The singer-songwriter recommends three favorites.
Long before her blockbuster album, A Few Small Repairs, went platinum and the soaring single “Sunny Came Home” won a Grammy for Song of the Year, Shawn Colvin was a ten-year-old girl in South Dakota learning to play the guitar. She documents her rise from inauspicious beginnings to the top of the charts in her new memoir, Diamond in the Rough. This week, she points us to three classics that capture a melancholy worldview.
By Sylvia Plath
“Having suffered from depression much of my life, at times suicidally so, I have never read a novel that so agonizingly and accurately describes the disease for me. Plath writes in a flat voice, from a distorted almost surreal core. This for me is the essence of depression — a disorientation of the heart and mind so profound as to be unbearable. She writes, ‘To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.’ And, ‘How did I know that someday — at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere — the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?’ Having ever been terrorized by this beast, one is always looking over his or her shoulder.”
By Mark Twain
“I first tried to find the passage in Huck Finn that reminded me most of Huck’s bliss on the river one evening. It reminds me so much of moments in my own childhood in South Dakota, lying on the cool grass looking at the stars in the night sky in my own world. And all was well. The passage I found that caught my attention, though, was one in which Huck is woefully out of his element at the widow Douglas’ house. He says, ‘…I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead.’ I recognize this, too, from my childhood. And Huck’s vernacular throughout the book endears him to me completely, along with the purity and simplicity of his soul.”
By Ernest Hemingway
“One of my favorite themes — doomed love. The protagonist, Jake Barnes, has suffered an injury during the war which has rendered him impotent. Let’s just start there. “Don’t get drunk, Jake,” implores the love of his life, Lady Brett, but readers can only ask themselves, well, why shouldn’t he? I’m trying to resist my desire to quote from yet another one of my favorite books, but again the vernacular is part of what makes me love the book. ‘You have hell’s own amount of drag with the concierge…’ — ‘Don’t talk rot…’ — ‘Alright, you chaps…’ The characters are all rather unscrupulous and lost, but Hemingway makes them lovable to me and endlessly, dryly humorous. Possibly because they are usually drunk. The manuscript is succinct. There’s no fat. Perfect.”