Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life
Much was made of the fact that David Bowie liked to read – he had a list of his favourite books, and it included so many classics. Outside of that there were interesting choices including journalism, memoir, contemporary novels…
John O’Connell unpacks that all with this wonderful list-book which examines the 100 top books that Bowie loved.
It’s so much more than just a list of must-read books – O’Connell knows how to tell a good yarn, so as well as telling us about classic and obscure texts, in fairly bite-sized precis-sketches, he also draws some interesting connections to Bowie’s work or how David might have been inspired by a particular author or text. Yes, there’s some guesswork but that’s part of the fun for Bowie fans and scholars, and, for the most part, O’Connell resists the drawing of a long bow, he knows his subject well and is able to pinpoint eras (Ziggy, Berlin Trilogy, Thin White Duke et al) where the sci-fi, dystopian and gritty novels had serious impact. He also knows how to examine the music journalism that Bowie loved (books on soul in particular, and a Little Richard biography) and apply it to the Bowie discography.
Each entry is capped off with a fun little “read it while listening to…” mention of a particular Bowie song. Again, some deep dives here into covers and bootlegs. And there’s also an alternative reading list – so if you like one of the titles on this list you’re given a suggestion of what to try next.
This works well for anyone combing through the book that has already read several of the titles. Maybe you’ve only read one Anthony Burgess book for example. And where would you go next, given there are so many titles to choose? O’Connell is writing both from his own point of view here and with an attempt to get inside the mind of Bowie.
It’s to our great benefit that he knows his subject so well and cares about it in the way he does.
When I cracked the spin of this book I worried it would be dry, academic. Actually it’s a very fun read – but you also get the jump on a few things. It’s unlikely that anyone would read all 100 of the main titles listed here, but you get some good sample-knowledge, something beyond mere Trivial Pursuits.
I not only ticked off all the books I had read, I made notes in the columns around titles I was keen to try and circled many of the “Further Reading” recommendations as being of greater interest to me than the main suggestions.
In that sense this is a worthwhile resource. A book to thumb through again and again.
A reminder too, and you can’t miss it, it’s on every page, that Bowie was so invested in his work – he took his art seriously, he was passionate, wise and even at his most inauthentic he was never less than sincere.
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