Laurie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island

Her avant-garde per­for­mance art endeared her to the New York art world long before she dat­ed, then mar­ried, one of the most influ­en­tial men in rock and roll. Her work has at times been over­shad­owed by her more con­ven­tion­al­ly famous part­ner and col­lab­o­ra­tor, but after his death, she con­tin­ues to make chal­leng­ing, far ahead-of-its-time work and rede­fine her­self as a cre­ative force.

No, I don’t mean Yoko Ono, but the for­mi­da­ble Lau­rie Ander­son. In addi­tion to her exper­i­men­tal art, Ander­son is a film­mak­er, sculp­tor, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, writer, com­pos­er, and musi­cian. Her sur­prise elec­tron­ic hit “O Super­man” (above) from her debut 1982 album Big Sci­ence, “warns of ever-present death from the air in an era of jin­go­ism,” writes David Gra­ham at The Atlantic.

Ander­son her­self explains the song as based on a “beau­ti­ful 19th-cen­tu­ry aria by Massenet… a prayer to author­i­ty. The lyrics are a one-sided con­ver­sa­tion, like a prayer to God. It sounds sinister—but it is sin­is­ter when you start talk­ing to pow­er.”

“O Super­man” speaks, mock­ing­ly, to Amer­i­can mil­i­tary hege­mo­ny and to a par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal event, the Iran hostage cri­sis. As such, it is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of much of her work, meld­ing clas­si­cal instincts and musi­cian­ship with elec­tron­ic exper­i­men­ta­tion and a dark­ly com­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty that she often wields like a crit­i­cal scalpel on U.S. polit­i­cal attitudes—from her huge, five-record 1984 live album Unit­ed States (with songs like “Yan­kee See” and “Demo­c­ra­t­ic Way”) to her 2010 project Home­land.

One of Anderson’s most recent pieces, Dirt­day, “responds,” she says above, to “a very trag­ic sit­u­a­tion… a decade after 9/11… so much fear. Dirt­day was real­ly inspired by try­ing to look at that fear… almost from a point of view of ‘what is it when a whole nation gets hyp­no­tized?’” Her art may be polit­i­cal­ly oppo­si­tion­al, but she also admits, that “as a sto­ry­teller, I find my ‘col­leagues’ in pol­i­tics, you know, a lit­tle bit clos­er than I thought.” The admis­sion belies Anderson’s abil­i­ty to incor­po­rate mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives into her com­plex nar­ra­tives, as all great writ­ers do. And great writ­ers begin as read­ers, their work in dia­logue with the books that move and shape them.

So what does Lau­rie Ander­son read? Below, you’ll find a list of her top ten books, curat­ed by One Grand, a “book­store in which cel­e­brat­ed thinkers, writ­ers, artists, and oth­er cre­ative minds share the ten books they would take to their metaphor­i­cal desert island.” Her choic­es include great com­ic sto­ry­tellers, like Lau­rence Sterne, and chron­i­clers of the lum­ber­ing beast that is the U.S., like Her­man Melville. Oth­er well-known nov­el­ists, like Nabokov and Annie Dil­lard, sit next to Bud­dhist texts and cre­ative non­fic­tion. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing list, and if you’re as intrigued and inspired by Ander­son­’s work as I am, you’ll want to read, or re-read, every­thing on it.

Skip on over to One Grand to read Anderson’s com­plete, wit­ty com­men­taries on each of her choic­es.

Also check out, UBUweb, which has a nice col­lec­tion of Lau­rie Ander­son­’s ear­ly video work.

via The New York Times Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith’s List of Favorite Books: From Rim­baud to Susan Son­tag

David Fos­ter Wallace’s Sur­pris­ing List of His 10 Favorite Books, from C.S. Lewis to Tom Clan­cy

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Arlene Walsh says:

    This from an artist who recent­ly bragged to a rep­utable reporter that she left Hamil­ton the musi­cal at inter­mis­sion. I have no respect for an artist who pub­licly diss­es anoth­er artist’s work (not to men­tion admit­ting to leav­ing at inter­mis­sion). Not cool!

  • Jean-Paul DuQuette says:

    Oh puh­leeze. She also went on to admit that she has nev­er liked ANY musi­cals. I don’t like The Truth About Cats and Dogs, nor do I gen­er­al­ly enjoy roman­tic come­dies. That does­n’t mean I don’t have respect for actors, writ­ers and direc­tors.

  • Neurogami says:

    The link to One Grand is bro­ken.

  • Emmett says:

    I high­ly rec­om­mend Lau­rie Ander­son­’s book S̲t̲o̲r̲i̲e̲s̲ ̲F̲r̲o̲m̲ ̲T̲h̲e̲ ̲N̲e̲r̲v̲e̲ ̲B̲i̲b̲l̲e̲. A great look at her ear­ly per­for­mance art. The book is a clear explo­ration of cre­ative thought as it process­es into some­thing tan­gi­ble.

  • jay kasee says:

    I’m sur­prised she made it to the inter­mis­sion. Not her thing, so what? And if you real­ly “have no respect for an artist who pub­licly diss­es anoth­er artist’s work” then you have a very short list of artists you actu­al­ly have respect for.

  • Branko says:

    Is “Hamil­ton” a piece of art or just a … what­ev­er bor­ing thing it is? Maybe, like me, she thinks the music sucks, maybe she just did not like a par­tic­u­lar per­for­mance. Btw, I am sur­prised some­one like her would ever go to see such crap, but then even Salmo Rus­dies reread Da Vin­ci Code… What is not cool is a can­cel cul­ture atti­tude — is reg­u­lar­ly based on lack of infor­ma­tion or just ordi­nary stu­pid­i­ty such as in this case.

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