The Hold Steady's frontman talks books

Ahead of the release of thier new album, 'Stay Positive' on July 14th, ClashMusic talked to frontman Craig Finn about his reading habits, favourite authors and how it all influences his songwriting.

What's your favourite book and why?

Well, my favourite book is... I guess one of the books I keep going back to is a book that shares my name; 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'. It was always around the house when I was a kid, there was a lot of humour. It was funny at times with some real truths about equality and the slavery issue of the time. I've read it a several different times in my life and always enjoyed it.

Do you identify with Huck Finn?

Well, I'm not sure. Huck Finn's a little wilder than I am. You know, even though it's set in a different time, you can sorta relate to some of those episodes.

Are there particular authors you're a fan of?

I really like Philip Roth, I've read a lot of his books. Larry McMurtry, I really like. John Updike, I've read all of those and recently, Richard Russo. Who I think has written three or four books and I've think I've read them all, those are great. John Goodwin, he's another one I like a lot

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?

I think they do but not like super directly. You know you pick up words or phrases that stick with you. I wouldn't say I read this book and wrote this song, but you know, I think if you're a writer you're probably helped as much by reading as by writing

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading 'The Book of Common Prayer' by John Goodwin and also 'Tender is the Night' by F Scott Fitzgerald.

What was the first text you remember reading as a child?

Jeez, I remember 'The Outsiders', the S.E. Hinton book that was later made into a movie. That was a big book. All those novels that were kinda for kids but had that kind of exciting and somewhat rebellious air to them but I remember being enraptured by those books.

What's your take on libraries? Some people have said they were a lifeline for them as kids.

Yeah, when I was a kid we'd always go to the library on a Saturday and check out books and my parents pushed that on me. Growing up there were books around my house so I didn't feel that, you hear of people who were really connected to the world by books. I didn't have that much of a feeling but it was definitely part of my growing up.

How do you think literature acquires timelessness?

I guess it's that personal, the reaction by the audience but it has to live a little too you know. Something like 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'Catcher in the Rye', something that resonates true and it's not that one time, something that people 50 years down the line can read it and feel something.

Do you read book reviews? How do you find find new books?

I read, like, The Sunday Times but mainly I just go into book stores and just browse around, picking things up, I've got plenty of time to read. I can afford to take chances. It's usually really people telling me, looking at book stores, recommendations, things like that.

Would you ever re-read the same book?

Yeah, every once in a while I reread 'On the Road', the Kerouac book, and it really resulted in the last record 'Boys and Girls in America'. That may be an example of one time when a book really influenced me. The last record came off a quote by Kerouac in that novel, 'Boys and girls in America, such a sad time together'.

Are there certain qualities that you look for which will draw you to a book?

Well, you know, you read the back, it seems like there's a decent plot or there's something interesting and you're likely to give it a try.

Do you read one book at a time or more than one?

I do and I always misplace them, I put them down and pick another one up. I used to be really good about reading them all the way through, now I've always got a couple of things going on.

It's cause I move around so much now and personally I lose books quite often. I usually have one with me, travel around with them then I lose them.

At home do you have an ever expanding library or do you read a book and pass it on?

I always pass them on, me and my girlfriend share them.

That's the sign of a great book, one you want your friends to read?

Yeah, yeah cause I never really buy nice books, I always buy used books. They're better served if you pass them on.

Finally, are any books you'd recommend to our readers?

Yeah, there's a thing I've recommended to a lot of people, 'Straight Man' by Richard Russo. I think it's a fantastic novel but traditionally my other two books I recommend to a lot of people are 'All My Friends are Going to be Strangers' which is a Larry McMurtry book, which is about writing, or about a young writer anyway.

Then another book called 'The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint', which I've given a lot of people, by a guy named Brady Udall. I don't know much about him but he wrote this one book that was given to me as a gift and I really enjoyed it.

The books you've mentioned fit in with the world presented in The Hold Steady's songs. Are you drawn more to books relating to your world and experience?

Yeah, I guess I am, you know, drawn to things that give you a way of looking at things that are already in your life. I've never really been able to read science fiction, or fantasy or anything like that.

'Stay Positive' is released on Rough Trade Records on 14th July.


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