Scottish singer Shirley Manson is a voracious reader. You name it, she’s read it. And when she offered a selection of her personal library, the Garbage frontperson made sure to include as many far-reaching genres as she could. Strangely, Ian Fleming is conspicuously absent from the list, despite singing the theme tune to the strangely impactful The World is Not Enough.
What found itself on her library, as an adult, was the pastoral favourite The Wind in The Willows. The vocalist credits her father with instilling the tales of the forest animals into her retina, feeling that it makes for comforting reading at a dismal point in life. The children’s classic still meant a great deal to the artist in later life and recommended it to potential readers.
More interestingly, she also championed We Should All Be Feminists, feeling that it invited disparate voices into the equation. “I found this essay incredibly comforting,” she said. “The word feminist has been so obfuscated but it has a beautiful meaning. I’m far too flawed and confused to be a leader like Adichie. She makes difficult topics engaging so I’m happy to follow her and recommend her work to my friends’ daughters”.
Indeed, Manson prides herself on being a feminist, invoking the salutes and cheers of the women who went before her. Politics soaks into her work, and many of her more memorable tracks are the more incendiary. Meanwhile, The Hit Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality opened her younger self to the fruits of the body, knowing that pleasure could be found within, as well as without. Her parents, she said, never gave her the “talk”, so she had to elicit the tales of lust and masturbation from another piece. Clearly, the book had an impact on her, as it is one she continues to reference to this day.
And then she went on to champion her fellow countryman, saluting Iain Banks, the renowned Scottish scribe and his predilection for science fiction. The writer curated an entire subgenre where characters embodied the principles its director set out for them, and within these tiny strands stands a voice crying for help from its reader. Describing The Wasp Factory as “violent, dark and twisted”, the Garbage frontwoman cautioned potential readers to the uncompromisingly grim worldview the book would take.
And then there’s A.A.Milne, who wrote the gently moving ‘When We Were Young’, a standout in the Winnie the Pooh collection. But when the singer mentioned The Catcher in The Rhye, the uncompromisingly visceral journey into the darker terrains of man’s existence, she seemed happier to embrace the work that traditionally forms an adult reader’s personal collection. Ruminating on the novel, Manson recalled the times she mimicked Holden Caulfield word for word, beat for beat. She wasn’t the only one, as rock stalwarts Axl Rose, Hozier, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kurt Cobain and Lenny Kravitz have individually described the work as one near their idiosyncratic heart. The book unintentionally led to the murder of another rock luminary, but that’s a tale for another time.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom, as she recalls reading one of Patti Smith’s finer works: Just Kids. The rocker turned writer made an impression on the young Manson, and she remembered the first time she met the writer of ‘Gloria.
“Even if you’re not interested in music or New York,” Manson said, “Smith writes so passionately about love and art that I think this book could be called a small masterpiece. I was 19 when an old boyfriend played me her music and she’s inspired me ever since. The first time I met her I burst into tears”.
The Scottish singer quickly revealed that had never happened before, and clearly awed by the lack of composure, informed the poet that her work had inspired Manson, both as an artist and a writer. It’s possible to discern from the ‘The World is Not Enough’ some flavours of Smith’s punk outlet, as the 1999 tune comes closest to being a bonafide punk tune in the James Bond canon.
What comes across most notably from the examples given is the diversity and density of the work. None of them could be written off as a “cosy read”, but rather went out of their way to push the reader in some form or another. There were the pastoral adventures in the woodland in her youth; the sprawling dissertations on rock and roll in her later years; and the texts that informed her presence as a woman first, an artist second. See if there’s any you haven’t read from the list.
Shirley Manson’s 7 favourite books
- Just Kids by Patti Smith
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
- When We Were Young by A.A. Milne
- The Catcher in the Rhye by J.D.Salinger
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality by Shere Hite
- The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks