Bowie’s Bookshelf: A New Essay Collection on The 100 Books That Changed David Bowie’s Life

Like some rock stars of his gen­er­a­tion, David Bowie had a lit­er­ary cast of mind; unlike most of those col­leagues, he also made his asso­ci­a­tion with books explic­it. (Not for noth­ing did he appear on that READ poster.) When­ev­er this sub­ject aris­es, it’s tempt­ing to bring up the sto­ry of how The Man Who Fell to Earth direc­tor Nico­las Roeg poked fun at the extreme num­ber of books with which Bowie sur­round­ed him­self dur­ing the time he was act­ing in that film, as we did when we post­ed about the David Bowie book club. Launched by Bowie’s son, the film­mak­er Dun­can Jones, that project was meant to read through Bowie’s own list of top 100 books, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. Now, thanks to the work of music jour­nal­ist John O’Con­nell, Bowie’s love of books has a book of its own.

Pub­lished in the UK as Bowie’s Books and in the US as Bowie’s Book­shelf, O’Con­nel­l’s essay col­lec­tion takes the 100 books the man who was Zig­gy Star­dust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke named as favorites. In each he finds the rel­e­vant ques­tions (or at least fas­ci­nat­ing ones) to ask about each book’s rela­tion­ship to Bowie’s life and work: “How did the pow­er imbued in a sin­gle suit of armor in The Ili­ad impact a man who loved cos­tumes, shift­ing iden­ti­ty, and the siren song of the alter-ego?” Or, “How did the poems of T.S. Eliot and Frank O’Hara, the fic­tion of Vladimir Nabokov and Antho­ny Burgess, the comics of The Beano and The Viz, and the ground­break­ing pol­i­tics of James Bald­win influ­ence Bowie’s lyrics, his sound, his artis­tic out­look?”

Kirkus Reviews notes that “many of Bowie’s selec­tions speak to his obvi­ous pas­sion for music, espe­cial­ly ear­ly rock ’n’ roll and R&B (Greil Mar­cus, Ger­ri Her­shey), his famous Japanophil­ia (Yukio Mishi­ma, Tadanori Yokoo), and his stint in Ger­many (Alfred Döblin, Otto Friedrich).” O’Con­nel­l’s com­pletist analy­sis of Bowie’s top-100-books list, com­posed for an exhi­bi­tion at the Vic­to­ria & Albert Muse­um just six years ago, also reveals “the range and play­ful­ness in Bowie’s read­ing, from hefty tomes on the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion to lad­dish com­ic books like The Beano.” Oth­er essays cov­er Loli­taThe Gnos­tic GospelsA Con­fed­er­a­cy of Dunces, and White Noise, all part of a mix­ture that would tan­ta­lize any cul­tur­al crit­ic — much like the work of David Bowie, who still con­sti­tutes a cul­ture unto him­self.

Bowie’s Book­shelf: The Hun­dred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life can be ordered now.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

The David Bowie Book Club Gets Launched by His Son: Read One of Bowie’s 100 Favorite Books Every Month

David Bowie Urges Kids to READ in a 1987 Poster Spon­sored by the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion

David Bowie Songs Reimag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers: Space Odd­i­ty, Heroes, Life on Mars & More

The Sto­ry of How David Jones Became David Bowie Gets Told in a New Graph­ic Nov­el

Bri­an Eno Lists 20 Books for Rebuild­ing Civ­i­liza­tion & 59 Books For Build­ing Your Intel­lec­tu­al World

David Bowie Picks His 12 Favorite David Bowie Songs: Lis­ten to Them Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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