A Summer Reading List From Lucy Dacus—Who Isn’t Just Another Indie-Rock Chick

Singer-songwriter and Virginia native Lucy Dacus considers herself more of a writer than a musician. “I’ve never taken music classes,” the 22-year-old tells me on the phone from the U.K., where she’s touring for her sophomore album, Historian. “I’ve never felt like the title of musician has been something that I’ve earned.” You wouldn’t know that from the buzz around Historian and Dacus, nor from the critical acclaim she received when the album dropped in March. But it’s true that Dacus almost accidentally came to her music career, as a film major who assisted a friend on a college music project that became No Burden, her 2015 debut. Now Dacus is a headlining act, a member of a crop of indie-rock women who are making confessional lyrics, guitar-driven instrumentation, and melancholy-but-okay-with-it vibes incredibly popular, despite the intimacy of their sound.

She might not have taken any music classes, but Dacus wrote for years before turning her words into songs, which is why we asked her to contribute a summer reading list instead of a playlist (books often show up on her Instagram feed). She reads more than she listens to music on the road, because “listening to music sometimes feels like I’m still doing my job,” Dacus says. “The lifestyle in the van is the same every day, and that’s the majority of your waking hours, like in a van on highways that are nondescript. So being able to read and enter a new space, and interact with new people and places, that’s a huge respite for me.”

As for summer, she prefers fiction: “There’s definitely something that feels more appropriate to summer reading in fiction [than nonfiction], because you’re kind of getting outside of whatever your world is.” But with titles like The God of Small Things and Dune (“The nerdiest book ever,” she says), her list isn’t exactly filled with beach reads. “The books aren’t necessarily light,” according to her, “but I think they have sort of a humidity to them. They are either set in a place that feels kind of summery, or they have an intense, heated feeling, or there is really lush, verdant language.” Even the way she talks about books—“I think of them in terms of hot and cold. Saying a book feels cold sounds bad but like, you know, it’s like, that book’s wearing a sweater, these books are sweating”—echoes the lyrics in her sincere, clever songs.

Dacus is a Richmond native (she’s inspired by fellow Southerner Flannery O’Connor), and recently purchased her first home there. There’s a library, of course, to fill with the results of her secondhand-bookstore addiction, a touring vice I tell her is probably a lot better than others one could develop. In France, she recently had to stop herself from heading to the historic Shakespeare and Co., and she’s a frequent visitor to Chop Suey in Richmond’s Carytown neighborhood. “Part of me is like, just get a Kindle,” she concedes. “But there’s something about letting a book take up space in your life, reminding me of what it contains and what it means to me. Maybe that’s kind of sentimental, but it’s actually helpful for me to like pay reverence to the words that have encouraged me, and helped me to find something I am.”

Who Dacus is, however, is clearly still up in the air, as much as critics who might like to define her in terms of her peers, and by this moment in indie music. Would she write a book, I ask? Maybe; she finds herself “gravitating to other avenues that are unknown,” with a mentality that “the thing I’ve never done is my favorite thing to do.”

I’m also curious about how she feels being grouped among other women in rock, some of whom are her friends, the answer is mixed: “I’m flattered to be considered a contemporary of these artists,” she says. “But it’s a huge danger to look at women as a trope. I think that’s so ridiculous. You know, like, ‘Oh, women are in style right now.’ Half the world is women, and there have been so many women before who’ve made incredible music.” As for those other women, “Julien [Baker]’s music is amazing,” she says, “but I think mine is very different. People compare me to Courtney Barnett and I really love her, but I think our music’s really different. I think my music is much different than Angel Olsen’s music.” Bottom line: She’s grateful, but a little over it. “I think it’s great that people are noticing that their favorite music right now is made by women, but I just wish it wasn’t a surprise. Notice it, take it in, don’t be surprised, and just like, listen to the music that you like. The fact that we’re women is kind of the most boring that I could think of.” Is there any better way to sum up how it feels to be a chick right now, in rock or otherwise?

Below are Lucy Dacus’s seven favorite books for summer reading, including newer titles from the likes of Miranda July, and classics like the aforementioned sci-fi phenomenon Dune. “Maybe I’m coming off as a huge nerd in this interview” she worried over the phone; but, she concluded, “it wouldn’t be untrue.”

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Simon & Schuster</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

1. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
One of my favorite short story books of all time. Miranda July is uniquely capable of extending understanding to the freak within us all. Her characters are weird, real, broken, and vibrant.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of NYRB Classics</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of NYRB Classics

2. Young Once by Patrick Modiano
The most French book I’ve ever read. It’s a thriller that isn’t very thrilling, if that makes sense. Yet I loved it. It’s slow-moving and graceful with a bit of ennui throughout. Peaceful pacing fits with warm-weather lazy days.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Soft Skull Press</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of Soft Skull Press

3. Cool for You by Eileen Myles
Though the book is a novel, it reads like a memoir. It’s passionate and then plain, poetic and then personal. Her writing style is very accessible to me. I don’t know if that says more about me or her.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins

4. Think on These Things by Krishnamurti
Solace for the soul. One of the wisest people I have been lucky enough to read. I’ve never been into self-help, but reading this did feel like helping myself. A great summer read if you’re willing to read a paragraph, let your mind ruminate on it for an hour, and then move on to the next paragraph.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Random House</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of Random House

5. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This is a beautiful, complex, captivating story and setting. Can you describe a book as humid? It’s thick with color and feeling, love and confusion.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Random House</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

6. Dune by Frank Herbert
Definitely the nerdiest book I’ve ever read, but it’s such a complete world and intriguing plot. For fans of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Plus it’s based in the desert, so I imagine it would be a great beach read. You’ll never think of water the same way.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Random House</cite>
Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

7. Tenth of December by George Saunders
Another fantastic short story book. Saunders balances humor and horror in a way that leaves you with lingering questions about the nature of humanity.

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