Tracey Thorn: TOP TEN BOOKS


Tracey Thorn courtesy of Edward Bishop

As one half of the band Everything But the Girl, Tracey Thorn will be forever linked with Todd Terry’s remix of their song, “Missing,” which stands as one of the 1990s greatest dance tracks. She wasn’t convinced when she first heard it, but the song turned her and her musical partner, Ben Watt, into global superstars. The duo parted ways in 2000, after eleven albums, but Thorne has since returned to making music as a solo artist, including her most recent album, Record, released last year to huge acclaim (“one of the defining albums of her 38-year career,” raved Pitchfork). She has also put pen to paper and published two memoirs, Bedsit Disco Queen, in which she recounts her early years fighting Thatcherism in Britain, and Another Planet. As for being a writer of books, she recently told The Guardian, “I like that you can start a conversation and then present the other side, walk around it and look at it from different angles.”

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



George Orwell
Honestly, I could choose anything by Orwell. I read him as a teen and loved him. That advice of his about good prose being like a window pane? I always have that in the back of my mind. It jibes with how I instinctively feel about writing. 
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On the Road

Jack Kerouac
Another one I read as a teen. And didn’t just read, but carried around with me, wore it like a badge, thought it said everything about who I was: a beatnik in suburbia. I haven’t read it since, and part of me thinks now it might be awful. But I will stay true, and state for the record how much I loved it at nineteen.
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Minor Characters

Joyce Johnson
Then in 1987 I read this, which tells the story of Johnson’s affair with Kerouac, and gives a behind the scenes true story of the Beat generation, and more specifically, the women involved with them who are the “minor characters” of the title. I immediately saw what I had missed at the time, and this book continued my feminist education. 
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The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin
His writing, like his thinking, is so clear and beautiful, always eloquent and elegant even when he is writing, as here, about race and religion. There is anger, of course, but somehow he also manages to be witty, and so, so clever. I always imagine he must have been brilliant company.
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The Magic Faraway Tree

Enid Blyton
The books that make up The Faraway Tree series are the books of my childhood, the most vivid early memories I have of stories and reading. My mum read them aloud to me and my sister, and the characters in them were as real to me as the next door neighbors. The actual faraway tree was a tall oak at the end of our garden. I truly believed that.
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The Cost of Living

Deborah Levy
This speaks very directly to the person I am right now. Observations from a woman in middle age on marriage, divorce, freedom, and countless other things. She notices everything and records it in an unconventional way. And for anyone writing non-fiction, it’s a masterclass in how to do it.
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Collected Poems of Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin
It’s not so easy now to admit to liking Larkin. We know too much about him as a person, because of diaries and letters that have been published, and it’s diminished his reputation somewhat, knowing that he was narrow-minded, stuffy, prejudiced. Yet still the poems are full of insight and empathy. They catalogue the endless little failures of life, all the compromises, all the missteps. 
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Jacob's Room

Virginia Woolf
This was the first book I read and properly analyzed at university. It struck me as the first book I’d read that got inside people’s heads. A character, Jacob, is presented to us via the impressions of others, showing just how subjective is our version of reality. I was astonished by it, and reading it was a lightbulb moment for me; it was a revelation that other people were thinking and feeling all this stuff all the time. I’d thought it was just me.
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Imagine being an 18-year-old girl, on holiday with two radical poets, and coming up with an idea for a Gothic horror novel which also more or less invents the genre of science fiction, which then goes on to become such a huge and enduring success, constantly open to reinterpretation and reimagining, that it still seems vivid and alive two hundred years later. 
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Lady Sings the Blues

Billie Holiday
I read this at the same time as I discovered her music. It’s very shocking, full of sexual abuse, drug addiction, violence, and racism, and opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t known about or understood. It made me realize where songs like Strange Fruit had come from. The rawness of those songs had their roots in a devastating history of life experience.
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