David Bowie’s Favourite Books

Fans of David Bowie think of the musician, but as he admitted in infamous, often Playboy, interviews he never considered himself a musician as much as an artist, entertainer, actor.
What made him great was collaboration (Mick Ronson, Nile Rodgers, Brian Eno, Earl Slick) and his lyricism, his ever-pushing desire to be new. His songwriting and personae are what made the difference between the self-titled, underwhelming, David Bowie album of 1967 and his later works of genius.

Words made him and the inspirations are traceable in his songs and interviews, from all the readings he did. That is why his book list, curated by curator of the David Bowie is exhibit of years ago, amazes; that, and the zeitgeist the selection provides of the second half of the 20th century. Of the 42 of a 100 I have read, every one has been worthwhile, mind expanding and pleasurable. David Bowie shelves pile up almost like a shrine, a shrine I justify by the Bowie Reading Challenge–how many have you read? How many will you? Thankfully curiosity has libraries, but unthankfully I yearn to own all the books he did.

Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)

The Street, Ann Petry (1946)

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

The Outsider, Colin Wilson (1956)

Grave for a Dolphin, Alberto Denti di Pirajno (1956)
A Grave for a Dolphin
Room at the Top, John Braine (1957)

The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard (1957)

On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)

The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)

All the Emperor’s Horses, David Kidd (1960)

The Divided Self, RD Laing (1960)

On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, Douglas Harding (1961)

Strange People, Frank Edwards (1961)

Silence: Lectures and Writing, John Cage (1961)

Private Eye, magazine (1961 –)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark (1961)

Inside the Whale and Other Essays, George Orwell (1962)

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)

Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963-12-30)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea, Yukio Mishima (1963)

The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford (1963)

Puckoon, Spike Milligan (1963)

Herzog, Saul Bellow (1964)

City of Night, John Rechy (1965)

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1965)

Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr (1966)

Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg (1967)

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn (1968)

The Quest for Christa T, Christa Wolf (1968)

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillett(1970)

Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner (1971)

Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky (1971)

Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, Otto Friedrich (1972)

Selected Poems, Frank O’Hara (1974)

Mystery Train, Greil Marcus (1975)

Tales of Beatnik Glory, Ed Saunders (1975)

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes (1976)

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed Malcolm Cowley (1977)
In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan (1978)

Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz (1978)

The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (1979)

Viz, magazine (1979 –)
Raw, a “graphix magazine” (1980-91)
Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess (1980)

Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1980)

Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester (1980)

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)

A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn (1980)

The Life and Times of Little Richard, Charles White (1984)

Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes (1984)

White Noise, Don DeLillo (1984)

Money, Martin Amis (1984)

Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter (1984)

Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, Gerri Hirshey (1984)

Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd (1985)

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Peter Guralnick (1986)

The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin

David Bomberg, Richard Cork (1988)

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia (1990)

Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Arthur C Danto (1992)

Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard (1993)

The Bird Artist, Howard Norman (1994)

Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon (1995)

The Insult, Rupert Thomson (1996)

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes (1997)

Mr Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler (1997)

The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens (2001)

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters (2002)

Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage (2007)

The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard (2007)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2007)

The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby (2008)

Comics, painter books, O’Hara’s poetry, song lyrics, writer interviews, political history, vague psychology, LGBTQ+ historical fiction, Japanese folk tales, cultural criticism, art criticism, soul music biographies; all feature. Curiously, no Sontag, no Stanislavsky, and no books maturer than 1945, make his cut. As with so much of – “the mask is the face” – these choices reflect a deliberate desire to impress variety and novelty; if his album selections are anything to go by these choices are eclectic bravado, and reflect only part of his intellectual diet. A part that probably suggests more whole than there really is–1984, A Clockwork Orange, are as expectantly inevitable as The Beatles or Nirvana are in album lists.

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