k-os: 10 books that shaped my life
k-os doesn't waste his time on dumb books. "If I'm not looking up from it and going 'wow,' there's no point in reading it," says the hip-hop artist, whose new album, Can't Fly Without Gravity, contains a track with the line "You've read every book on your shelf/You know every single word by heart."
Here, k-os breaks down his life in books — from the spiritual tome that got hurled at him to the cookbook with spinach stains all over it.
The book every awkward high school kid should read
I pined over this girl in high school. Later on we dated, and towards the end of our relationship she started to get annoyed with me. One day she turned to me and said, "You know what? You care so much about what people think and you don't even know what you think." And she threw this book at me. I credit her with shifting my mind and my consciousness. If I could have had The First and Last Freedom in Grade 9 - just when I was always reacting to what people would think of me - who knows what else I would have been able to accomplish? The book taught me to ask, why are you trying so hard to be anything when you already are somebody - you're you? As you grow up, you only stand out if you hold on to the difference in you.
The book that opened his mind on religion
Karen Armstrong was a huge influence on me. This book allowed me to see that there's a connection between all the religions, rather than one religion in particular having the ownership of the truth. And I needed to hear that given the way I was raised with such a Christian ideal. Growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, I followed a lot of Jewish traditions, and I have cousins who are Muslim. Armstrong's book is what finally brought everything together for me.
The comic that made him a hip-hop vigilante
My dad used to work for an airline, and we would go on free trips to Montreal where I'd see my first cousin, the musician Gregory Charles. He always had so many comic books and he would just be like, "You want these?" I smuggled them home in my suitcase and kept them as long as I could, but eventually my parents confiscated them. I think I gravitated toward Batman because he was a regular dude. He didn't have a superpower. He felt like he had to do something about a situation and created these amazing tools to help him. I learned later that I apparently lived for the Batman show as a baby. I'd be in my crib just tripping out watching it. I think me wanting to be a hip-hop vigilante comes from Batman. I'm not some guy in shiny red shorts like Superman.
The book that got through to his dad
I was super inspired by The Prophet. When I was younger, my dad was dead set against me doing music. And every time I worked on music in my basement he'd try to get me to stop. I came across this Gibran poem that said that parents are the bow and children are the arrow. And wherever your children go, you cannot go. I showed my dad that poem, and he never bothered me again after that. I credit Kahlil Gibran for that. He was the guy who reached my father.
The cookbook that helps him be a boss vegetarian
This Jamie Oliver book was given to me by my record company as part of a Christmas gift bag. Those bags are usually full of crap, but I held on to this book. I love Jamie Oliver because even though his books aren't strictly vegetarian, he always has amazing and simple vegetarian stuff. There's a spinach soup in this book that blew my mind.
The book he hated that everyone else loved
A lot of people in the music industry were reading The 48 Laws of Power right around the time I got my first record deal. Everywhere I turned, people had this book. And every time I opened the book and started reading it, it would rub me the wrong way. Yet I was also fascinated by it. The idea that you could read this book and then "win life" is so interesting to me, because the journey of life is the point of it. I couldn't believe that people were reading it thinking that these laws would make them succeed. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I think of it. It was like a Pandora's box. We want the genie to appear and tell us how this thing called power works.
His earliest CanCon
I had this great teacher in Grade 4 named Mr. Adair, and he introduced me to Gordan Korman's Macdonald Hall series. Surprisingly, my mom let me read them. I've never been a big fiction kind of guy, but the stories about these two troublemakers were so funny. They captured my imagination, and it was such a thrill to read something that I didn't have to read.
The book that made him see women differently
Betty Friedan really helped me see life through a lens I'll never naturally be able to see through, and that is through the stereotypes women have come against historically in North America. This is of course written in particular about white women in the 1950s. The premise of the book was about a woman's place in society at the time, and I found it so interesting, because it was an experience I had never lived through myself.
The scariest book he's ever read
Ayn Rand is a real piece of work. I saw an interview with her years ago on The Phil Donahue Show and was like, "Who is this person?" Her ideas about selfishness are really problematic, but she was so smart and eloquent. The Fountainhead really got under my skin. She scares me, but she's smart too. It's not my thinking, but there's something there.
His personal roadmap
The Tao Te Ching is with me every single day. I have this book on me at all times. I'm really a harvester of spiritual knowledge. I love books that put me in my place. Any time I'm interested in a book that's outside of the Tao, I find that it actually leads back to the Tao.