David Bowie is a voracious book reader, reportedly reading at least one book per day. As a part of a new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, he has lovingly selected his 100 favourite books of all time.
According to the exhibition’s curator Geoffrey Marsh, Bowie has an ”interest in the life of the mind and its power to transcend the rigid class barriers of postwar England, the era where Bowie honed the early versions of his musical and cultural persona”.
It’s a fascinating cultural miscellany and shows his amazing depth and breadth of imagination, creativity and intellect.
This is a comprehensive reading list for anybody with a creative soul. Does the idea of climbing into the mind of David Bowie, like a giant armchair in front of a fire, appeal to you? It’s one way to get some metaphysical closeness with a great icon.
Commencing countdown. Engines on. Check ignition and may God’s love be with you…
The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, 2008
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2007
The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard, 2007
Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage, 2007
Fingersmith, Sarah Waters, 2002
The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens, 2001
The Bird Artist, Howard Norman, 1994
This novel is about the safety of the known versus the attraction of the unknown, the healing effect of creative expression, and the transfiguring potential of the human heart. It certainly sounds like Bowie’s kind of book!
The Insult, Rupert Thomson, 1996
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon, 1995
Kafka Was The Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard, 1993
Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr. , 1966
A cult classic with a brusque and harsh style of writing. It depicts lower class Brooklyn during the 50’s. It was one of the first novels to show many taboo subjects like homosexuality, transvestites and drug use in an unadulterated way. It was actually banned in the UK for a while. These themes of street smart toughness and sassy androgyny are reminiscent of early Bowie.
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler, 1997
A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes, 1997
Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Arthur C. Danto, 1992
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia, 1990
David Bomberg, Richard Cork, 1988
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Peter Guralnick, 1986
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd, 1985
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin, 1986
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin is about Aboriginal Australian culture and the existence of songs that act as geographical markers for sacred areas in Australia. Parallels can be drawn to Bowie’s music video for Let’s Dance. In the video Bowie plays with his band while watching an Aboriginal couple’s struggles against western imperialism. Bowie himself has stated that ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘China Girl’ are overt statements against racism.
Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music, Gerri Hirshey, 1984
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter, 1984
Money, Martin Amis, 1984
White Noise, Don DeLillo, 1984
Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes, 1984
The Life and Times of Little Richard, Charles White, 1984
A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, 1980
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980
Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, 1980
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler, 1980
Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess, 1980
Raw (a ‘graphix magazine’) 1980-91
Viz (magazine) 1979 –
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, 1979
Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz, 1978
In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan, 1978
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed. Malcolm Cowley, 1977
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, 1976
Tales of Beatnik Glory, Ed Saunders, 1975
Mystery Train, Greil Marcus, 1975
Selected Poems, Frank O’Hara, 1974
Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, Otto Friedrich, 1972
Lots of these books are about Berlin and the Weimar Republic before WWII. Bowie recorded his Berlin Trilogy at Hansa, a studio that overlooked the Berlin wall. It’s still in operation now and other musicians like Depeche Mode and Nick Cave have recorded there as well.
In Bluebeard’s Castle : Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner, 1971
Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky, 1971
The Quest For Christa T, Christa Wolf, 1968
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillete, 1970
On the album ‘Diamond Dogs’ Bowie plays almost every instrument, including the famous guitar riff on ‘Rebel Rebel’.
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn, 1968
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967
Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg, 1967
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1965
City of Night, John Rechy, 1965
Herzog, Saul Bellow, 1964
Puckoon, Spike Milligan, 1963
The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford, 1963
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, Yukio Mishima, 1963
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin, 1963
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962
This novel was a massive inspiration for the 1977 album Low.
Inside the Whale and Other Essays, George Orwell, 1962
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark, 1961
Private Eye (magazine) 1961 –
On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, Douglas Harding, 1961
Silence: Lectures and Writing, John Cage, 1961
Strange People, Frank Edwards, 1961
The Divided Self, R. D. Laing, 1960
This is a book about creativity, self and other, and psychology. This may have inspired Bowie’s various alter egos like Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, Tao Jones, Halloween Jack, and John Merrick.
The Leopard, Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, 1958
On The Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957
All The Emperor’s Horses, David Kidd,1960
Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse, 1959
Billy Liar is a post-war English novel about a working class boy living in Yorkshire. He dreams of bigger and better life as a comedy writer in the city. It’s not hard to draw parallels with Bowie’s own early life.
The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard, 1957
Room at the Top, John Braine, 1957
A Grave for a Dolphin, Alberto Denti di Pirajno, 1956
The Outsider, Colin Wilson, 1956
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 1948
Bowie was inspired by the eponymous novel by George Orwell for his song. He also penned musical based on this book that has never seen the light of day.
The Street, Ann Petry, 1946
Black Boy, Richard Wright, 1945
The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker, 1944
The Outsider, Albert Camus, 1942
The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West, 1939
The Beano, (comic) 1938 –
The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell, 1937
Mr. Norris Changes Trains, Christopher Isherwood, 1935
English Journey, J.B. Priestley, 1934
Infants of the Spring, Wallace Thurman, 1932
The Bridge, Hart Crane, 1930
Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh, 1930
As I lay Dying, William Faulkner, 1930
The 42nd Parallel, John Dos Passos, 1930
Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Döblin, 1929
Passing, Nella Larsen, 1929
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence, 1928
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot, 1922
BLAST, ed. Wyndham Lewis, 1914-15
McTeague, Frank Norris, 1899
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual, Eliphas Lévi, 1896
At the height of his cocaine psychosis, Bowie was so paranoid that he allegedly stored his own urine in the fridge in case a wizard stole it.
Les Chants de Maldoror, Lautréamont, 1869
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, 1856
Zanoni, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1842
Inferno, from the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, about 1308-1321
The Iliad, Homer, about 800 BC
”I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human.”
We hope that you’ve found some reading inspiration.If you’ve enjoyed this glimpse at Bowie’s inner life through his favourite books, let us know below.