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Music

Suzanne Vega’s favourite books of all time

Suzanne Vega has been heralded as one of her generation’s most talented and eloquently communicative songwriters. The 1985 release of her self-titled debut album drew critical acclaim worldwide. However, it was her second full-length effort, 1987’s Solitude Standing, that propelled her into stardom. This album featured the single ‘Luka’, a harrowing account of child abuse, and earned Vega three Grammy nominations.

Vega was born in 1959 in Santa Monica, California. At age two, she moved to New York City with her family, where she grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. On the stardom that came with the release of Solitude Standing, Vega said, “It was thrilling to go from being a receptionist at a typesetting company in New York to playing the Royal Albert Hall and selling millions of albums.”

Also on Solitude Standing was ‘Tom’s Diner’, an original a capella recording that contributed to creating the mp3 music file format. Vega was subsequently adorned with the title ‘The Mother of the MP3’.

Given the first-person confessional feel to a track such as ‘Luka’, perhaps in a similar vein to David Pelzer’s 1995 memoir A Child Called It, it is somewhat unsurprising to discover that Vega is a keen reader, especially so given the tight control she seems to possess over her songs and lyrics.

Vega has published a list of her ten favourite books of all time in collaboration with One Grand Books. From the list, it is clear that she has a deep love for English Victorian literature, with Charles Dickens and both Charlotte and Emily Brontë present. On Dickens’ David Copperfield, Vega said, “Having grown up with a stepfather, I liked reading about another child who had one as well. I loved the English nature of the story — the time and place it inhabits. Another story of a child making his way in the world.” 

On Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Vega admitted that the novel took her a while to get into, but now it is permanently in her heart. She said, “I love the convoluted storytelling — the first-person narrator, a stranger passing by who stays the night with a bewildering family, dreaming strange dream.”

Also featured is Albert Camus’ existentialist French classic The Stranger, while there is room for some classic American literature too, in the shape of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Vega’s honest opinion of Twain’s novel is that she feels “for Huck as I never do for Tom Sawyer, who is more civilized. A portrait of America at a moment in time which is still relevant today.”

Another author on her list is very dear to Vega’s heart. On Carson McCullers, Vega said, “She read everything, she knew all about everybody, and she was quite competitive, and with reason, because she was very celebrated in her day, in spite of her outcast, underdog misfit persona.” In fact, Vega’s most recent album was a homage to McCullers, 2016’s Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers.

We have compiled the complete list of Vega’s favourite books for you here.

Suzanne Vega’s favourite books of all time

  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (1847)
  • David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (1850)
  • Charlie Chaplin’s Own Story – Harry M. Geduld (2019) 
  • The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton (1913)
  • Letters to Olga – Vaclav Havel (1983)
  • The Stranger – Albert Camus (1942)
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers (1940) 
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles (1969) 
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (1884)
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (1847)