John Waters once said, “We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em.” Infamously known as the Prince of Puke, Sultan of Sleaze and Pope of Trash, this eccentric filmmaker does it best – outrageous and sardonic storytelling like no other. And his highly quotable love for books – “nothing is more impotent than an unread library” – has left his Baltimore home bursting with over 8,000 titles.

But the cult icon doesn’t just read books – he writes them, too. In addition to his screenwriting credits for transgressive cult classics Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Cry-Baby, and Hairspray, Waters has also authored several books, including a 2014 travelogue chronicling his hitchhiking adventures across America.

Below is a selection of John Waters’ favorite books.


My Prizes: An Accounting by Thomas Bernhard (Author), Carol Janeway (Translator)

“Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! The Austrian intellectual sourpuss hilariously rejects every literary award he was ever given. Refusal as an art form.” -JW

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper

“The novelist Dennis Cooper has always made other gay writers nervous. He’s a leader, a radical and his sexual horror stories are smart as hell.” -JW

The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp

The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras  (Author), Richard Seaver (Translator)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Consider the Oyster by M. F. K. Fisher

Suicide in the Entertainment Industry by David K. Frasier

Jernigan by David Gates

We Disappear by Scott Heim

Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant by Philip Hoare

“Aubrey Beardsley, Ronald Firbank, Denton Welch – believe me this ultimate British eccentric made them all seem butch. It’s a crime this book has gone out of print.” -JW

The End of Alice by A.M. Homes

Platform by Michel Houellebecq and Frank Wynne

The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq (Author), Gavin Bowd (Translator)

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

The Beard: A Play by Michael McClure

“Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid meet up and have sex in this absurdist pop art play that used to get busted for obscenity. Isn’t now the perfect time to bring it back and turn it into a Broadway musical?” -John Waters

Time Remaining by James McCourt

The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan by Jimmy McDonough

“The astonishing career of Andy Mulligan, the most pitifully damaged and insane film director whose personal life made Ed Wood’s look like a walk in the park.” -JW

Sita by Kate Millett

Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles

Narrow Rooms by James Purdy

“A salaciously satisfying novel that’s a great read, especially if you’re having a sexual nervous breakdown.” -JW

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

“To hell with Charles Bukoswki, Jean Rhys is the best alcoholic writer of them all.” -JW

American Pastoral by Philip Roth (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Philip Short

“Incredibly detailed biography of the real “filthiest person alive” – the Cambodian leader who executed intellectuals for being in love or even laughing in public.” -JW

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver (also rec’d by Tilda Swinton)

And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder by Deborah Spungen

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

Genet: A Biography by Edmund White

“The definitive life story of my hero, Jean Genet.” -JW

Still Holding: A Novel of Hollywood by Bruce Wagner

The Assistant by Robert Walser (Author), Susan Bernofsky (Translator)

In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch

Voss by Patrick White

Swimming Underground by Mary Woronov

(via The New York TimesThe WeekThe Strand’s Curated Collections, & KCRW )


Books by John Waters:

Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste (1981)

Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (1987)

Art: A Sex Book (2003) (With Bruce Hainley)

Role Models (2010)

Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (2014)

Categories: Directors

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