Celebrated for his eclectic style and emotionally resonant lyrics, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens has become one of the most compelling and innovative forces in contemporary indie music. Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1975, he’s released ten solo studio albums to date, consistently defying genre boundaries while delving into themes of nostalgia, spirituality, and the human condition.
Stevens burst onto the indie folk scene with his 2003 album “Michigan.” Coupled with 2005’s “Illinois,” his introspective songwriting, intricate arrangements and evocative tales of American life quickly garnered critical acclaim. Over the years, Stevens’ discography has expanded to encompass various genres, including electronic experimentation on 2010’s “The Age of Adz,” stripped-down folk on 2015’s “Carrie & Lowell” and duo-piano pieces for ballet on 2023’s “Reflections.” His most recent release, “Javelin,” is an electro-acoustic fusion dedicated to his late partner Evans Richardson.
In a book list posted to his Tumblr blog back in 2021, Stevens rounded up his favorite reads of the year, complete with some irreverent and truly delightful commentary. From the diaries of Patricia Highsmith (described as “lesbian armageddon”) to the Bible (“a hot mess”), dive into his recommendations below, and check out the favorite books of other iconic musicians here.
Sufjan Stevens’ Reading List
A Whole World: Letters from James Merrill by James Merrill
“Trust-funded homosexual spans the globe playing Ouija board, writing about the exotic and erotic, dropping names like horse flies and asking daddy for cash. Writes poems. Has mother issues. A+” -SS
Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries & Notebooks 1941-1995 by Patricia Highsmith
“Lesbian Armageddon. Don’t mess with Pat. A+” -SS
Red Comet: The Short Life & Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark
“If her life was so short why is this book soooo long? Has father issues. And I’m sad she put her head in that oven. A+” -SS
Portraits & Observations by Truman Capote
“Another gay writer has funsies with gossip, froth, and name-dropping. Has mother issues. Describes Jane Bowles as an ‘eternal sea urchin.’ Not his best work. B-” -SS
The Bible (also rec’d by Brandi Carlile, Carl Sagan, Jon Fosse, Leonard Cohen, Loretta Lynn, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Mr. Rogers, Nick Cave, Penn Jillette & Vincent van Gogh)
“A hot mess. Mother & Father issues ensue. Spoiler alert: Jesus dies at the end.” -SS
Essays Two by Lydia Davis
“I haven’t read it but this list needed something slightly more ‘academic.'” -SS
“Worst book title ever. Skip this one and read the first installment—Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2003), also a clumsy title. Youth and suffering are way more interesting. The struggle, the hustle, the flops and failures. That’s the stuff of life! But by the mid-aughts, when you’ve become successful, a little spoiled, & self-aware, you kinda lose your comedic edge. Spoken from experience. I still think Amy is funny though. B-” -SS
“Dead Mother Issues (the best kind) + descriptions of Korean food + you’re in a band. OK. I’m in. And I’m a little jealous. A+” -SS
How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by The Monks of New Skete
“Because I’m a cliché and I got a puppy during the pandemic. And it’s OK to focus all that repressed sexual energy into dog training. It really works. A+” -SS
Pink Moon by Marcel Dzama
“Because Marcel paid me in art.” -SS
“You do that, Joan. From beyond the grave. May perpetual light shine upon you. XO” -SS
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