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David Bowie's 'Young Americans' album cover
David Bowie's 'Young Americans' album cover
David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album cover

Definitive lists are maddeningly attractive things, aren’t they? All you need is a premise, whether it’s the 100 Best Meals To Eat On A Train or 50 Things To Do After You Turn The Lights Out And Before You Actually Fall Asleep, and people will come from miles around just to see if your list tallies with theirs. They don’t even need to already have a list, they’ll still come running.

All you have to do is fetch yourself a popsicle from the freezer, pin up your list, then watch the comments underneath for the first person to say “you forgot [name of thing],” and that’s when you open the popsicle. Trust me, it will not have had time to melt.

So don’t pretend you’re not interested in finding out what David Bowie’s 100 favorite books are. The list comes from the David Bowie exhibition that was, until recently, at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s on tour now – which is more than can be said for the man himself – having moved across to Ontario for a while, and among the stage costumes and lyric scraps is this list.

As you’d expect, the familiar and blindingly obvious choices are within stroking distance of more rarified, obscure artifacts, each one revealing a different aspect of Bowie’s often inscrutable personality. There are classic novels by Orwell and Nabokov, works of biography and reportage by Jon Savage and Peter Guralnick, and a few comic choices too, not least from two of the magazines he has selected: the satirical Private Eye and the scatalogical comic Viz.

Here’s the full list (as published on Open Book Toronto)

The Age of American UnreasonSusan Jacoby, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoJunot Diaz, 2007

The Coast of Utopia (trilogy)Tom Stoppard, 2007

Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945Jon Savage, 2007

FingersmithSarah Waters, 2002

The Trial of Henry KissingerChristopher Hitchens, 2001

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of WonderLawrence Weschler, 1997

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924Orlando Figes, 1997

The InsultRupert Thomson, 1996

Wonder BoysMichael Chabon, 1995

The Bird ArtistHoward Norman, 1994

Kafka Was The Rage: A Greenwich Village MemoirAnatole Broyard, 1993

Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical PerspectiveArthur C. Danto, 1992

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily DickinsonCamille Paglia, 1990

David BombergRichard Cork, 1988

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of FreedomPeter Guralnick, 1986

The SonglinesBruce Chatwin, 1986

HawksmoorPeter Ackroyd, 1985

Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul MusicGerri Hirshey, 1984

Nights at the CircusAngela Carter, 1984

MoneyMartin Amis, 1984

White NoiseDon DeLillo, 1984

Flaubert’s ParrotJulian Barnes, 1984

The Life and Times of Little RichardCharles White, 1984

A People’s History of the United StatesHoward Zinn, 1980

A Confederacy of DuncesJohn Kennedy Toole, 1980

Interviews with Francis BaconDavid Sylvester, 1980

Darkness at NoonArthur Koestler, 1980

Earthly PowersAnthony Burgess, 1980

Raw (a ‘graphix magazine’) 1980-91

Viz (magazine) 1979 –

The Gnostic GospelsElaine Pagels, 1979

Metropolitan LifeFran Lebowitz, 1978

In Between the SheetsIan McEwan, 1978

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed. Malcolm Cowley, 1977

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral MindJulian Jaynes, 1976

Tales of Beatnik GloryEd Saunders, 1975

Mystery TrainGreil Marcus, 1975

Selected PoemsFrank O’Hara, 1974

Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920sOtto Friedrich, 1972

In Bluebeard’s Castle : Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of CultureGeorge Steiner, 1971

Octobriana and the Russian UndergroundPeter Sadecky, 1971

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and RollCharlie Gillete, 1970

The Quest For Christa TChrista Wolf, 1968

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of RockNik Cohn, 1968

The Master and MargaritaMikhail Bulgakov, 1967

Journey into the WhirlwindEugenia Ginzburg, 1967

Last Exit to BrooklynHubert Selby Jr. , 1966

In Cold BloodTruman Capote, 1965

City of NightJohn Rechy, 1965

HerzogSaul Bellow, 1964

PuckoonSpike Milligan, 1963

The American Way of DeathJessica Mitford, 1963

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The SeaYukio Mishima, 1963

The Fire Next TimeJames Baldwin, 1963

A Clockwork OrangeAnthony Burgess, 1962

Inside the Whale and Other EssaysGeorge Orwell, 1962

The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieMuriel Spark, 1961

Private Eye (magazine) 1961 –

On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the ObviousDouglas Harding, 1961

Silence: Lectures and WritingJohn Cage, 1961

Strange PeopleFrank Edwards, 1961

The Divided SelfR. D. Laing, 1960

All The Emperor’s HorsesDavid Kidd,1960

Billy LiarKeith Waterhouse, 1959

The LeopardGiuseppe Di Lampedusa, 1958

On The RoadJack Kerouac, 1957

The Hidden PersuadersVance Packard, 1957

Room at the TopJohn Braine, 1957

A Grave for a DolphinAlberto Denti di Pirajno, 1956

The OutsiderColin Wilson, 1956

LolitaVladimir Nabokov, 1955

Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge Orwell, 1949

The StreetAnn Petry, 1946

Black BoyRichard Wright, 1945

How many have you read? Tell us here: 

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By Fraser McAlpine