A few days back, I shared about online reading communities, and how I joined the Bowie Book Club discussion both on Facebook (managed by Elizabeth Hamilton) and on Twitter hosted by Duncan Jones, Bowie’s son.
While I am not a huge Bowie fanatic, I admire how he has inspired people to read again with his list of must-read titles. Intrigued, I read the first book that is up for discussion, Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd – I even posted about it in our FB page:
Since I know a lot of people are as intrigued as I am, here is the list of 100 books by Bowie (as sourced from his website). After seeing the blurbs and book covers, I am of the conclusion that I would most likely not join the book club for very long (hehehe). I do have my own list that I am trying to get through of the 40 (or so) books that I hope to read before turning 50 (see here), so I’d probably stick to that. While I do like the idea of expanding my reading-comfort-zone, some of the titles here are simply of no interest to me – but I could see why it may have appealed to a musician like Bowie (particularly the biographies/memoirs of musicians/artists).
I also arranged the titles according to some system that made sense to me. I hope that this makes it easier for you to see at a glance whether you are going to jump in as well and read all 100 titles – or just join the online discussion, and see where it takes you.
Novels That I Have Already Read
I’ve only read seven out of the 100 titles, and most of them I read when I was a teenager or in my early 20s. I am thinking now whether I should re-read them at one point. We shall see.
(1) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
Read this while I was in the university. I am glad that Bowie also included a few titles written by women.
(2) Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd.
I really did my level best not to give up on this novel, although the first chapter was migraine-inducing.
Dark, dark, dark.
(3) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
Another one of those novels I read when I was in my early 20s.
(4) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Admittedly, I didn’t quite appreciate Fitzgerald when I read him in my mid-20s. Perhaps if I revisit his novels in my ancient age now, I would be able to see things that I have missed previously.
(5) The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot.
I took English as my Minor in my college undergraduate, and I had an Eliot phase that was quite intense.
(6) 1984 by George Orwell.
I have only read this book in 2016. I splurged and got myself the Folio edition. Given what’s happening to the world today, I have to say this should be required reading.
(7) Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence.
I read this book as an adolescent and remembered being scandalized, and at the same time, liberated by this novel. I wonder how I would “read” this story now.
Books That I Would Most Likely Read
We are spoiled for choices with the amount of books yet to be read, and those that are yet to be published every year, so I try to be as discerning as I can with the novels that I would really sink my teeth into. Here are several that I thought would be worth pursuing.
(8) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
While I have seen the movie, I have yet to read the novel.
(9) The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
This was a book that I DNF-ed a few years back. It just wasn’t for me at that point in time, but I hope to find it again. There is just something in the way that Junot Diaz writes that grates at me – well, at least in this one.
(10) Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin.
I visited Berlin twice now and just fell in love with Germany. I have a feeling this will be my travel companion the next time I come visit.
(11) Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood.
Ok, I admit to being superficial and being taken by the book cover. The one on BD, however, has the Vintage Classics version.
(12) The Stranger by Albert Camus.
I read a lot of Camus while I was in the university. I think I have to dive deep into his writings yet again.
(13) The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf.
The setting of this book is, once again, in Germany. Said to be a European literary landmark. I’m in.
(14) The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin.
So. There is a beautiful Moleskine limited special edition of this novel in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Chatwin’s travelogue account of his journey across Australia. This Moleskine edition comes with your very own blank Moleskine notebook. Go go go get one for yourself!!
(15) Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter.
I’ve heard so much of how decidedly “feminist” Carter’s novels are, and I think I do own a few of her novels, but just look at the beauty of this book cover.
(16) The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
I have this novel on my radar for quite awhile now, and I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this. That cover compels me to purchase it stat.
(17) The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.
After seeing that the setting of this novel is in Scotland – I am immediately drawn to it. I am looking for more titles that I can include for our current Literary Voyage Around the World Reading Challenge – and I don’t think I have a novel from Scotland yet.
(18) Herzog by Saul Bellow.
