Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

What does David Bowie curl up with at night?

David Bowie has revealed his favourite 100 books

Wed, Oct 2, 2013, 20:03


It’s all David Bowie this and David Bowie that, these days. It’s never Jehovah this and Jehovah that. (Our apologies to Reverend Lovejoy.) For chaps of a certain age and inclination, there is no real bad news here. Obviously, we occasionally have to explain to younger people that there’s no need to listen to any album between made between 1980 and early 2013. But that’s no real chore when there is so much welcome celebration of the artist who made us what we are today (for good or ill). We have had his best album in over 30 years. We have had some great stuff on the telly. A fine exhibition at the Victoria and Albert brought that museum record takings. Peter Doggett’s excellent book The Man Who Sold the World is still on sale. It’s all very cheering. I suppose time will move on and we’ll soon be celebrating some twit from the 1980s. But, while we wait for the next revival, we have a new and worthwhile document: 100 books that Bowie recommends.

It is, in many ways, what you’d expect from a man of his age, inclinations and taste. Amazingly, there is nothing by J G Ballard. But A Clockwork Orange (“Hey droogies. Don’t crash here.”) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (“1984″) are safely in place. It’s nice to see that he reads VIz and Private Eye. So he still has a sense of humour then. It’s a shame that he doesn’t seem much interested in novels written before the 20th century. But who am I to moan? He’s David Bowie and I’m not.

Colin Wilson being quite literally an outsider.

One volume particularly interests me. Spot Colin Wilson‘s The Outsider in a list of any person’s favourite books and you should be able to pin that fellow’s age to within five years or so. An oddball intellectual who later drifted into the occult — and is still with us — Wilson published his celebration of existential thinking in 1956. The book converted a lot of inquisitive teenagers to writers such as Camus, Kafka and Dostoevsky. Wilson appeared on the wireless and the telly. There was much chatter. Then, as quickly as his star rose, it fell away. Only people who were young in the late fifties and early sixties are likely to have read it. I haven’t read it. So I am not dissing Mr Wilson or his tome. It is, in fact, rather quaint to find that volume sitting on Mr Jones’s virtual bookshelf.

Anyway, here’s the list in full…

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