Their Library: Anna B Savage

Literary influences explored…

Anna B Savage is a London-based songwriter whose stark, atmospheric work sits in a vein of her own.

Bold, and impossibly dark, her album ‘A Common Turn’ made a deep impression on its release earlier this year, with Clash commenting:

“This is a gem of an album. Personal, honest and highly emotive, it tackles big questions; but most of all, it dares to be vulnerable. ‘A Common Turn’ is undoubtedly one of the most notable releases of 2021 so far, marking a very impressive and well-earned return to music for Anna B Savage.”

Her creative run continues on new EP ‘These Dreams’, which followed this Autumn via her home City Slang.

Completing a full UK tour, Anna B Savage ends 2021 on a high, crystallising her creative vision into something potent and unrelenting.

Literature plays a huge part in her work, something Anna B Savage expands on in Their Library.

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What is your favourite book and why?

Oooh! Start off with an impossible one why don’t ya. I don’t have a favourite book – I think it’s so situational, so time-specific that it does a disservice to oneself to hold on to something for a long time as a favourite.

The reason I say this is that I read ‘Conversations With Friends’ when it first came out and was breathless, floored. I felt seen and exposed, and like I had to tread carefully around other books because nothing would touch me in the same way. I read it again a year later for my book club and felt almost embarrassed for the me a year ago. Like, did I really see so much of myself in a character who obviously was so cruel to herself? I’d run around telling everyone it was like reading the inside of my brain but… I didn’t feel that way any more. Also they were much smarter than I was(/am). But I still fucking loved reading it the second time around, just for different reasons. And when I was a teenager I would say my favourite book was Herzog which… is a whole another mind fuck and throwback to a time (and personality) long discarded.

Having said that, there is one book which I read as a teenager and haven’t been brave enough to read it since, because I don’t want to destroy my initial reading of it. I loved it so much. It was ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ and I can still remember certain descriptions and moments from it. Maybe I’ll read it again some day soon.

What other authors do you like?

I’m not particularly good at being faithful to authors – I tend to read one or two books by then then continue on, so maybe I’ll talk about books I’ve loved. I loved the Neapolitan Trilogy, and the subsequent TV series (The soundtrack! Blimey hell.) even though they left me feeling uneasy, uncomfortable and a bit exhausted. I loved Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl. Woman. Other’, and watching her characters manoeuvre around London. Richard Powers’s ‘The Overstory’ made my heart feel full and made things beautiful during the first lockdown, which was a pretty mammoth task. Maggie Nelson! Oh shit, I love Maggie Nelson. The Argonauts made me think about everything a bit differently. Bluets made me cry, too (as did the cover – designed by Suzanne Dean… what a legend. It almost glowed?). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, of course, a living legend. I recently moved to Ireland and, as is standard for most English people, had no idea about anything to do with Ireland or it’s history or the myriad ways we’ve fucked them over and continue to do so. Tried to combat that by doing lots of reading. One of those was ‘Say Nothing’ which is a non-fiction thriller by Patrick Raddon Keefe, an American journalist, about The Troubles. It floored me and I urge everyone to read it. Not only is it informative, measured, but it’s truly thrilling and devastating. About 500 pages which I devoured in two days. I still don’t profess to know anything, though, but this book is incredible.

I’d be remiss to mention the three novels which almost allowed me to feel like I could write A Common Turn (my album). They were: ‘I Love Dick’ by Chris Kraus, which made me feel like my story was my own. Subjective and flawed, and all mine to tell. ‘The Outrun’ by Amy Liptrot – was the first place I heard about Corncrakes, and ‘ The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson which I mention in my song, Corncrakes. My love of birds was prompted by ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald so I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her. – I also desperately love poetry. I did a Masters in it (after my Literature degree… I love reading), and studied and fell in love with Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Don Paterson, Jackie Kay, Simon Armitage, Sylvia Plath, Michael Hoffman, Derek Walcott. I mean, I really could go on. This is fun, thank you.

I’ve also read books that have changed me in myriad ways. These are mostly non fiction, which I only really started reading in the last ten years : Layla F. Saad, Emily Nagoski, Michael Pollan, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Jenny Odell, Roxane Gay, Julie Cameron, Patrick Raddon Keefe (as mentioned before), Elizabeth Gilbert, Nikesh Shukla (editor, but still), Brené Brown. I want to read ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ and ‘Period Power’ but so far haven’t read those.