Moses Herzog. With a name like that, wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on in his life? Also described in Book Depository as: “A masterful twist on the epistolary novel, Saul Bellow’s Herzog is part confessional, part exorcism, and a wholly unique achievement in postmodern fiction.” Well, ok then.
(19) Puckoon by Spike Mulligan.
Again, I admit to being taken by the book cover. I do judge books by their covers (umm.. on occasion). Plus, it is described as a “classic slapstic novel” with Ireland as its setting. Since we are committed to reading the world, I will add this to my growing stack of books to find and read.
(20) Black Boy by Richard Wright.
I am a huge fan of memoirs/ autobiographies, plus we do have a memoir reading theme in April-June this year.
(21) The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima.
This must be one of the handful of titles written by Asian authors in Bowie’s list. One of the reasons why the list did not particularly resonate with me.
(22) Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler.
The description in Book Depository is particularly chilling: “Darkness at Noon is set in an unnamed country ruled by a totalitarian government. Rubashov, once a powerful player in the regime, finds the tables turned on him when he is arrested and tried for treason. His reflections on his previous life and his experiences in prison form the heart of this moving and though-provoking masterpiece.” Sounds like a must-read given current events.
(23) McTeague: A Story Of San Francisco by Frank Norris.
San Francisco is one of my favourite cities in the US. I am even thinking of gifting this novel to one or two of my friends based in the area.
(24) The Outsider by Colin Wilson.
I have no idea what this book is about – the blurb didn’t help any, either. But I find myself gravitating towards outsiders and oddballs, the strange and the surreal, and this novel looks like it fits the bill.
(25) A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
Trusted librarians and fellow book lovers sing the praises of this one. I can’t believe I haven’t found this for myself yet.
(26) White Noise by Don Delillo.
This is a National Book Award Winner in 1985 – and depicts what we now call a “modern family” yet set in the 80s. Hmm.. And isn’t that book cover just so inviting?
(27) The Day Of The Locust by Nathaniel West.
The setting is supposedly in Hollywood, California during the Great Depression and consists of oddball characters “who exist at the fringes of the Hollywood movie industry.” That should explain the blood red lipstick on this cover.
(28) The Street by Ann Petry.
Harlem in the late 1940s. Story of a young Black woman whose journey still seems relevant in this day and age.
(29) Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
The description (and the title) indicates that it’s about a group of prodigies who have lost their way? I love reading about high creatives/ gifted and talented individuals – and yes, wonder boys.
(30) Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.
According to Book Depository, “Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of New Yorkers who at every turn confront the worst excesses in human nature. Yet there are moments of exquisite tenderness in these troubled lives.” Not sure if this book would make me want to visit New York again, or make me dread the very thought of coming back.
(31) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.
This book was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize. Story about orphans and thieves. Very Dickensian, I like.
(32) Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.
Eminent novelists, priests, family ties. As BD describes it: “In this epic masterpiece, Anthony Burgess plumbs the depths of the essence of power and the lengths men will go for it.”
(33) The Bird Artist by Howard Norman.
Bird painting, lighthouses, forbidden loves, wayward women.
Ok. Will read.
(34) Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh.
The bright young things of 20s Mayfair. The novel sounds like an exposé of what it means to be atrociously wealthy.
(35) The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard.
I have to read more nonfiction. And this seems like a riveting read about the mysterious science and art of advertising.
(36) The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
Another memoir that I have to read alongside Underground Railroad which has been waiting way-too-long unread in my shelves.
(37) Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes.
I own a fair bit of Julian Barnes’ novels, although I do confess to not having read any of them yet. This one is already in my bookshelves, so might as well read it.
(38) Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler.
If the book title has cabinet of wonder, cabinet of curiosities, etc., I am immediately intrigued. This one is a finalist for the Pulitzer for Nonfiction.
(39) The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
Talks about Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily and what it means to the charismatic Prince of Salina in the late 1800s. There is both “splendour and squalor.”
(40) In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan.
I simply could not resist an Ian McEwan novel. And how scintillating is that title and book cover, really.
Bowie also had a number of classic novels that he wanted to sink his teeth into.
(41) The Iliad by Homer.
