The heart of songwriting lies in the art of storytelling. It’s no wonder, then, that so many bands and artists emphasize the importance of reading, especially while on the road. From classic novels to fellow rock stars’ memoirs, short stories to nonfiction, these 20 musicians gave 41 book recommendations based on what they’ve been reading for fun.
1. William Fitzsimmons
What are you currently reading? Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Why would you recommend it? I’m a big believer in being a student of creativity before making the endeavor to create something, and sticking with that idea thereafter. I didn’t even try to write a song until I had been playing and learning the work of others for years. Therefore, I’ve been working my way through as many Western classics as I can, especially while on tour. Melville, Orwell, Vonnegut, etc. were so ridiculously tapped into the importance of constant insight that as a writer, it’s intoxicating to try and get caught up into the headspace they were in. Also, I wanted to read a book whose length would knock up my pretentiousness a couple notches.
2. Sarah Hayes (Admiral Fallow
What are you reading? Burning Your Boats: Collected Stories by Angela Carter
Why would you recommend it? I became hooked on Angela Carter after reading Wise Children and Nights at the Circus. When I saw that all her short stories had been compiled in this volume, I jumped at the chance. Her writing is vivid and humorous with a persistent dark undercurrent, and she deconstructs fairytale themes—talking animals, mysterious forest dwellings, beauties and beasts—with a startling ruthlessness. Her distinctive style brings everything to life. Carter captures a miniature world within each tale, yet all the stories occupy the same larger sinister realm. Reading them in quick succession, it’s easy to become lost in both.
3. Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers
What are you reading? Writing Gordon Lightfoot by Dave Bidini
Why would you recommend it? Writing Gordon Lightfoot is a comprehensive snapshot of Canadian culture and politics, its greater context in the world, and the life of Gordon Lightfoot leading up to the Mariposa Folk Festival in the summer of 1972. It reads like a road map through the nascent folk and hard-rock scenes of Toronto and beyond during the 1970s; I’ve found it to be an intense and insightful slice of Canadiana. I love coming across books like this that narrow the lens on our under-documented cultural icons.
4. Alex Nauth (Foxy Shazam
What are you currently reading? Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
Why would you recommend it? I love this book because not only does it allow me to learn more about a field I’ve always been intrigued by, but it does so in a no-bullshit demeanor. I’m falling in love with taste and presentation of an art while being shown all the gruesome truths that lurk behind it. The only downside is reading about a tender filet mignon all afternoon and stopping at a rest stop to eat a baconator. If only the book were a scratch-n-sniff.
5. Chadwick Stokes (State Radio, Dispatch
What are you currently reading? Just Kids by Patti Smith
Why would you recommend it? She’s an artist in the complete sense of the word and in this book her life weaves in and out of clouds and reality in wonderful prose.
6. Brendan Kelly (Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds, The Lawrence Arms
What are you reading? A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin.
Why would you recommend it? Well, it’s the second book in a pretty big series, so the first and biggest reason I’d recommend it is because if you’re even considering reading this book, you’ve already read the first, very long book (A Game Of Thrones) and why would you stop now? Okay, so if we take that aspect away, you should read this book for several reasons. Firstly, it’s really good, fast and compelling reading. The characters are well thought out and complex and George Martin kills off his characters, even main characters with the brutal whimsy of a smallpox outbreak. It’s also the basis of the HBO show Game of Thrones, which everyone is talking about, so you can finally get over there and throw in your two cents about the Lannisters or whatever the dorks in your office are debating over by the coffee machine. And finally, it’s being heralded by nerds as the next truly great fantasy series since The Fellowship of the Ring, so you should read it if for no other reason than to have some ammunition to argue this nerdiest-of-all-arguments when it finally comes up in your life. Yes, the books are slightly embarrassing. Don’t be such a wimp. They’re fun books and they feature lots and lots of talk about cutting off people’s “manhood” and feeding them to the hounds and stuff. If that doesn’t make you want to read these books, then you’re a robot.
7. Eric Hehr (Gold Motel
What are you reading? Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis
Why would you recommend it? I enjoy Ellis due to his ability to depict the vapidity of consumerism and the absurd decadence of celebrity culture without using any editorial opinions. He never directly comments on the insipid worlds he creates or the depersonalization of his solipsistic characters. He leaves the purpose and meaning in the hands of the audience. I think the “world” of Ellis—superlative trust-fund celebrities, flashing neon lights and big brand corporations, the decomposing vacuousness of late-century American culture—is most acutely depicted in Glamorama. And for this reason, I think it will inevitably become a text-book in future college courses studying post-modernism in fiction. How we perceive 1950s Americana, the nuclear family, and the martini generation in Sloan Wilson’s The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit is not far off from how we will eventually look back on 1990s Americana, consumerism, and Generation X in Ellis’s Glamorama. It’s a beautiful time capsule.
8. Urge Overkill
Photo by Jeffery Millies
What are you reading? UO highly recommends Nora Titone’s My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to An American Tragedy, Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure
Why would you recommend it? I’ve always been fascinated by John Wilkes Booth, but this book offers a whole new BIZARRO take on the motives behind his dirty deed (and just when you thought you’ve read everything on the Lincoln assassination?!). Books are essential to the sanity and refinement of any touring band.
9. Julia Stone (Angus and Julia Stone
What are you reading? A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
Why would you recommend it? Well, I can’t say for sure why, I have just started [it]. I previously enjoyed books by this author. I’ll write you a section from the page I am on, which is lovely: “So it was that she and her slip vanished forever. Some things are forgotten, some things disappear and some things die.”
10. Jay Brannan
What are you reading? Room by Emma Donoghue
Why would you recommend it? A compelling and disturbing read about an abducted woman and her son, told from the perspective of a child born in captivity. At first, I found the childish voice of the narrator a bit antagonizing, but it quickly became endearing, and fascinating to see how much wonder and detail a child can find in the confines of one tiny room because he has never experienced a larger world. It’s difficult to say much more without giving away plot points, but while the story is suspenseful and in some ways a thriller, it also had me looking at the basics of life through a completely fresh set of eyes.