David Bowie’s a hard one to pin down: bold, beautiful, and an all-around bookish badass. Rumored to have read at least a book a day (and perhaps as much as eight), Bowie’s described his songs as “little stories set to music.” And in response to the Proust Questionnaire‘s “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” his one-word response was “Reading.” His love of literature had an undeniable influence on his artistic outputs and chameleon career from a young age: reading the works of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road at 15 gave Bowie the impetus to get out of Bromley.

And influenced by William Burroughs, Bowie used the surrealist author’s cut-up technique (cutting words and phrases from newspapers and magazines and rearranging them) for songwriting inspiration. In a video spot, he likens the technique to “a kind of Western Tarot.” (Decades later, Kurt Cobain also used cut-ups of his own poems to construct song lyrics.) Burroughs interviewed Bowie for Rolling Stone in 1974, in which the two discussed creative control, growing up middle class, the power of art to change the world, the inspiration for Ziggy Stardust, and love and sexuality.

A number of Bowie’s songs and film roles have literary roots: his 1974 album Diamond Dogs featured several songs – “1984,” “Big Brother,” and “We are the Dead” – that were originally written for a televised musical of George Orwell’s 1984, but the author’s estate denied the rights. In 1976, he was perfectly cast as a space traveler in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, based on Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel of the same name. And in 2015, Bowie co-wrote a musical play called Lazarus with Irish playwright Enda Walsh, which was inspired by The Man Who Fell To EarthLazarus would be one of Bowie’s last works before his death.

In addition to having been artistically influenced by books, Bowie himself served as inspiration for several famed comic book characters. When asked whether the Lucifer character in his Sandman comic book series was a tribute, Neil Gaiman stated, “Yes, the young, folk singer-period Bowie was the inspiration. I imagined Lucifer as a junkie angel, and young Bowie was the closest we got.” Bowie was also a major influence for writer Grant Morrison’s interpretation of the Joker in Batman RIP, with one issue explicitly titled “The Thin White Duke of Death.”

Fortunately, when Bowie left us in January 2016 to meet the starman in the sky, he left not only his legacy but also a lengthy book list. In fact, his son, Duncan Jones, recognized him as such “a beast of a reader,” that in December 2017, he started a David Bowie Book Club for fans to follow along and discuss his late father’s favorites.

Read on for a collection of David Bowie’s favorite books & comics.


Beano (comic, also rec’d by John Lennon)

Private Eye (magazine)

Raw (comic)

Viz (comic)

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd

“There’s a great mysticism in his work. I’ve read everything he’s ever written. That disquieting underbelly that he sees in London, that’s how I perceive it too.” -DB

Inferno by Dante Alighieri

Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

“I really like him, it’s another world.” -DB

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Room At The Top by John Braine

Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard

The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (also rec’d by Patti Smith & Salman Rushdie)

Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage

The Stranger by Albert Camus (also rec’d by Philip Seymour Hoffman)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (also rec’d by Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn

David Bomberg by Richard Cork

Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley

The Bridge by Hart Crane

Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto

White Noise by Don DeLillo

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

Strange People by Frank Edwards

The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (also rec’d by Ernest HemingwayKim Gordon & Philip Roth)

Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich

The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gilette

Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick

Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall

On Having No Head by Douglas Harding

Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey

The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens

Iliad by Homer

Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

The Age Of American Unreason In A Culture Of Lies by Susan Jacoby

The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

On The Road by Jack Kerouac (also rec’d by Bob Dylan & John Lennon)

All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd

Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler

The Divided Self by R. D. Laing

The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa

Passing by Nella Larson

Maldodor by Comte de Lautréamont

Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi

Blast by Wyndham Lewis

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music by Greil Marcus (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen & Kim Gordon)

In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan

Puckoon by Spike Milligan

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima

The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (also rec’d by Kim Gordon & Patti Smith)

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

McTeague by Frank Norris

Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara

1984 by George Orwell (also rec’d by J. ColeJohn Lennon & Steve Jobs)

“A political thesis and an impression of the way in another country.” -DB

Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

The Street by Ann Petry

A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno

English Journey by J.B. Priestley

City Of Night by John Rechy

Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky

Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders

Teenage by Jon Savage

Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner

The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard

Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester

The Insult by Rupert Thomson

Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman

A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler

The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West

The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White

The Outsider by Colin Wilson

The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo

A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn

(via David Bowie’s official site)

Categories: Musicians

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