The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde is an enigmatic leader of one of the most important groups over the last 40 years, but it’s not just music that has helped forge her creative vision.
Hynde is one of the most underappreciated figures in rock, a figure who has been omnipresent in the scene in the late 1970s and has kept The Pretenders ticking over despite the ever-constant revolving door which is their line-up. It’s a fascinating insight to look at some of the books that have helped shape her as an artist and where one of the greatest songwriters of her generation takes inspiration from.
Hynde discussed her love of literature with The Week, an interview in which she opened up about the six books which are the closest to her heart and her taste is just as exquisite as you’d imagine.
See the full list, below.
Chrissie Hynde’s six favourite books:
J.M. Coetzee – Life and Times of Michael K
Life & Times of Michael K is a 1983 novel written by South African-born writer J. M. Coetzee and, given its now-iconic stature, the book achieved the fete of winning the Booker Prize for 1983. It tells the incredible story of a man named Michael K, who makes a torturous journey from Cape Town to his mother’s rural birthplace, in the middle of a fictitious civil war during the apartheid era of the 1970-80s.
“It’s not often I read something that affects me the way this novel did,” Hynde said of the book. “So tender, bursting with humanity and understanding. It’s in my top five of all time.”
Adding: “I might start crying just thinking about it.”
Pascal Garnier – Low Heights
Pascal Garnier is a leading figure within French literature who sadly passed away in 2010. His 2003 book Low Heights tells the story of the protagonist Édouard who, after losing his wife and suffering a stroke, retired to the mountains with his nurse and one day a man arrives claiming to be his long-lost son which sparks a change within Édouard.
“This French writer was new to me; I found his novel in a hurry at the airport,” Hynde commented. “It’s very funny, full of insight on being arrogant and getting old, and on being a servant who is generous of spirit. Humility, grumpiness, some tender love, and brutal violence.
“I will now investigate all of Garnier’s other books — there are about 60!”
John Banville – The Blue Guitar
Irish writer John Banville’s 2015 novel The Blue Guitar which has is relatable to Hynde as it is about the inner workings of artistic creation. However, the book is also about theft and also takes a look within the mindset of someone going through a mid-life crisis questioning their existence.
Chrissie Hynde: “I have to include Banville, one of the greatest novelists alive, and I like to think he wrote this one expressly for me — blue guitar and all — although it doesn’t have the slightest reference to me and I am delusional.
“I take ages reading Banville, as I reread every other sentence to savour his incredible constructions of text. Nobody can touch him, in my opinion.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer – Enemies, a Love Story
Enemies, a Love Story is a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer first published serially in the Jewish Daily Forward in 1966 before being translated into English in 1972. The book, set in New York City in 1949, follows Holocaust survivor Herman Broder.
Broder has taken care of by his non-Jewish, Polish servant, Yadwiga whom he makes his wife in America. He then has an affair with another Holocaust survivor, Masha, the situation is then made more complicated when his first wife from Poland, Tamara, who was thought to be killed in the Holocaust, arrives in New York.
Chrissie Hynde: “Another masterpiece by a master. Singer’s story about a Polish Holocaust survivor living in New York manages to be extremely funny, heartbreaking, and insightful. Any reader who hasn’t read this has a real treat in store.”
Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is the debut novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, first published in 1958. The tale chronicles pre-colonial life in the southeastern part of Nigeria and the arrival of Europeans during the late 19th century. The book is widely taught in schools across Africa as well as across the world as it offers up an insight into what Africa used to be like.
“The first time I read this one, I was on tour in Australia,” Hynde said. “I had to hide in a hotel room for an hour to finish it. I was devastated, crying, the lot.
“It was one of the first novels by an African to be published in English, and it is a masterpiece. Breathtaking stuff.”
James Lever – Me Cheeta
This book by James Lever tells the story of Cheeta the Chimpanzee who has starred in countless Hollywood films from the Tarzan franchise just two years after being snatched from the Liberian jungle as a baby in 1932. Lever writes the ultimate spoof celebrity memoir from the perspective of a Hollywood chimpanzee which has hilarious results.
“This surprising spoof autobiography is not only hilarious but also tender and insightful,” Hynde said. “Cheeta recounts his days working with Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan’s chimpanzee sidekick, but it’s more than that. He also recalls his capture from the jungle and arrival in America.
“I can honestly say that I laughed, I cried, and I learned a lot. Why this baby has not seen a movie screen yet is a mystery. It’s another that I read and reread.”