I want to read this too, but I want a fully-illustrated version. If you can recommend a really good one, I would be most appreciative.
(42) As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
I remember being thoroughly disturbed by Faulkner’s novels when I was an undergraduate. Plus, stream-of-consciousness technique in writing. It’s been a long while since I’ve read one of those.
(43) Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell.
Orwell is not always the easiest man to read, judging from his Animal Farm and 1984. However, he always has something brilliant to say.
(44) Inferno by Dante (and illustrated by Dore).
The Gustave Dore is my own quirk, because I have been meaning to find an illustrated version of this novel. This version with illustrations by Dore sounds exactly like what I need.
Art, Music, Poetry, Biography and Memoirs
I have put together the titles from Bowie’s list that have to do with the lives of musicians and artists, as well as one poetry book, and other biographies/memoirs.
(45) Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester.
So, the “extraordinarily revealing” interviews conducted by distinguished art critic, Sylvester spanned a period of 25 years. Wow. That’s commitment. And deserves to be read.
(46) Kafka Was The Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir by Anatole Broyard.
Broyard’s life with Anais Nin’s protege, Sheri Donatti is shared in this tell-all memoir – as set during “the good times of 1946” when the war was finally over. I have a feeling this would pair well with Patti Smith’s Just Kids (see my review here).
(47) Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo.
This one seems like one that is to be appreciated, rather than read. His prints seem like collectors’ items.
(48) The Life And Times Of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography by Charles White.
I have no idea who Little Richard is, but he is described to sound “like nothing on earth.” I really have to know more about music, since he is described in BD this way: “Little Richard made himself a star through sheer force of personality, breaking racial and sexual taboos on his way to becoming the primal force of Fifties rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis Presley called him ‘the greatest’. Otis Redding called him his ‘inspiration’ and James Brown called him his idol.”
(49) Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nick Cohn.
The novel is meant to capture the beat, the pulse, the rhythm of rock. I say the title alone achieves that.
(50) Mystery Train: Images of America In Rock n Roll Music by Greil Marcus.
Are you now able to discern a trend in Bowie’s book choices? Evidently, the man did not just live and breathe rock, he wanted to study it too.
(51) Beyond The Brillo Box: The Visual Arts In Post-Historical Perspective by Arthur Coleman Danto.
Admittedly, the frustrated art historian in me also gravitates towards these kinds of novels. 🙂
(52) Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick.
According to the BD Blurb: “Sweet Soul Music is an intimate portrait of the legendary performers–Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Al Green among them–who merged gospel and rhythm and blues to create Southern soul music.” Would love to read this while listening in Spotify to their albums.
(53) Silence: Lectures And Writings by John Cage.
This one sounds like an existential, post-modern, strange treatise on the origins of creative ideas.
(54) Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews by Malcolm Cowley.
(55) The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillett.
I can sense David Bowie’s academic inclinations towards his craft in these book choices. I wonder if he taught in the university: school of rock, perhaps?
(56) Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky.
According to Goodreads: Octobriana, a kind of Russian Barbarella is the spirit of the October Revolution, she became the heroine of an illegal magazine, secretly printed and circulated by hand in a number of Universities-composed of “samizdat” material smuggled out of the former Soviet Union, rarely seen collection of Soviet Underground dissent and resistance, many nude female illustrations.
(57) Dictionary Of Subjects & Symbols In Art by James Hall.
This looks exactly like the kind of coffee table book that would absorb me, but I would most likely never finish reading.
(58) David Bomberg by Richard Cork.
The way I figured, this is more of an art catalog of a British artist who likes painting yellow robots in tubes.
Too esoteric for my taste.
(59) The Complete Fiction Of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, And The Stories by Nella Larsen.
I should have bumped this one up to novels that I would most likely read. As Book Depository noted: “Throughout her short but brilliant literary career, Nella Larsen wrote piercing dramas about the black middle class that featured sensitive, spirited heroines struggling to find a place where they belonged.”
(60) Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman.
Harlem in the 20s, with a mention of “The Niggerati Manor.”
This also seems to be a predominant theme in Bowie’s book choices: the African American experience.
