Hailed as one of the most gifted and articulate songwriters of her generation, Suzanne Vega has built a prolific catalog and loyal fanbase over her 4 decades in music. A pioneer of the neo-folk movement, she released her self-titled debut in 1985 to critical acclaim before rocketing into stardom with the 1987 album Solitude Standing. This sophomore effort featured the international hit single “Luka” – a painful, first-person account of child abuse that garnered three Grammy nominations – and  “Tom’s Diner,” whose original a capella recording was used in the creation of the mp3 compression format.

Vega’s released nine studio albums to date, the last of which is 2016’s Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers. An homage to the literary great, whose work she first discovered at 15, Vega notes, 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.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that McCullers’ seminal first novel made it on Vega’s list of top 10 books, shared with NY-based indie One Grand, alongside classics by Dickens, Wharton, Camus, and the Brontë sisters. Explore her favorites below, and complement with the reading lists of her musical idols Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed.

Suzanne Vega’s Reading List

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (also rec’d by Ernest HemingwayJoan DidionPatti Smith & Stevie Nicks)

“It took me a while to get into this book but now it is permanently in my heart. I love the convoluted storytelling — the first person narrator, a stranger passing by who stays the night with a bewildering family, dreaming strange dreams. Then the narration switches to the family nurse who tells a story from generations ago, which explains the current circumstances. I also love the wildness of the characters — their jealousies, pains, passions and obsessions — as well as the unabashed antisocialism of the world contained at Wuthering Heights and the love story at the heart of the book.” -SV

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (also rec’d by John Irving, Nick Hornby & Nigella Lawson)

“The thinly veiled autobiography of Charles Dickens himself. 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. I sense a theme here. I like this better than “Oliver Twist” because the storytelling is more restrained, and more believable.” -SV

Charlie Chaplin’s Own Story by Harry M. Geduld

“I was astonished to realize, relatively recently, that Charlie Chaplin had been a homeless teenager before he became the most famous film artist of his time — and that his character the Little Tramp was based, in part, on his past. As a child watching his films, I was merely entertained, but reading this book, not his “official” biography, (which I find slightly starchy), enlightened me on the daily sufferings and joys of what it was like for him before he became famous. It was published in 1916 — and yet is still so relevant today.” -SV

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

“A book I never tire of reading. Undine Spragg is such a modern, greedy girl, and yet we love her as she works her way through her marriages, acquiring and desiring ever more. I enjoy reading about her dresses, her addresses and all the social mores of the day. Delicious.” -SV

Letters to Olga by Vaclav Havel

“An extraordinary document of letters, written by a man in jail under extreme duress, as he resists the Communist regime, trying not to crumble, struggling to maintain his integrity in the face of the physical and mental punishments set upon him. These letters are not particularly romantic in spite of being addressed to his wife Olga, and in many places not even personal, but they clearly show his wit and will to survive, and in the end, they outline the tenets of his philosophy. The fact that we know he ends up as the President of Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic, adds to the pleasure of the reading. The many requests for tea and chocolate strike me as particularly poignant.” -SV

The Stranger by Albert Camus (also rec’d by David BowieJim MorrisonLeonard CohenPaulo Coelho, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richey Edwards & Robert Smith)

“I love the brevity of this book and its cool tone. I was thinking of it in my song ‘Cracking,’ and some others — extreme emotion delivered dryly without sentiment. A gem.” -SV

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (also rec’d by Anne Rice, Gloria SteinemJarvis Cocker & Julia Roberts)

“Her masterpiece. Five starkly drawn characters are united by their connection to a deaf-mute man. The range and variation of the characters and her empathetic handling of each one is remarkable, as well as the odd structure, which may have been drawn from her knowledge of music. Not a typical narrative but probably her most accessible.” -SV

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

“What a clever book this is! Again, I love the setup and the self-consciousness of the narrator; and the obsessive searching of Sarah Woodruff at the horizon again and again, as she returns to the ocean’s edge, cloaked in black. I don’t agree with those people who feel she is a plot device and not fleshed out — she is as real to me as anyone I know.” -SV

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (also rec’d by Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Cooper, Dick CavettOwen Wilson & Stephen King)

“The classic story of a wild child on the outskirts of rural society with an absent mother and wayward father, and the trials he endures. I feel 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.” -SV

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (also rec’d by Jane Goodall, Rose McGowan & Ursula K. Le Guin)

“Before there was Wuthering Heights, there was Jane Eyre. I will never forget reading the first chapter and the shock of recognition — the narrator is a young girl living with a family she is tangentially related to, and she longs for freedom. In time, she becomes independent (after a series of hardships which she endures stoically) all the while earning her living and finding love in the end. I love her for her plain, sturdy, sensible character. I identify with her.” -SV
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