Wanted/Needed/Loved: Snail Mail’s Beloved Books
I’ve always been a really avid reader and writer, and I planned to be an English major in college, even though I’ve put that on hold to pursue music. Wherever I go out on tour, I always have a book with me, and another for when I’m finished. If I go through the second book, I’ll take a detour to a local bookstore and pick up some more books. It’s hard to read on a screen when I’m traveling, but I also think having books with me just keeps me sane. I love them, and even though they take up a lot of money and space, I’ve never really wanted to dive into a Kindle.
When I come home, I’ll add the new books to my collection. I hope to have proper bookshelves someday, but my reading space is actually pretty awful-looking right now. I have this makeshift record case, and underneath there’s a shelf that’s not quite tall enough to hold records, so there’s a bunch of books stacked in there, and some are halfway falling off. And then I have another shelf nearby that’s also overflowing. There’s no organization. It’s lawless.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Eve Babitz, reading through her entire collection. I just got to Sex and Rage. I also love Miriam Toews—I happened across one of her novels at a book fair when I lived in New York briefly. I read the passages over and over again, and it just kind of felt true to my experience. I recently found a signed copy of her book Women Talking, and I love that, too. Same for Horse Crazy by Gary Indiana, and Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles.
Talking with friends is one way to discover books, but when I’m looking for new writers to explore, I often like wandering into well-curated bookstores and just walking around or asking for recommendations. There’s a place in Baltimore called Atomic that has pretty much all of my favorite authors. I like going in without having any set notion of what I’m going to find.
Sometimes I find authors because they’re referenced in other books I love—that’s way better than recommendations based on algorithms you find online. I don’t necessarily seek out queer literature, but when I find it, I’m so emotional. In my life I feel it’s been pretty formative. I don’t have a ton of queer friends, but reading about someone queer in an intimate way is beautiful, going back to classics like The Well of Loneliness and Giovanni’s Room. I also have an Elena Ferrante book—My Brilliant Friend—which was a find from a book club. I joined but never went, although I did read that book!
I’m also really interested in novels written by poets. Poetry has a loose set of guidelines, skills that to some extent can be learned. And novels have that, too. I like seeing how a poet translates into being an author, going deep into a particular writer’s work.
For example, when I read a poem by Eileen Myles, and then blindly read a novel she’s written, I feel like I can still tell it’s her, even though she’s writing in two distinct genres. I’m interested in looking for how people can work outside of their medium, and yet still retain their unique voice. It’s particularly inspiring when I’m trying to make music, or even just when I’m trying to write.
It’s so hard to turn inspiration into craft, though. When I was making Lush, I think I was trying to figure out what I wanted my perspective to look like, and I hadn’t yet come into my own as a storyteller.
The song “Pristine” for example has a sarcastic tone. It’s talking about a kind of prior self that is head over heels for someone, and is lacking in perspective. It’s, you know, “I will never be in love again. This is the most powerful thing.” It’s kind of making fun of myself but also acknowledging that this is how you feel at the time and you can’t really mute it just by calling it immature.
The song has a ton of emotion in it, and personal meaning. I think it uses a very cool literary technique, too, but I’m taking a step away from that now, looking for new ways my music and lyrics can work together. When I look back at that album, I definitely see it as a milestone, and I’m super proud of it, but I also want to continue to grow as a writer, and I see these songs as a documentation of that desire.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Baltimore-based guitarist and singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan has been playing music since age five. Recording under the name Snail Mail, she released her critically hailed debut studio album, Lush, at age eighteen. Pitchfork describes that work, released on Matador in 2018, as “emotionally wise, musically clear, and encompass[ing] the once future sound of indie rock.” Rolling Stone calls it “the work of an indie-rock prodigy.” Snail Mail has recently contributed “Rizbeen,” an original new recording of her hit song, “Pristine,” with the lyrics translated into Simlish, to EA Games’ latest installment of The Sims, The Sims 4: Living Island. She is currently on tour.