With her formidable stage presence, forthright style and feminist ethos, Scottish singer Shirley Manson has been laying siege to the alt-rock scene since the early ’90s. As lead vocalist and chief songwriter of pop-punk band Garbage, she’s helmed the group through its near three-decade career, becoming one of the biggest bands to come out of the grunge era.
Born in 1966 and raised in Edinburgh, Manson was heavily influenced by her mother, Muriel, a onetime jazz singer. She worked with Scottish bands Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie and Angelfish before joining American musicians Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig in Garbage in 1994. The band released their multi-platinum self-titled debut the following year – a critical and commercial success that would go on to become a seminal record of the decade – and has produced six studio albums since, including the multi-Grammy-nominated ‘Version 2.0’ and a greatest hits collection.
In a reading list for Elle, the iconic frontwoman shared seven books that have most influenced and inspired her. From J.D. Salinger’s outsider bible to Chimamanda Adichie’s feminist manifesto, find her favorites below. Complement with the bookshelves of Alanis Morissette, Chrissie Hynde, David Bowie, Nick Cave, Patti Smith and St. Vincent.
“Even if you’re not interested in music or New York, 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. I’ve never done that before but she put her hand gently on my arm, which calmed me down.” -SM
“My dad encouraged my two sisters and me to read. He would lay books out in our dining room and we would choose one. I chose The Wind In The Willows and have great memories of being four years old in my little single bed with my parents reading me to sleep. Toad and Mole inspired an adventurous spirit in me. I still have my illustrated copy at home.” -SM
When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
“When I was old enough to read on my own, this collection of children’s poems by the Winnie-the-Pooh author was my favourite, and inspired my lifelong love of poetry. As a child, my party piece was reciting ‘The King’s Breakfast’ about a king who wants butter for his bread. I always liked performing. Mum was an amateur singer but wasn’t pushy; it was Dad who would bring out the portable cassette player to record us.”
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (also rec’d by Axl Rose, Hozier, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kurt Cobain, Lenny Kravitz, Liz Phair, Philip Roth, Richey Edwards, Scarlett Johansson, Ted Koppel & Uzo Aduba)
“I was a difficult teenager and turned to books as an escape. I saw my alienation and angst reflected in the story of rebellious Holden Caulfield and I would mimic him by calling everyone ‘phoney’. It made such an impression on me that in Garbage’s video for ‘Why Do You Love Me’ I’m reading my dad’s old copy. He never got it back.” -SM
“I found this essay incredibly comforting. 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.” -SM
The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality by Shere Hite
“My parents never had the sex talk with me so when my best friend thrust this book into my hands with a glint of mischief in her eye, it was a revelation. When I was younger, I didn’t even know the female orgasm existed, so it changed my life. It made me aware how hidden information about female pleasure was.” -SM
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
“This is a sci-fi book by Scottish writer Iain Banks. It’s about a 17-year-old boy who does some very evil things. It’s violent, dark and twisted: a depraved and subversive treasure that appealed to me in my late teens. I later became friends with Iain and his belief in me gave me confidence. When I got the gig in Garbage, there was no one happier for me than him.” -SM