(61) Strange People by Frank Edwards.
According to the blurb found at the book cover: this book consists of “incredible yet absolutely true stories of men and women with powers that dumbfound science.” Kind of like, Heroes, the TV Series or X-Men?
(62) English Journey by J. B. Priestley.
A travelogue of the English landscape. Might be a good book to pair with The Canary-Coloured Cart by Christina Hardyment.
(63) Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz.
I have yet to hear Fran Lebowitz speak, but I know that she is lauded for her sharp, cutting wit – and this book of essays is said to be a perfect representation of who she is.
(64) All The Emperors Horses by David Kidd.
The story sounds like a White guy marrying into a wealthy, old-money Chinese family.
(65) Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders.
I wonder, with all these stories about musicians that Bowie wanted to read, did he ever think about writing his own?
(66) Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hershey.
According to Goodreads: Here are the recollections of many of the giants of soul—Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Mary Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and Wilson Pickett. These and other interviews, many of them exclusive, add up to a brilliant anecdotal portrait of the music and the life.
(67) Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia.
Feminist art criticism. Beauty. Demonic natures. All these and more seem to be very Bowie-sque.
(68) Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara.
I think there are only two poetry collections in this list: this one and T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land.
(69) The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens.
Given the incredible popularity of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, it does seem like political drama is so very much in this 2018, so why not add this to the list.
(70) Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Ooh. I just read the blurb for this novel. I am thinking of bumping this up to books I would most likely read: According to Book Depository: Bulwer-Lytton’s ‘Zanoni’ is an occult masterpiece, one of the finest examples of spiritual fiction in print, replete with profound esoteric knowledge and descriptions, some of which will only be recognized by those of ‘Adeptus’ grade or above. The novel’s eponymous hero is a member of an order of initiates who understand the secret of eternal life.
Non-fiction, Historical/ Informational Texts
So, I made this subtheme distinct, especially since the previous theme had more to do with art, creativity, and biographies; whereas this subtheme seems slightly more hardcore.
(71) On Having No Head: Zen And The Rediscovery Of the Obvious by Douglas E. Harding.
So, there’s also a dab of the mystical in Bowie’s reading list. Talk about a diverse range.
(72) The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
As a clinical psychologist, I think I should get myself a copy of this one. Perhaps after I finish reading the massive The Red Book by Carl Jung.
(73) In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards The Redefinition Of Culture by George Steiner.
Sounds like pretty heavy going stuff here. Maybe pair with Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique Of The Judgment Of Taste for some light reading?
(74) Before The Deluge: A Portrait Of Berlin In The 1920s by Otto Friedrich.
This must be the third book about Berlin in Bowie’s list. That’s quite a lot. Clearly, he is fascinated by this period in history – not to mention, Germany.
(75) The Divided Self: An Existential Study In Sanity And Madness by R. D. Laing.
A dab of history, a slice of mysticism, a touch of madness, plus psychology and sociology sprinkled into the list.
(76) Teenage: The Creation Of Youth 1875-1945 by Jon Savage.
There is a fascination not only with rock and roll – but with the consumers of rock music, such as the “phenomenon of youth.” This list does provide us with a remarkable insight to Bowie’s mind.
(77) Transcendental Magic by Eliphas Levi.
Perhaps he would like to be a wizard, too? This sounds very much like an occult type of book: rituals and high magic.
(78) The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.
An alternative view of the New Testament and its secrets. Bowie did so enjoy pushing boundaries, as clearly evidenced in his book choices.
(79) A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes.
I think the title is perfectly self-explanatory.
(80) Journey Into The Whirlwind: The Critically Acclaimed Memoir Of Stalin’s Reign Of Terror by Evgenia Semenova Ginzburg.
Bowie’s fascination with Germany is matched by his desire to understand and read about Russia.
Comics and Magazines
I had a hard time finding Book Depository links for this subtheme – because most are out of print. But you can see how even Bowie’s choices in comics and magazines border on the strange and surreal.
