To most people that seems to mean pop - ah, pop. I was never really a fan, except maybe of Marc Almond in the early 'eighties when he was still in Soft Cell and I was an adolescent Ur-Drama Queen with a feeling that I should have long black hair and jewellery everywhere. I knew a camp period was going to have to come so I decided to get it over with and MA provided my soundtrack - flailing around in the Sugar House to the thump of Bedsitter ... "mother thinks I'm getting better" we all howled. My liking for intelligent lyrics and those with a slightly (or even overt) post-modern awareness of the history and true uses of popular music eventually led me (ineluctably) to the work of Mr Stephin Merritt. Mr Merritt is a god, and his principal vehicle The Magnetic Fields are UNQUESTIONABLY the Best Band in The World. I will very probably kill and eat anyone that seriously disputes this statement.
I also like Jaques Brel, even when I cannot understand him, I can feel his intent.
Other dead musicians are another matter. Many things written between 800 and 1820 appeal to me in some way. Especially Handel, another god. His ability to go almost anywhere and promptly turn out examples of the local prevailing styles and forms - but in perfected and improved states - is the very definition of an artist I think. Much as with Merritt, the recognition and deployment of the awareness that art is essentially technique + talent is what made him great. No Wromantic nonsense here thank you very much.
The contemplative (and exceedingly complex) works of the underrated religious houses of early europe are well worth the effort too - Hildegard of Bingen is pretty well known nowadays (as well known as a 12th century German Abbess is likely to be anyway) though Perotinus Magnus and the Schola of Notre Dame are not - there is a strange sort of link between them and Modern types like Michael Nyman and Philip Glass. Must be the repetition and rhythm...
Among poets the Earl of Rochester is a hero - here is some of his stuff, an ongoing project of mine. Americans (in particular) should be warned, some of it is extremely filthy and all the better for that... I have penned a few trifles myself, usually when something annoys me - though I claim no merit for them whatsoever. Then there is Philip Larkin, the finest english language poets of the last few centuries. Pope, Dryden and the Metaphysicals - and the ineffable Sonneteer himself.
I also admire John Aubrey, those who know me will recognise a few similarities...
History books usually get a look in - the current one was Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory (bit of a curate's egg if you ask me, I cannot recommend too highly his Citizens though - a superb book).Those on the go as of early 1999 are: Richard Fletcher's The Conversion of Europe 371-1386, Lisa Jardine's Worldy Goods - A New History of the Renaissance, Zoe Oldenbourg's Massacres at Montsegur and Joseph Bergin's biography of Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld. Of course the more observant amongst you will have noticed that it is not early 1999 any more, so here is the early 2000 version... On the go as of early 2000 are the Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, which is the most amusing, bitchy, snobbish, gossipy account of Versailles in the reign of Louis XIV and XV and which, given there are three dense volumes of it, will take me a while to get through.
The even more observant will notice that it is now 2011 - and no-one reads anymore.
The read-in-the-toilet book is, as always, The Diary of Samuel Pepys (thanks to Ben I now have the whole thing in 11 volumes). Lighter matters include Pratchett of course (a very wise writer, not a lightweight in any way, as the shallow people think he is). There are revisits to Jane Austen every now and then, plus slow progress through Trollope's Barchester Chronicles. It should by now be no surprise to know that I am a great fan of the Classical Authors, especially Herodotos, Aristophanes, Martial and Juvenal. Many of their surviving texts can be found at the Tech Classics Archive.