Sure, there are loads of literate rock stars out there – artists who always seem to bring along a stack of tomes on tour, and who let said literature freely influence their lyrics and even melodies. But very few feel compelled to not only devour book after intriguing book, but actually devote an entire column on their website to regularly review their current favorites. Then again, Canadian twin sister act Tegan And Sara is no ordinary duo. Over a 17-year career, these clever Calgary kittens have delivered nothing but shrewd wordplay and honest, often metaphorical observations in definitive efforts like 2007’s The Con and Sainthood in 2009. It seems only natural, then, that guitarist/vocalist Sara Keirsten Quin launch her own blog – SKQ Reads – where she dissects her pet pastime at length.
Now, it’s a popular part of the band’s online presence. “I just put it up there because we are asked so frequently what we’re reading, which I think is adorable,” Sara exclaims. “So I just make a note to try to write something every couple of months so that people will have a resource – people who are bookworms who just want to know what we read.” And be prepared for just about anything, genre-wise, the 32-year-old adds. When it comes to lit, the sisters have no finicky rules.
One week will find the Quins devouring Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (“Love it! Soooo good!” Sara purrs), the next they’ll be plowing through Gillian Flynn’s wicked Gone Girl, the page-turning bestseller about a regular-Joe husband who suddenly discovers that his wife has disappeared without a trace. “I’m a bit of a snob, so Gone Girl wasn’t totally on my radar,” Sara admits. “But my girlfriend read it, and she just acted so crazy the entire time she was reading it that I was like, ‘I’m going to pick it up, and I’m going to get through it.’ And then I was totally addicted. It’s just crazy.”
Other Quin recommendations include disparate authors like Martin Amis, Tina Fey, Jonathan Franzen, and Joyce Carol Oates. Plus biographies of fascinating personalities like film critic Pauline Kael. “It’s funny, in recent years I’ve moved away from fiction because I’m just more into educating myself,” says the composer who took some poetic license of her own on the duo’s seventh release, Heartthrob – essentially a breakup album written without either Quin mired in a crumbling relationship. (Sara is still with her girlfriend of two years; Tegan has been in a happy coupling with her missus for almost five years now.) “And I already feel like I live in a bit of a daze, so I don’t need anything to take me further away from my real life, so if anything, it’s helping me stay more focused and connected to the world when I’m reading stuff that’s much more critically-based.”
What, in particular, floats the songwriter’s boat in that department? Believe it or not, she swears, lots of sports non-fiction. “I’m looking for parallels and inspiration around other people who’ve lived non-traditional lifestyles, like athletes or journalists, people who travel internationally. I find a lot of inspiration in that stuff. There were two books that I read back-to-back that I got really obsessed with – Norman Mailer’s The Fight and Andre Agassi’s memoir. And those two books are so completely different, but I was really struck by Norman Mailer’s descriptions of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s training regimens, and the isolation and the hoopla around their fight. And then Andre Agassi’s descriptions of his father and the brutal training and how much he absolutely despised tennis.
“And I drew a parallel with music,” Sara continues. “Just how you’re always training and you never feel like you’ve arrived at the place where you feel completely in control. There was also something specifically about tennis and boxing, where I got really obsessed with this idea that Tegan and I need each other almost as opponents, and not teammates. And that there’s something really beautiful in that connection. Because there’s something about always trying to frame ourselves in this really positive ‘we’re in it together and we’re a team!’ stuff that’s never felt completely accurate. But there was also this part of me that didn’t want to give people this bait, like, ‘Yes, we are competitive,’ or ‘Yes, we fight.’ Because I felt like people were sort of scandalizing this really intimate relationship that we have. And there is so much that’s positive to it, because we accomplish so much having that friction and tension.”
Forbidden from addressing the fans, your coach, even the officials, Agassi describes an average match on the tennis court as something akin to solitary confinement – except with a partner. “And there’s something incredibly isolating about that,” Sara reckons. “And then this intimate bond is formed with the other player, because you need them. And the better they play, the better you play, and in some strange way, they are your only connection. And I really felt like I could relate to that with Tegan.”
– Tom Lanham
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