Nick Cave, gothic brooder and murder balladeer extraordinaire, has spent six decades surrounded by words. Growing up in a tiny Australian town, his parents a librarian and English lit teacher, Cave recalls the pivotal moment his father read to him from Lolita:

“I was 12 years old at the time, so I didn’t understand half of what I was hearing. ‘Fire of my loins’? What on earth did that mean? And some of it made me very uneasy. But more than anything else, the words he was reading excited me. I knew nothing would ever be the same.”

Cave’s made frequent reference to Nabokov’s controversial classic since, and gave a 2014 reading from it as part of London’s World Book Night. When asked what every high school kid should read in a Rolling Stone interview, he replied: “They should read the Bible, they should read Lolita. They should stop reading Bukowski, and they should stop listening to people who tell them to read Bukowski.”

Bukowski firmly aside, Cave’s favorite reading material (as referenced in Stories and various interviews) sways toward dark classics that attempt to reckon with the good and evil of men. Including seminal work by Baudelaire, Dostoyevsky, Homer and Marx, read on for a list of books that made a mark on crooner Cave.


The Bible (also rec’d by Carl SaganJane GoodallMartin Luther King Jr.Maya Angelou & Neil deGrasse Tyson)

“I was reading The Bible a lot through my 20s, mostly the Old Testament, just because I was knocked out by the language and the stories. I felt that the God being talked about there, who was this insane, vindictive patriarch – it was kind of thrilling, and titillated something in me at the time.” -NC

In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Abbott

Thank You, Fog by W.H. Auden

Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

Collected Poems by John Betjeman

American Murder Ballads and Their Stories by Olive Woolley Burt

The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler

Louis Wain – The Man Who Drew Cats by Rodney Dale

Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (also rec’d by David LynchJoan Didion & Philip Roth)

“When I grew a little older my father read me the murder scene in this book and said: This is what violent literature should be like, son. He was right. This is one of the most influential books I’ve read and it affected the writing of my own book. My father gave me a very special feeling about written words.” -NC

The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis

Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The Unvanquished by William Faulkner

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

“I fled through Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am and halfway through I was in tears and again a bit further on, more tears – as a father, as a son and as a husband. The last book that did this was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and in some way this book is not dissimilar – there is a family in crisis and there is an apocalypse – but The Road is all darkness with brief spasms of light, and although Here I Am is also a deeply melancholy book about a doomed family, it is wickedly funny, so that you are laughing too, as it all goes to hell. A book with an enormous and furious heart. I loved it.” -NC

The Odyssey by Homer (also rec’d by Bob Dylan & Jay-Z)

High Windows by Philip Larkin

Selected Letters by Philip Larkin

The Bad Seed by William March

Das Kapital by Karl Marx

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen & Stephen King)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

“I love that book. It’s clever, that book, because the environmental that they’re living in is so unremittingly pessimistic that he’s able to weave this extraordinarily sentimental story about the love between father and son and completely get away with it. The end speech that the dying father gives his son about carrying the fire … if you take that out of context it reads completely differently.” -NC

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (also rec’d by Bob Dylan, Bruce SpringsteenPatti SmithSteve Jobs & Tilda Swinton)

Paradise Lost by John Milton

News From Nowhere by William Morris

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

“I’ve sent both my older kids Lolita and advised them to read the first chapter. They’re older than when I had it read to me – I was about 12. I didn’t read the whole thing [at the time]. The point was the first chapter is very short, half a page. It’s undeniably beautiful even to a young child, to someone who doesn’t really understand.” -NC

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje

The Cantos by Ezra Pound

A Flower Book For the Pocket by Macgregor Skene

SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas

“[Solanas] wrote a very angry and very precise portrait of what she considered the male to be: something between a human and an ape; an unresponsive blob only concerned with physical sensation and without the capacity for empathy or self-knowledge or intimacy, and at the same time full of hatred and jealousy and shame and guilt. Her description is beautiful and on some level, I think, entirely accurate.” -NC

W.H. Auden: A Tribute by Stephen Spender

The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila

Inferno / From an Occult Diary by August Strindberg

(via BillboardBlack Crow King, The New Yorker & The Oregonian)


Books by Nick Cave

King Ink (1988)

And The Ass Saw The Angel (1989)

King Ink 2 (1997)

The Death of Bunny Munro / audiobook (2009)

“Warren Ellis and I scored some very beautiful music to accompany me reading the novel, and we’re selling it as a seven-CD box set. After the music was laid down, which was done by an artist couple from London—Ian Forsythe and Jane Pollard—they sent it to be specialized in New York. What they’ve done with the sound is phenomenal. If you listen to it with headphones, it’s a hallucination. I’m really proud of that audio book.” -NC

The Sick Bag Song (2015)

Categories: Musicians

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