Books That Matter to Rebecca Martin

Rebecca Martin NYC

What we long for is a voice.

Some of us long for a voice. That vehicle that assures we’re heard. That something which translates our heart’s rumble with rhythm and from it makes music and melody that moves, awakens someone else.

A true vocalist has her own signature voice that can translate beyond self-expression. Think, Billie Holiday. Think, Janis Joplin. Think, Rebecca Martin.

Let me tell you about my friend, Rebecca Martin.

Of Martin’s voice, Nate Chinen writes in The New York Times,

“She can make the same phrase seem philosophical and conversational, and about as natural as sighing.”

“A Voice That Leaps Between Genres” headlined the Times recently after the release of her and legendary bassist husband Larry Grenadier’s latest CD, Twain. She has crafted her genre-crossing voice that inspires others to do likewise.

Once with EMI, Martin records now with Sunnyside and on her own, six albums/CDs to her credit. Martin has performed at Carnegie Hall, at venues around the world, and at neighborhood venues to raise money for people and organizations she believes in.

And it’s those last venues Martin would say, if asked, are most important.

Several years ago, when a neighborhood convenience store owner in Martin’s adopted hometown of Kingston, New York, refused to stop selling knives to youth, Martin rallied her neighbors and ultimately helped them let their voices be heard to the community leaders on a variety of issues.

I asked this charming, innovative vocalist what books have mattered most to her. I’m happy to share with you the Books That Matter to Rebecca Martin. You’ll find out whose lover she might have been, what kind of books really irritate her, and more.

What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.

That’s a tough one because there are several books that I can think of immediately that have made a profound impact. However, one that comes to mind and that I suspect hasn’t come up so often in pieces such as this are May Sarton’s Journals, specifically ‘Journal of a Solitude’.

It was this book that introduced me to her world of journals where I was struck by a common theme for her at 70 and beyond. Sarton honestly wrote about her continued struggle with questions that she had had since a young girl. There were incremental breakthroughs on them due to her honest search and wonderfully rich life; however, she remained snagged by them until the very end.

This discovery encouraged me to go back to read my own journals, as I don’t do so very often. I found that I had the very same themes running  throughout and up until this very day. I hadn’t noticed that so much before.

What one detail do you still recall from that book?

What struck me was her youthfulness in later years which is commonplace. I’ve heard over and over again from those in their winter life that their bodies have slowed them down some but their perception of themselves were “that of a 30 year old.” I wonder what that feels like. At 44 and in pretty good health, my body and mind are still strong and working in tandem.

It would be thrilling (and equally daunting, too) to make it to 70 and beyond so to experience what it is that she describes here for myself.

Without a doubt, I’ll be out in the garden tending to the plants as she did if I can.

The book I imagined/imagine living inside of is,

Anais Nin’s “Delta of Venus”.   I would have been Henry Miller’s lover too given the chance.

The character I still imagine being or being friends or seeking counsel from is,

I’ve never had  fantasies of being or being friends with a character in a novel, poem or short story.  However, if I were to solicit counsel, it would surely by from Michel de Montaigne. He got me at “What do I know?”

The one book I have most often re-read is,

That might be Ibsen’s play ‘A Dolls House”. I had seen it first on stage decades ago, and it really struck me. There are societal ‘markers’ that a woman is expected to achieve.  After which, you are off the map so to speak and generally at a pretty young age.  What do you do after you achieve marriage and children?  Who are you really after you have done your ‘duty’? It sounds crass because it is. How do you get to your personal underlying power and why are women encouraged to spend their lives hiding and even hating it?

The kinds of books I am most appreciating or seeking these days are,

The same as it has always been. Journals. Short stories. Poems.  I am a fan of reflections. Of the mundane that is deeply profound and simple. I love the space and beats in between words and sentences.

The kinds of books that most irritate me are,

I mean no offense to anyone when I say that self-help books are particularly irritating to me. Most irritating that comes to mind would have to be “Conversations with God”.

I will read anything written by Herman Hesse

Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper?

I have to hold a book and turn its pages. That’s a part of the fun.

In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?

What is old will be new again.

If you had five days off to read books next week, which books would you at last read?

I would go back and re-read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and East of Eden.

Which book would you want every (child/boy/girl/woman/man/daughter/son/business person/thought leader_____ – you choose the category) to read? Why?

Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.”  I think it is one of the more insightful and gentle texts on all things that matter most.

The little-known book I most relish and champion is,

I particularly love the poetry of Derek Walcott. His collected poems from 1948 – 1984 are lovely. The piece “Volcano” has always moved me.

The book I am most embarrassed  to say I’ve ever read is Monica Lewinsky’s Story. I confess.

If I had the time, talent, grit, and support, the book I would write is, Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”

Check out more from Rebecca at


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  1. Thanks for this interview, you guys! My favorite book has to be “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx. Pulitzer Prize Winner in 1994. A true anti-hero, and an inspired story.

    1. Gary, Shipping News is a remarkable novel. Thanks for your input. Glad you enjoyed Rebecca’s interview.