Their Library: Hamilton Leithauser

Former Walkman on his literary favourites…

Their Library is a simple feature: we speak to musicians about their favourite books. This time, it’s ex-The Walkmen frontman and solo artist with a fine debut LP beneath his belt, Hamilton Leithauser

That album, ‘Black Hours’, is out now on Domino Records/Ribbon Music, and features the song ‘5 AM’, the video to which you can watch below.

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What is your favourite book, and why?
“I don't think I have an all-time favourite, as it’s too hard to choose. A bunch of my favourites include Blood Meridian, Stoner, I, Claudius, London Fields, Roger’s Version, The Bluest Eye, The Looming Tower, East Of Eden, Le Pere Goriot, Invisible Man.

What other authors do you like?
“Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Kingsley Amis, John Cheever, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Graves, Toni Morrison, W.H. Auden.”

What draws you to certain books?
“It’s actually kind of hard to find a reliable source for recommendations. I recently started an online book club in the hope that it would remain very small and specific, and offer good ideas. It’s yet to be seen how that will work out.”

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? If so, what is it?
“I’ve seen that a lot of people who read John Williams’ Stoner find themselves asking, ‘Why isn't this more famous?’ I had the same experience. It’s truly one of my favourite all time books, and it was published originally to very little popular response. I think it is getting a little more attention these days, but still not nearly what it deserves. It sort of felt like ‘discovering’ something, because I wasn’t expecting it to be that good.”

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
“When I write songs I’m always reading a lot, and I think it does keep your mind active, and that’s necessary for any creative process.”

What are you reading at the moment?
“I’m re-reading A Way In The World by VS Naipaul. I read it maybe 10 years ago, and remembered loving it, but that is literally the only thing I remember about it. I think I might not retain a single thing from anything I read ever.”

What was the first book you remember reading as a child?
“The Rabbit Is Next, by Gladys Leithauser, my grandmother.”

Did you make good use of your library card as a child?
“I didn’t read a serious book until I was 18. In high school I read the CliffsNotes and bullshitted my way through final exams. I got miserable grades, but considering I literally had not opened the book and somehow passed the course, in a way it’s kind of impressive.”

Have you ever started a book that you simply could not finish?
“I really, really try to get through stuff once I’ve committed myself. I mean, I read all of Infinite Jest, all of The Power Broker, and all of The Recognitions – and let me tell you, those aren’t a walk in the park. But I actually couldn’t finish Swann’s Way, the first volume in the Proust series In Remembrance Of Things Past. I read maybe a few hundred pages, realised I had absolutely no idea what was going on, nor did I care, and I put it down.”

Do you read book reviews?
“My subscription to the NYRB just ran out. I need to get that re-upped. I love that magazine.”

Would you ever re-read the same book?
“Actually, recently I’ve started doing that a fair amount. It’s great. I don’t have to go out and buy a new book, and I don’t remember anything at all.”

Have you ever identified with a character in a book?
“I read The Grapes Of Wrath on a tour when we were driving across the country with the whole band in the van, just jammed in with all the equipment. In that book, they’re all jammed into this horrible truck and people start getting sick and dying, and it was a very eerie feeling.”

Do you read just one book at a time, or more than one?
“I’m in London right now, and I left my Johnny Cash biography at home because it was the size of a cinder block, but I’ll pick it up when I get back. But I try not to do that because it’s so hard to keep all the plots straight.”

Is there an author or poet who you’d love to collaborate with?
“Sure, of course. I don't know what I could offer, but I’d like to meet Charles Simic, Charlie Kaufman, Gary Snyder, Dave Eggers…”

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Photos: Lauren Dukoff (this page) / Keith Coleman (rotator)

‘Black Hours’ is out now. Find Hamilton online here and see him live as follows:

7th – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
8th – Night & Day, Manchester
10th – Sugar Club, Dublin
11th – The Wardrobe, Leeds
12th – The Electric Circus, Edinburgh

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