David Bowie’s Top 100 Favourite Books

David Bowie’s Top 100 Favourite Books http://wp.me/p41CQf-3R

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.

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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

Funnily enough, the curators of the exhibition at Ontario had to make custom mannequins for Bowie’s costumes from recorded measurements, due to his tiny 26.5 inch waist.
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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. 

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Capture

 ”I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human.”

 David Bowie

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. 

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