Clues frontman Alden Penner reads a lot of books. And though he doesn't necessarily finish them all, the ex-Unicorns man says a wide variety of writing influenced the songs on Clues' self-titled debut. "[A] book I read recently was a history of the Mennonites in the Ukraine, because part of my background is Mennonite," Penner tells SPIN.com. "One of the Clues songs, 'A Perfect Fit,' throws a line around about the two hundred year history of the Mennonites in the Ukraine who are known as a migratory people who were always displaced."
One book he's actually read cover-to-cover in recent months is Benjamin Hoff's beloved philosophical exploration The Tao of Pooh, which applies the principles of Taoism to the characters of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh in a simple, universal way. But like Penner's reading list, our literary discussion with him veers through several books that, collectively, remind us that reading doesn't have to involve thick novels to be fulfilling.
How did you discover The Tao of Pooh?
It was actually a Christmas gift I received in the mail. I got a package of books from a friend of mine. I don't want to name drop, but it's Michael Cera. He sent me this nice little package of books, and this was the first one I got through. A book is a good gift. It's something more to share than just an object, of course. It's a mine of gems and we all find different ones within it.
What gems did you find?
The tale is about the simplicity of being happy and being who you are. It's about rediscovering this character, Winnie-the-Pooh, who's often perceived in popular culture as something for children, and transforming his way of being into a wise way of existing in the world. Its simplicity was what really sold it for me. When you're saturated with a lot of stuff, it's nice to read something like this that isn't really heavy and complicated.
Were you a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh as a kid?
Not in a big way. It's this universal character, though. Did I have a relationship with Winnie-the-Pooh? I think everyone does, in a sense.
Is this the sort of book you normally read?
Not so much. Lately I've been reading a lot of biographies. I also have a bad habit of not finishing books, so I have all these fragments. That's representative of how we come away from books anyway. It's not about completing the books from start to finish. We come away with vignettes rather than something sequential.
Whose biography have you read recently?
Oscar Wilde. I don't really know his literature all that well, mostly just his quotes, but I find reading about his life almost more fascinating. I read a bit of Chopin's biography as well. Again, I don't know Chopin's music all that well, but I really take to learning about the lives of people who are venerated by our culture. I haven't done much studying beyond high school so I read books as a way of teaching myself.
How many books do you read at once?
Probably three or four, plus ten that are in the parentheses. It's like visiting friends. You spend a lot of time with certain friends and others you see less often. You take what you need. You drink from the well according to your thirst. I think it's good to be surrounded by a bunch of different things and mix them all together. Sometimes it's confusing and sometimes it's revelatory.
Listen: Clues, "Remember Severed Head" (DOWNLOAD)