A Guide to David Bowie’s Favourite Books

A glimpse into the singer’s lifelong pastime, and the texts that shaped his identity
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Bowie pictured with American writer William S. Burroughs, whose ‘cut-up method’ was adopted during the writing of Diamond Dogs

When David Bowie was 15 he read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a Beat Generation novel that inspired him to leave the cloister of London suburban life. For Bowie, the paperback novel offered more than just escapist fantasy, it could affect and change the way someone lived.

Alongside the influence of music and contemporary art on Bowie’s creative development, the songwriter drew on literature as a fertile resource of possibility and transformation. For example, the lyrics of Bowie’s 1974 album  Diamond Dogs adopted the ‘cut-up technique‘ of the experimental American writer William S. Burroughs, whereby existing passages are broken up and reassembled to create something new and original.

Reading was one of the abiding passions of David Bowie’s life. As his music career got off the ground, the singer’s book collection expanded. By the mid to late 1970s, transporting so many books from place to place became a logistical feat. In a 1983 interview with David Thomas for The Face, Bowie talks about transporting books from place to place while filming Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976):

“Do you know I took—this is very funny—when I went to see Nick Roeg for the film down in New Mexico, I took with me hundreds and hundreds of books. It was one of those things where I was (chuckles) … quite awful. I was trying to find a book for Nick to refer to on alchemy or something.”

It’s worth noting that Bowie is based in Los Angeles during this time, having achieved mainstream success with his ‘plastic soul’ LP Young Americans (1975) and becoming increasingly interested in alchemy and mysticism that would eventually inform 1976’s Station to Station. But I digress. Bowie goes on:

“And I had these cabinets—you’re quite right it was a travelling library—and they were rather like the boxes that amplifiers get packed up in, and I was going through all these books and they were pouring out all over the floor—there were just mountains of books. And Nick was sitting there watching me and he said, ‘Your great problem, David, is that you don’t read enough.’ And I didn’t even think it was funny until months later. I was so sort of gung-ho that I really thought he was serious. And I felt so depressed and I thought, ‘What else should I read?’ It didn’t occur to me at the time that it was a joke. I don’t travel with those books any more! Although I must say that because of that period I have an extraordinarily good collection of books.”

Bowie’s collection spans modern and contemporary literature, history, ancient epic poetry, interviews with prominent artists, comic books, and much more. If you are aware of other books that Bowie read or admired, or if you see any of your own favourites on the list, it would be great to hear from you. Enjoy!

Bowie’s Top 100 Books

  • Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
  • Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
  • Room At The Top by John Braine
  • On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
  • Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • City Of Night by John Rechy
  • The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Iliad by Homer
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
  • Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
  • Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
  • Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
  • David Bomberg by Richard Cork
  • Blast by Wyndham Lewis
  • Passing by Nella Larson
  • Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
  • The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
  • In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
  • Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
  • The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
  • The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  • Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
  • The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Herzog by Saul Bellow
  • Puckoon by Spike Milligan
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
  • Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot
  • McTeague by Frank Norris
  • Money by Martin Amis
  • The Outsider by Colin Wilson
  • Strange People by Frank Edwards
  • English Journey by J.B. Priestley
  • A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  • The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
  • Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
  • Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
  • Beano (comic, ’50s)
  • Raw (comic, ’80s)
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo
  • Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter GuralnickSilence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
  • Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
  • The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
  • Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
  • The Street by Ann Petry
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
  • Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.
  • A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
  • The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
  • Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
  • The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
  • The Bridge by Hart Crane
  • All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
  • The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
  • Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
  • The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
  • Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
  • Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
  • Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
  • The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  • Teenage by Jon Savage
  • Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  • The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Viz (comic, early ’80s)
  • Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s — ’80s)
  • Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
  • The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
  • Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
  • Maldodor by Comte de Lautréamont
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders by Lawrence Weschler
  • Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
  • The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
  • The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
  • Inferno by Dante Alighieri
  • A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
  • The Insult by Rupert Thomson
  • In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
  • A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
  • Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

Recommended Reads

  • The wonderful folks over at Bowie Wonderworld have a complete breakdown of every title on the list, which is well worth a look. [Read]
  • Martin Chilton’s ‘David Bowie: the man who loved books’ for The Telegraph offers some interesting quotes and insights into the singer’s reading habits. [Read]

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