In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Courtney Maum’s The Year of the Horses is an insightful and moving memoir.
Shelf Awareness wrote of the book:
“A candid, deeply moving journey that details how she found her way out of a labyrinth of depression by rekindling her passion for horses. . . . wittily engaging and uncompromisingly forthright.”
In my debut memoir, The Year of the Horses, I return to horseback riding as a forty-year-old mother, thirty years after I walked away from horses for what I thought was the last time. When I climbed back in the saddle, my marriage was in shambles, I was in an insomnia death spiral that resulted in depression, and every interaction with my young daughter ended in tears. I’d missed the deadline for my second novel, a book that felt like a sinking ship I couldn’t save. Writing, which had been my safe and happy place for so long, was neither safe nor happy. Over the course of the year the novel takes place, horses guide me back to joy, and provide a nourishing place for my inner wildness. Most of the music I listened to during the stretch of the memoir is incredibly cheesy, but these songs hold a privileged place in my heart because they are the singles I listened to while driving to the barn with my daughter. To me, they are the anthem of us finding our way to horses, and back to one another.
SHAKE IT OFF Taylor Swift
This is not my favorite Taylor Swift song, but back in 2015, it was my daughter’s favorite, and it got under my skin in a good way, reminding me that whatever I did wrong or right in a riding ring didn’t matter in the larger scheme of things, as long as I stayed safe and had a great time.
LOSE YOU TO LOVE ME Selena Gomez
My book looks at love from many different angles—falling in and out of love with your spouse, with your offspring, and certainly, with yourself. My daughter and I would sing along with Selena, and when the song ended, she would always ask me if Selena and Justin Bieber had gotten back together yet, because she couldn’t comprehend why somebody would leave Selena Gomez.
DESPACITO Louis Fonci
This was the song of the summer the year I was learning how to play polo and driving out to a nearby polo club to exercise horses with the club’s grooms. I would blast it alone in the car and play it over and over, pausing only to pick up a six-pack for the grooms from the local Cumberland Farms, which usually earned me an invitation to a post-exercise asado.
DAISIES Katy Perry
My daughter and I are huge Katy Perry fans, and she was tickled pink to learn that Katy wrote “Daisies” for her own daughter. My child wants to be a singer, so she loves learning how the musical sauce is made.
AMERICAN Lana del Rey
In my memoir, I meet a quarter horse named Harley who became my best friend and confidant for a long while. To me, the American Quarter Horse embodies all that is positive and trustworthy about America (there are still some good things). This song by Lana del Rey calls up the way it felt to gallop through an open field on Harley—danger and safety and freedom and the smell of grass and hay.
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
My father’s side of the family is southern, from Georgia and Tennessee. When I started to worry what my family would think of my book while I was writing it, I would listen to my favorite singer (and Tennessean), Dolly Parton, and the worries would wash away—and stay away for the four minutes of the song.
UNCONDITIONALLY Katy Perry
During the pandemic, both the barns that I write about in my memoir closed. I ended up rescuing a racehorse named Abuelita—a senior thoroughbred who was abused and underfed. She comes with a bucket load of problems, but going on short runs and listening to this song always restores my faith that I have it in me to get her to respect me, and perhaps one day love me back.
WAP by Cardi B
I definitely didn’t play this during car rides with my daughter—I’d listen to it while running to pick myself back up when I was feeling daunted by something in the memoir-writing process. I still use this song as a battle song, today.
HUMAN The Killers
When I was nervous driving to an arena polo match, The Killers always got me ready to rumble, and this song in particular. I can’t put it into words why I like it so much—perhaps because I like being human, and I also like to dance.
Courtney Maum is the author of the novels Costalegre; Touch; and I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You; and a guide for writers, Before and After the Book Deal. Her writing and essays have been widely published in such outlets as The New York Times; O, the Oprah Magazine; Interview Magazine; and Modern Loss. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut, where she founded the learning collaborative The Cabins.