Musicians Turned Authors

Two weeks ago we celebrated the eightieth birthday of Leonard Cohen, the acclaimed Canadian author and musician. Cohen is one of those exceptional artists who produces amazing work in both the fields of literature and music. His novel Beautiful Losers is considered a classic work of Canadian fiction, while his volumes of poetry are also greatly acclaimed by critics and readers alike. Cohen is not alone in his multifaceted talents, but belongs to a privileged collective of musicians who also happen to be masterful writers of fiction. Whether a fan of the artist’s music, curious to see if these musicians’ works have literary merit, or if you’re just looking for a good read, the Windsor Public Library carries some great novels by songwriters who have transitioned over to become book writers.

It was little surprise to fans of the indie rock group The Decemberists that the band’s singer and principle songwriter, Colin Meloy, would end up writing fiction. The band’s music is often described as “hyper-literate rock” with lyrics that reference Herman Melville and Irving Wallace. Meloy’s first novel, Wildwood, is an illustrated children’s book that tells the story of two seventh-graders who are drawn into a hidden, magical forest, while trying to rescue a baby kidnapped by crows. This whimsical story is a delight for fans of classical fairy stories, and was followed up by Meloy with a pair of sequels, Under Wildwood and Wildwood Imperium.

A lot of people were surprised by the release of folk singer-songwriter Josh Ritter’s debut novel back in 2011. While a renowned musician known for his Americana sound and narrative lyrics (see his album Hello Starling), few would have predicted that this young artist was capable of writing such a powerful debut novel. Bright’s Passage follows a young widower named Henry Bright, a veteran of the First World War, as he and his infant son flee from a forest fire and Bright’s cruel in-laws. The narrative follows the pair’s strange journey through West Virginian foothills, followed by a mysterious “guardian angel,” as Bright deals with his harrowing memories of the war and recollections from childhood. A suspenseful novel evocative of its rugged rural setting, Ritter’s writing brings to mind the works of Flannery O’Connor and Dennis Lehane.

Looking for something to read that’s a bit on the dark side? Few storytellers go as dark as Nick Cave. This Australian singer-songwriter has made his career penning moody ballads with lyrics focusing on religion, violence, and death. Considering the dark seedy blues of Murder Ballads or the chilling piano stylings of No More Shall We Part, its not surprising that Cave’s venture into novel writing would produce a gothic masterwork. The Death of Bunny Munro, the artist’s second novel, follows the titular character, a traveling door to door salesman whose constant womanizing and alcoholism comes to a head after the suicide of his wife. He and his son go on an increasingly out of control road trip around Brighton, over which looms the shadow of a serial killer making his way towards the pair. Cave’s book has been both compared to and phrased by the likes of Irving Welsh and David Peace. This is a unnerving thriller, perfectly suited as a scary read for Halloween.

Many music fans have heard of John Wesley Harding, the UK folk-and-pop artist who has released over twenty albums during his long and varied career. What these fans may not realize is that this same artist is also an established author, having published works under his birth name of Wesley Stace. Inspired by the classic literature of Dickens and Wilde, Stace’s novels scrutinize society’s ideas of normalcy and often satirize class, gender, and economic disparity among his character’s worlds. Misfortune is an outrageous and comic novel about a boy raised as a girl in the richest home in 19th century England. Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer follows Leslie Shepherd, a critic and musical composer who recollects about an opera he helped write that eerily reflected the tragic death of his songwriting partner. Stace is a evocative and reflective storyteller, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “smart, funny, observant” and “quick-witted and clever” by the UK Telegraph.

One musician making his authorial debut this month is John Darnielle. With his musical project The Mountain Goats, Darnielle writes moody and lyrically inventive folk-rock, being praised as America’s “best non-hip hop lyricist” by New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones. His debut novel, Wolf in White Van, tells the story of Sean Phillips, an isolated young man with a disfiguring injury who creates and operates an online gaming realm from his small apartment in southern California. Sean guides players from around the world through his imaginary terrain, but disaster strikes when two high school students from Florida take their game play into the real world. A hypnotic read that dances between beauty and monstrosity, Wolf in White Van has already earned positive early reviews by The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and NPR, the later calling the novel “monstrously true and unbelievably beautiful.”

Find these and many other great titles at the Windsor Public Library.


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