Suzanne Vega: TOP TEN BOOKS

Suzanne Vega’s Favorite Books

Suzanne Vega photographed by George Holz

When Suzanne Vega was catapulted to fame with her 1987 album, Solitude Standing, which spawned the hits “Tom’s Diner,” and “Luka,” her life changed overnight. “It was thrilling to go from being a receptionist at a typesetting company in New York, to playing the Royal Albert Hall and selling millions of albums,” she recalls, before adding a significant caveat: “The difficult part of it was that “Luka” is a painful song about painful experiences, and a lot of people wrote to me to tell me about their issues with child abuse, and that was shocking to me—to realize what a huge problem it was.” Vega recently released a live album of her 2019 performance at New York’s famed Café Carlisle, for which she played a mix of hits and more recent songs taken from Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers, in which she channels the spirt and sensibility of the great American writer. The songs, some of which began life when Vega was studying English and Theater at Barnard College, are part of a musical play of the same name which will receive a premiere at Houston’s Alley Theater in 2018. Unsurprisingly, McCullers also makes an appearance on Vega’s list of favorite books, among other seminal works of the 20th century. Of her literary idol, Vega says, “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.”

Below are Suzanne Vega’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.


Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë
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.
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David Copperfield

Charles Dickens
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.
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Charlie Chaplin's Own Story

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.
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The Custom of the Country

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.
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Letters to Olga

Vaclav Havel
A 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.
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The Stranger

Albert Camus
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.
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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers
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.
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The French Lieutenant's Woman

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.
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain
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.
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Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë
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.
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