From Homer to Orwell: David Bowie's 100 favourite books revealed
See the full list, as well as our picks from the musician's favourite titles
Adam Sherwin is Media Correspondent at The Independent and an award-winning writer who specialises in covering the entertainment, broadcasting, music and popular culture industries. Previously Media writer and diarist at The Times, he was a co-founder of the Beehive City media and entertainment website. As regular contributor to BBC London 94.9 Radio station, he was named Music Business writer of the year at the awards of influential music industry site Record of the Day in 2006.
Tuesday 01 October 2013
From the Beano to Bulgakov, Billy Liar to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, the 100 books which inspired David Bowie’s artistic reincarnations have been revealed.
The titles, ranging from Viz comic’s vulgarity to The Divided Self, R.D. Laing’s exploration into the nature of mental illness, reflect the broad range of influences Bowie has absorbed throughout his chameleon career.
The list, released to mark the Canadian opening of the David Bowie Is exhibition, now on tour after a sell-out run at the Victoria and Albert Museum, also hints at the somewhat pretentious, aspiring 60s singer, who brandished a copy of Camus’s The Stranger on the Underground for effect.
The “Bowie’s 100 books” list was sent to the exhibition curators by the singer’s archivist, who keeps watch over a treasure chest of 75,000 costumes, sheet music, books and other memorabilia.
The exhibition’s audio guide features an interview with Bowie in which he says that, if he hadn’t become a musician, he “would have written novels,” referring to his songs as “little stories set to music.”
There are three Orwell titles in the top 100: Inside the Whale and Other Essays, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, which inspired a song of the same name on Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Bowie was denied the rights to stage a musical adaptation of Orwell’s dystopian vision.
Martin Amis, Peter Ackroyd, Tom Stoppard and Ian McEwan feature along with a 1950s annual of The Beano.
Academic studies of art and popular music sit alongside classic 20th century novels. The most recently published entry, The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, in which the author surveys an anti-rationalist landscape extending from pop culture to a pseudo-intellectual universe of “junk thought”.
Geoffrey Marsh, the V&A exhibition co-curator, described Bowie as a “a voracious reader” who consumes a book a day.
Mr Marsh said Bowie’s “magpie” approach to his art had always been influenced by books. “He’s fascinated with ideas and fascinated that there’s so much stuff out there that most people don’t get access to,” the curator told Canadian magazine, Quill and Quire.
He added: “There’s a great bit in the exhibition that describes when he used to travel around on the Underground as a teenager, he would always go and buy a book, something with a pretentious title on it. He’d carry it in his pocket so he’d look really cool – this was during the period of French existentialism. After a while, he actually started reading them.”
Mr Marsh, director of the V&A’s department of theatre and performance, said: “In the archive, there are massive numbers of books that he’s kept. Supposedly, when he went to the desert to make The Man Who Fell to Earth, he took a trunk of books with him.
“The idea that he sits down and reads every book cover to cover, I don’t think that’s what he does. I think he’s more interested in ideas – and what he’s really interested in is how he can rework those ideas. He is the ultimate postmodernist, sampling stuff even before postmodernism arrived. I don’t think it’s a direct connection to him. It’s much more complicated.”
The exhibition will run at the Art Gallery of Ontario for two months before travelling to Chicago, Brazil, the Netherlands and France. Bowie, who has kept public appearances to a minimum since the surprise release of his album, The Next Day, has been invited to visit the Ontario gallery.
Bowie’s 100 books
Interviews with Francis Bacon – David Sylvester – early 80s - Paperback
Billy Liar – Keith Waterhouse – early 60s - Paperback
Room at the Top – John Braine – early 60s - Paperback
On Having No Head – Douglass Harding – mid-60s - Paperback
Kafka Was The Rage – Anatole Broyard – 1995 - Hardcover
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess – mid-60’s - Paperback
City of Night – John Rechy – mid 60’s - Hardback
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz – 2007 - Hardback
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert – 1980’s - Paperback
Iliad – Homer – late-70’s - Paperback
As I lay Dying – William Faulkner – early- 80’s - Paperback
Tadanori Yokoo – Tadanori Yokoo - 1973 - Paperback
Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Döblin – late 70’s - ?
