In her 2015 memoir Girl in a Band, musician, songwriter and visual artist Kim Gordon details her life from ’60s and ’70s Los Angeles through New York in the ’80s and ’90s and Sonic Youth’s final show in 2011. Growing up in an academic family that was a far cry from the LA mold, Gordon was shy and bookish and found release through performance. Reminiscent of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Girl in a Band touches on themes of artistic partnerships, the dissolution of identity, and the inextricable link between all facets of a creative’s life – reading, writing, art and music.

Gordon says: “What I’m reading at the time tends to influence and inform what I’m working on – whether it’s a novel or a Hitchcock bio.” And sprinkled throughout her memoir are the books that informed her songs – “Brother James” came out of Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, “The Sprawl” was inspired by Dennis Johnson’s Fiskadoro, and “Pattern Recognition” was based on a William Gibson book of the same name.

The books she’s drawn to largely deal with female identity and sexuality, as well as punk and rock’n’roll history. Read on for a list of her favorites, and complement with Patti Smith’s Lifelong Reading List.


I’m With the Band by Pamela Des Barres

“Why is that the best book [about music]? Because it is.” -KG

Becoming Westerly by Jamie Brisick

“Jamie’s book is a biography of a famous Australian surfer who’s transgender, man to woman, and still surfs.” -KG

Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution by T.J. Clark

Mother Daughter Revolution by Elizabeth Deb

“It’s about how feminism fails to address the relationship between mothers and daughters because of its emphasis on escaping the house. I didn’t finish it—who has the time or the energy to read when you’re a new mom?—but I remember how the book talked about the pressure to please and be perfect that every woman falls into and then projects onto her daughter. Nothing is ever good enough. No woman can ever outrun what she has to do. No one can be all things—a mother, a good partner, a lover, as well as a competitor in the workplace.” -KG

Selected Stories by Philip K. Dick

“In 1987, Thurston and I were both reading Philip K. Dick, whose writing has more in common with philosophy than science fiction, and whose descriptions of schizophrenia were better than those of any medical journal. Philip Dick had a twin sister who died shortly after she was born and whose memory plagued him his whole life—which is maybe how and why our new album ended up being called Sister.” -KG

The White Album by Joan Didion (also rec’d by Annie Clark & Anthony Bourdain)

“I was really late to getting around to this. It wasn’t until a journalist related my art sensibility and writing to her that I finally stopped rebelling and started reading! I love her asexual voice, writing in a man’s world. Her essays about California are like no one else’s.” -KG

Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie Fiedler

“Naturally, Dan Graham turned me on to it, telling me how seminal a book it was for music critics like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, and Greil Marcus. Whether he was telling the truth or not, I really responded to the book.” -KG

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (also rec’d by David BowieErnest Hemingway & Philip Roth)

“The first feminist character in a novel. I love this period of French lit, reflecting the life of a bored wife trapped as a woman in a ‘suitable’ marriage as a way to maintain her inheritance. It was seen as introducing realism and the modern narrative.” -KG

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

“Still one of my favorite writers. Her writing is audacious and detailed. These stories are almost anti-chick lit, opening up contemporary female eroticism.” -KG

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

“His first non-sci-fi book. I loved the idea of a ‘coolhunter’ being a woman, and stalked by a corporation.” -KG

Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia by Richard Hertz

Why Love Hurts by Eva Illouz

“The back cover describes it as ‘the indispensable book on the social power and meaning of sex and love.’ Who wouldn’t want to read that?” -KG

Angels by Denis Johnson

“The first book I read by him is incredibly sad and so well written. It also reminded me of when I first took a bus across country to New York — so alone in the night surrounded by weird America.” -KG

Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson

“A haze-filled dream world of a novel about the survivors of nuclear fallout attempting to rebuild their lives and society. In my head, Fiskadoro mingled with old 1960s movie themes of young women growing up in small towns, wanting to leave their hometowns behind and be somewhere, anywhere, and someone, anyone, else. Maybe they’d glimpsed a highway billboard that advertised clothes, a car, a golden future, a possibility. Maybe, thanks to the machine of consumerism, they felt they were missing out on something they hadn’t even known existed.” -KG

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene

Catherine Breillat by Douglas Keesey

“A book analyzing the films of French director Catherine Breillat, one of my favorite directors, is infinitely fascinating for how it dissects her treatment of subject matter: desire, shame, body image and male/female power struggles as sexuality.” -KG

Selected Writing for Art by John Kelsey

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

The Portable Kristeva by Julia Kristeva

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

“Reading Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, I could relate to the sensation of being young in New York, living on the outside of the art world.” -KG

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

“There’s no character as good or as innovative as Lisbeth Salander in the Stieg Larsson series, but I keep looking.” -KG

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

“It covers 80 years in New York, and so many different scenes. I hadn’t really known about Sunnyside Gardens as a planned retirement community, and also a Communist stronghold.” -KG

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music by Greil Marcus (also rec’d by Bruce SpringsteenDavid Bowie)

“The first book that I read that turned me on to thinking about music intellectually. It inspired me to write.” -KG

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain (also rec’d by Annie Clark)

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (also rec’d by Hayao MiyazakiJimi Hendrix)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (also rec’d by David Bowie & Patti Smith)

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (also rec’d by Emma WatsonCarrie Brownstein)

“Maybe the best writer. The way she naturally and effortlessly integrates her life with her inner, critical self, without being meta about it, and always finds the place that no one else occupies but always seems to makes perfect sense.” -KG

Police by Jo Nesbo

“I’m learning about Norway’s relationship with the Nazis and a lot of other things about that country. I like the protagonist, Harry Hole; it’s a ridiculous name, but it works. He’s grizzled, alcoholic, surrounded by a lot of corruption, so he’s working against the police and trying to find the serial killer at the same time.” -KG

Structuralism by Jean Piaget

“Before I discovered Roland Barthes, Foucault and Derrida, I stumbled upon this book around my parents’ house, left by my brother. It was like a light bulb going off in my head.” -KG

Fuck Seth Price by Seth Price

“Sure to be a classic. A present-day venture into the surrealist novel. It’s the best description of the art world ever and the existential void every artist faces in an art practice.” -KG

Candy by Terry Southern

The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright

“It was my first view, my first idea, of New York as a glamorous place. I also really liked the doll’s pink-and-white-checked apron and the general air of existential blankness. When I tried to read it to my daughter, Coco, I thought, ‘This is so dark and terrifying.’ But I’ve met many women who were influenced by that book.” -KG

(via The New York Times & One Grand Books)


Books by Kim Gordon

Girl in a Band (2015)

Categories: Musicians

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