David Bowie Is Happening Now – artist reveals his favourite 100 books

Posted on 2 October 2013
By Pierce King
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British music icon David Bowie has released a list of his favourite books and his personal library is filled with the high-brow delights you would expect.

But the Ziggy Stardust legend also shows off his sense of humour – selecting the brilliant, but puerile adult comic Viz, home to characters such as Sid The Sexist, The Fat Slags and Buster Gonad.

He also recommended a Purple Revolver funny favourite, Spike Milligan’s first and only novel – Puckoon, published in 1963.

Bowie released the list to promote the wildly successful David Bowie Is retrospective which has now moved to Toronto, Canada – after spending five months at London’s V&A Museum.

Speaking before the opening, curator Geoffrey Marsh drew special attention to the fact that the man born David Robert Jones is a “voracious reader”, who is known to read up to “a book a day”.

The list provides a fascinating insight into the intellectual mind of one of Britain’s enduring pop icons, revealing a broad interest with a great number of diverse themes and genres.

Aside from reading Viz magazine, if there was any doubt about the seriousness of the man behind the Berlin Trilogy, then it will be dispelled by his selections.

Fiction plays an important part in the chronological list, with authors ranging from the Russian Mikhail Bulgakov, through George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, up to contemporary American novelists such as Michael Chabon and Junot Díaz.

Psychology, theatre, history, autobiography, travel writing, comics and poetry all feature, too, as well as several books on music. Among these are a book of essays by the avant-garde composer, John Cage, and Nowhere To Run, Gerri Hirshey’s story of soul music.

Unsurprisingly for an artist whose recording career started in 1967, the sixties is the best represented decade in terms of numbers.

The Englishman’s interest in the counterculture of that decade is evidenced by books such as Hubert Selby Junior’s Last Exit to Brooklyn and Anatole Broyard’s memoir about life in Greenwich Village.

David Bowie’s Top 100 Must Read Books:

The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, 2008
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz, 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
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler, 1997
A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes, 1997
The Insult, Rupert Thomson, 1996
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon, 1995
The Bird Artist, Howard Norman, 1994
Kafka Was The Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard, 1993
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
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin, 1986
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd, 1985
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
In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner, 1971
Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky, 1971
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillete, 1970
The Quest For Christa T, Christa Wolf, 1968
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn, 1968
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967
Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg, 1967
Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr., 1966
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
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
All The Emperor’s Horses, David Kidd, 1960
Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse, 1959
The Leopard, Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, 1958
On The Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957
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, 1949
The Street, Ann Petry, 1946
Black Boy, Richard Wright, 1945