Inside the Whale and Other Essays – George Orwell – early 60’s - Paperback
Mr. Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood – late 60’s - Penguin
Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art – James A. Hall – 1975 - Hardback
David Bomberg – Richard Cork – mid-90’s - Hardback
Blast – Wyndham Lewis – 2009 - Paperback
Passing – Nella Larson – 1983 - Hardback
Beyond the Brillo Box – Arthur C. Danto – early 90’s - Hardback
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – Julian Jaynes – late-70’s - Hardback
In Bluebeard’s Castle – George Steiner – early 70’s - hardback
Hawksmoor – Peter Ackroyd – 1987 - Hardback
The Divided Self – R. D. Laing – 1964 – Paperback
The Stranger – Albert Camus – mid-60’s - Paperback
Infants of the Spring – Wallace Thurman – 1992 - Paperback
The Quest For Christa T – Christa Wolf – 1979 - Hardback
The Songlines – Bruce Chatwin – 1987 - Hardback
Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter – 1984 - Hardback
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov – early 90’s - Hardback
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark – late 60’s - Paperback
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov – late 60’s - Hardcover
Herzog – Saul Bellow – early 80’s - Hardback
Puckoon – Spike Milligan – 1973 - Paperback
Black Boy – Richard Wright – early 80’s - Hardback
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald – early 70’s - Paperback
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima – 1972 – Paperback?
Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler – early 90’s - Paperback
The Waste Land – T.S. Elliot – mid-70’s - Paperback
McTeague – Frank Norris – 2000 - Hardback
Money – Martin Amis – 1984 - Hardback
The Outsider – Colin Wilson – 1964/5 - Hardcover
Strange people – Frank Edwards – early 60’s - Paperback
English Journey – J.B. Priestley – 2011 - Hardback
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole – early 2000’s - Paperback
The Day of the Locust – Nathanael West – mid-80’s - Hardback
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell – mid-60’s - Paperback
The Life and Times of Little Richard – Charles White – 1985 - Hardback
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock – Nik Cohn – 70’s - ?
Mystery Train – Greil Marcus – 1976 - Hardback
Beano – Comic – 50’s
Raw – Graphic Comic – 80’s
White Noise – Don DeLillo – 1985 - Hardback
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom – Peter Guralnick – late 80’s - Hardback
Silence: lectures and writing – John Cage – 1975 - Hardback
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews – Edited by Malcolm Cowley – mid-60’s - Hardback
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll – Charlie Gillete – 1972 - Hardback
Octobriana and the Russian Underground – Peter Sadecky – 1973 - Hardback
The Street – Ann Petry – early 80’s - Hardback
Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon – 1995 - Hardback
Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby, Jnr – late- 60’s - Paperback
A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn – early 2000’s - Paperback
The Age of American Unreason – Susan Jacoby – 2008 - Hardback
Metropolitan Life – Fran Lebowitz – 1978 - Hardback
The Coast of Utopia – Tom Stoppard – 2003 - Hardback
The Bridge – Hart Crane – mid-2000’s - Paperback
All The Emperor’s Horses – David Kidd – Late ‘70’s – Hardback
Fingersmith – Sarah Waters – mid-2000’s - Hardback
Earthly Powers – Anthony Burgess – early 80’s - Hardback
The 42nd Parallel – John Dos Passos – 2006 - Paperback
Tales of Beatnik Glory – Ed Saunders - 1975 – Hardback
The Bird Artist – Howard Norman – 1995 – Hardback
Nowhere To Run: – The Story of Soul Music – 2006 – Hardback
Before the Deluge – Otto Friedrich – 1976 – Hardback
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson – Camille Paglia – 1990 – Hardback
The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford – 1970 - Paperback
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote – late 60’s - Paperback
Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence – 1961 - Penguin Paperback
Teenage – Jon Savage – 2007 – Hardback
Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh – early 60’s - Paperback
The Hidden Persuaders – Vance Packard – around 1962/3 – Paperback
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin – early 70’s - Paperback
Viz – comic – early 80’s
Private Eye – Satire Magazine – 60’s through 80’s
Selected Poems – Frank O’Hara – 1974 – Paperback
The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens – early 2000’s – Paperbook
Flaubert’s Parrrot – Julian Barnes – 1985 - Hardback
Maldodor – Comte de Lautréamont – late 70’s – Penguin Paperback
On The Road – Jack Kerouac – 1960 – American Paperback
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders – Lawrence Weschler – 1995 – Paperback
Zanoni – Edward Bulwer-Lytton – 1975 – Hardback
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual – Eliphas Lévi – 1975 – Paperback
The Gnostic Gospels – Elaine Pagels – 1980 – Hardback
The Leopard – Giusseppe Di Lampedusa – 2001 - Hardback
Inferno – Dante Alighieri – 1985 - Paperback
A Grave for a Dolphin – Alberto Denti di Pirajno – mid 70’s – Hardback
The Insult – Rupert Thomson - 1996 – Hardback
In Between the Sheets – Ian McEwan - 1978 – Hardback
A People’s Tragedy – Orlando Figes – 2000 - Hardback
Journey into the Whirlwind – Eugenia Ginzburg – 2002 - Paperback
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