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Singer-songwriter and airport book buyer

Patty Larkin: A little poetry gets her in the musical mood

Singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Patty Larkin can always tell when she’s gearing up for a new album. The Truro resident begins to read a lot, especially poetry. She plays at the Museum of Fine Arts at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday and Aug. 9 at Wellfleet’s First Congregational Church.

BOOKS: What have you read recently and really liked?

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LARKIN: “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson. It is a wonderful story with a surprise ending that works. I don’t know why I didn’t read it when it came out. I recently saw it in an airport and grabbed it.

BOOKS: Is that how you buy a lot of your books?

LARKIN: Yes. I go in and ask the clerks what they like. One time at Logan I had this guy yelling at me, “You have not read Moby-Dick?” I was so embarrassed. So asking can backfire on you.

BOOKS: How would you describe your taste?

LARKIN: I typically like a little bit of history with my fiction. I’m a big fan of Geraldine Brooks and Ann Patchett. I just finished Brooks’s “People of the Book,” which I liked. Of Patchett’s, I like “The Magician’s Assistant” and “Bel Canto.” I thought that was a good story though I was disappointed in the ending.

BOOKS: Do you read nonfiction?

LARKIN: I do. I’ve been dipping into “1491” by Charles Mann recently. I keep a copy of Thoreau’s “Cape Cod” handy and page through it looking for places I know. I love reading about writing, like Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.”

BOOKS: Which poets do you like to read?

LARKIN: I have “The Best of It,” by Kay Ryan. I don’t like to have to work too hard with poetry. You can glide along to her poems, and then you go back and they get deeper. I wrote a song to one of her poems, which is my current favorite to play for myself.

BOOKS: How did you end up as an English major?

LARKIN: When I started at the University of Oregon, I thought I should do sociology. But I loved reading. It seemed like a beautiful way to spend your time. My parents told me to get a teaching certificate. After graduation, I student-taught in Eugene, and I liked it. But the whole discipline thing wasn’t a strong point for me. In the teacher’s library, I discovered a book on how to play jazz guitar. That book inspired me to study guitar and apply myself harder to my music.

BOOKS: Were you always a big reader?

LARKIN: It’s something I’ve grown to love because when traveling it becomes your companion. On a plane it makes the time go much faster, more so than listening to music. I just had to drive down to New Jersey and back so I got five books on CD and just kept popping them in, including “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje. I was sorry to get to the gig because I didn’t want to quit listening. Years ago when my manager and I drove to the Midwest we played “Jane Eyre” on CD. I had to stop in Ann Arbor for a bookstore showcase. We could barely finish the show fast enough to get back in the car and back to Jane.

BOOKS: Who among your musician friends are big readers?

LARKIN: Cheryl Wheeler is a huge reader. So are Chris Smither and Peter Mulvey, who is always reading poetry. John Gorka is always reading about JFK or the mafia.

BOOKS: Do you read about other musicians?

LARKIN: For years I have had Joe Klein’s “Woody Guthrie,” which I only started reading this summer and like. I have a lot of Peter Guralnick’s books, his Elvis Presley biography, “Last Train to Memphis,” and his book on American roots music, “Lost Highway.” I started the Bob Dylan autobiography but got a little tired of it. You are never sure what’s true and what isn’t.

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