my whole life, and while I knew this story would be a sad one, I thought I would be especially able to relate to the author's relationship with music.

In reality, I found this to be a very uneven book. The first two-thirds explore the author's childhood and his relationship with his wife Renee. The two – opposites in many ways – met in Charlottesville and found common ground in their love of music, both popular and obscure. To be honest, I found this part of the book somewhat boring. While it is obvious that Sheffield adored his wife, I didn't get a very good sense of what they were like as a couple or what they loved about the music they shared. Renee was a unique woman with many interests and quirks, and Sheffield clearly treasured each one. I just didn't feel that I got a particularly thorough feel for her or their relationship. As for the music, Sheffield has an extremely broad range of tastes and musical knowledge. Again, though, I didn't get much of a sense for whyhe loves these bands or what the music meant to him. He simply seems to love everything.

The part of the book that worked for me, though, was Sheffield's depiction of his grief and how he eventually emerged from the fog he experienced after Renee's death. This section (basically from pp. 150-200) is excellent. It's tragic and honest and very, very sad. Here's an excerpt:

[A]ll of the things you want to learn from grief turn out to be the total opposite of what you actually learn. There are no revelations, no wisdoms as a trade off for the things you have lost. You just get stupider, more selfish. Colder and grimmer. You forget your keys. You leave the house and panic that you won't remember where you live. You know less than you ever did. You keep crossing thresholds of grief and you think, Maybe this one will unveil some sublime truth about life and death and pain. But on the other side, there's just more grief. … No matter how good I get at being Renee's widower, I won't get promoted to being her husband again. The loss doesn't go away – it just gets bigger the longer you look at it.

Wow. For me, those 50 pages redeemed the whole book.

I'd love to hear from others who have read this. Judging by the Amazon user reviews, I am definitely in the minority (though Florinda at the3rs blog agreed with me).

5 Comments

  • Darby Lohrding
    October 1, 2008 - 8:15 am | Permalink

    Hi Gayle,
    I have not read this book, yet the part you posted about made my heart stop…it was so true!
    Thank you for your review,
    Darby
    darbyscloset (at) yahoo (dot) com

  • October 1, 2008 - 9:06 am | Permalink

    I agree, a slightly mixed up book but still enjoyable.

  • October 1, 2008 - 11:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for linking to my review; I’m going to edit my post to link back to yours. It’s interesting that we had such similar reactions to this book!

  • TheStrawberryGirl
    October 11, 2008 - 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I cried when I first read this book over a year ago. As a music geek, it speaks to me, but as a person it is far more personal than I ever expected, and it moved me. I agree that Renee was a mystery and exactly what about her was so intriguing I didn’t quite get, but I understood it to simply be Sheffield
    s overwhelming guard and protection of their private marriage; almost a private world created by the two, which exploded after death. I accepted that out of respect and sympathy for his loss. It really did make me believe that true love could exist. They weren’t a perfect couple by any means, but he wrote and dedicated, not only a book to her, but an entire decade of his life.

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