What draws you to certain books?

Definitely their covers. I know that’s the exact opposite of the idiom, but as I have moonlighted as a book cover designer I have to be honest. A good cover can draw me in. Similarly, if the cover is done by someone whose work I really respect, like Suzanne Dean (although she’s at Vintage so it’s bound to be a classic anyway) but her series of the Bronte sisters lead me to read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre for the first times, just because I wanted those covers. Peter Mendelsund, Jon Gray, Rodrigo Corral, Chip Kidd, Sarah May Wilkinson. They also normally write very thoughtful captions under instagram posts about these books, which draws me in even further.  

I also run a book club, Cook Blub (shout out! Love you lot) and get suggestions from there as we choose books. It’s bloody glorious. I also like seeing what’s ‘in vogue’ and also the classics I would’ve liked to have read.

I like books which expand my world view, teach me things and entertain me. I’m not too arch to say I just love a good story.

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?

I’m not sure I entirely understand this question: as in a book that isn’t as popular as it should be? I don’t claim to be widely read enough to be able to say ‘ah this book hasn’t been read enough’. There is one theory book I read which was absolutely mind blowing, about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, but more broadly about biographies and their ethical quandaries and responsibilities. “The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes” by Janet Malcolm. Even if you don’t know anything about Plath and Hughes, (although admittedly a starting point of knowledge would help) this is FASCINATING. Everyone I’ve recommended it to who has read it is completely floored.

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

AB-SO-FRUITLY. And I litter my songs with books or references. When I’m reading sometimes my brain fizzes with excitement and lyrics in response. I finished Corncrakes while dipping in and out of Philip Larkin’s ‘The North Ship’, and I started it after reading about corncrakes, again, in ‘The Summer Book’. In ‘Since We Broke Up’ I name check books which had an impact on writing the album: ‘White Egrets’, ‘Conversations with Friends’, ‘The Argonauts’. I read a lot of Seamus Heaney when writing it, too, as his phrasings are as warm as he seemed to be.

What are you reading at the moment?

I finished the new Sally Rooney this morning in bed. I devoured it in a couple of days, having finished ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ earlier this week. I’ve got the Robin Wall Kimmerer new penguin environmental short. I wanted to read Braiding Sweetgrass but I’ve left it at home. I want to read the new Rachel Cusk, The Country Girls trilogy, and then more non fiction such as ‘Pleasure Activism’, which was most generously sent to me by one of my Canadian best pals, Jill. I was also reading the Passman’s “All You Need To Know About The Music Business” because I’m in the process of trying to find a manager, and also make my career a sustainable and viable one.

What is the first book you remember reading as a child? I remember mum reading me The Hobbit, and also the Harry Potter books. I also read the Artemis Fowl books and the Alex Rider series religiously. I thought Noughts and Crosses was one of the best books I’d ever read, and I read a few Jacqueline Wilson, but I’m aware my reading as a child was quite male orientated.

Have you ever found a book that you simply couldn’t finish?

Oh god yeah, all the time. Don’t let my overexcitement fool you. One of the reasons I read so much is that I scrap books all the time. I try and get a quarter or a third of the way through something, but if it doesn’t grab me after that then I’ll let it go.

This graphic really, really helped with that. It’s one of the most important things I ever saw. I’ll never be able to read everything, so why not read what I enjoy.

Would you ever re-read the same book?

Absolutely! As mentioned before, I think sometimes books are so moving, or completely disinteresting, because of one’s current state. I’ve had different reactions to the same book when reading it again, something I really love as a concept.

Have you ever identified with a character in a book? Which one and why?

I identify a little bit with almost every character I think – otherwise I think I’d find it quite hard to read if I didn’t recognise some human traits in them, and I feel like each person spans such a wide selection of human traits it’d be hard not to recognise something (if they’re well written enough, of course). Sally Rooney was an obvious one. Similarly characters in Girl, Woman, Other, The Overstory. Yeah, most of the books!

Is there an author / poet you would like to collaborate with?

I would love to work with some poets. I’m not sure what form it would take, or how or why they would want to work with me. But yeah, Paul Muldoon does some great crossover stuff, Also Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay, Sally Rooney (obvs).

I really tired myself out there. Thank you for that. I really enjoyed myself. Perhaps a podcast would’ve been a better format haha!

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‘A Common Turn’ is out now on City Slang.

Photo Credit: Aaron Dees

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