(81) Blast by Wyndham Lewis
According to Goodreads: A facsimile edition of the first issue of the ‘Blast’, which documents in its in original format the raw energy, violent humor, graphic inventiveness and intellectual hard edge of the most compelling and vital magazine project of the modernist movement.
This is the first time I am hearing of Beano.
(83) Best Of Viz by Chris Donald.
Just like Beano, this one is quite a new discovery for me.
(84) Private Eye by Ian Hislop.
I understand now that much of my comic book awareness is American in nature. These are Brit comic books that hopefully I find at one point.
(85) Raw by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly.
Finally! A comic book creator that I am at least familiar with!
Fascination With The US of A
There is a preponderance of book selections that highlight, quite dramatically, the American voice and American experience. There are a few that I already mentioned in the earlier subthemes, but here are a few more besides.
(86) A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn.
I wonder how this differs from the academic-historian’s version of US History.
(87) The Age Of The American Unreason by Susan Jacoby.
Perhaps this would still resonate up to the present time? Just sayin’.
(88) The Bridge by Hart Crane.
Described by the author as a “mystical synthesis of America.” The bridge as a symbol of national identity and promise.
(89) The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos.
Said to be one of the great American novels (whatever that means). This is also the first book in a trilogy. I am intrigued.
(90) The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford.
For fans of the TV series Six Feet Under, make sure that you get a copy of this book.
(91) In Cold Blood: A True Account Of A Multiple Murder And Its Consequences by Truman Capote.
I believe I have this in my To-Read stack on Goodreads. I should bump this up to books I would most likely read. Supposedly a fascinating read about American violence.
(92) On The Road by Jack Kerouac.
I own a copy of this travelogue/memoir. I should start reading this soon. I remembered prioritizing Gloria Steinem’s My Life On The Road before this one.
Books Not Otherwise Classified/Categorized
So, I had a hard time putting this into some categorization. These are mostly fiction novels with their unique touch of strangenesses.
(93) Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse.
Apparently, this is one of those novels that helped shape modern Britain – and a fictional country called Ambrosia.
(94) Room At The Top by John Braine.
The blurb sounds like this book is a lonely meditation of what it means to truly be successful, or be there “at the top.”
(95) City Of Night by John Rechy.
The book sounds gritty, exploratory, and uncompromising. The Book Depository blurb says: Bold and inventive in style, Rechy is unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling “youngman” and his search for self-knowledge within the neon-lit world of hustlers, drag queens, and the denizens of their world, as he moves from El Paso to Times Square, from Pershing Square to the French Quarter.
(96) Money by Martin Amis.
I totally understand people’s fascination with money – but it simply isn’t my speed, I find. Apparently, this is the first book in the “London trilogy.”
(97) A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti Di Pirajno.
So, this must be the only novel that I could not find in Book Depository, which only has Di Pirajno’s A Cure For Serpents.
(98) The Insult by Rupert Thomson.
Described as a psychological thriller, whereby there is an accident, and a blind protagonist.
(99) The Coast Of Utopia: Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage by Tom Stoppard.
If I had any doubt whatsoever about Bowie being a bibliophile, his predilection for trilogies/series is enough to make me cast all those uncertainties aside.
(100) Maldoror by Comte De Lautreamont.
I would most likely gift myself this book. According to Book Depository: Andre Breton described Maldoror as “the expression of a revelation so complete it seems to exceed human potential.” Little is known about its pseudonymous author, aside from his real name (Isidore Ducasse), birth in Uruguay (1846) and early death in Paris (1870). Lautreamont bewildered his contemporaries, but the Surrealists modeled their efforts after his black humor and poetic leaps of logic, exemplified by the oft-quoted line, “As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Maldoror ‘s shocked first publisher refused to bind the sheets of the original edition–and perhaps no better invitation exists to this book, which warns the reader, “Only the few may relish this bitter fruit without danger.” This is the only complete annotated collection of Lautreamont’s writings available in English, in Alexis Lykiard’s superior translation. For this latest edition, Lykiard updates his introduction to include recent scholarship.
Any specific title that called out to you? Appealed to you? Repelled you? Do share with us your thoughts.