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Review of Bowie’s Books – The Hundred Literary Figures Who Changed His Life

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for providing an ARC for review via Netgalley.

It might seem strange that I’ve chosen to read and review this book when I’m not particularly a big Bowie fan. That said, growing up in Britain during the 80’s meant I was never too far from a Bowie song or film and it’s testament to his artistic genius that without being a huge fan, I know a lot of his music and admire his ability to change and adapt to different styles. 

This book seemed the perfect opportunity to read more about the influences behind his creativity which is always interesting to read as a musician and recording artist myself. 

The author has pulled off something of a minor miracle.  It’s a hugely enjoyable and thought provoking read.  Bowie left us with one hell of an impressive list, containing an huge diversity of subjects from classic literature, occult, history, satire, science fiction, art and music.  They helped me learn and understand a lot more about different parts of his career.  I found it fascinating that I have read a few and own some others and they had a similar impact on my thoughts and world view albeit in a more personal and insular way.  

It’s important to remember that this list of books are the 100 that influenced Bowie the most, rather than being his favourites.  Some entries such as The Beano, Viz and Private Eye might seem strange choices but when you think about it, a comic such as The Beano would have had a huge influence on its readers at a young age.  I remember discovering Viz as a 17 year old and was instantly addicted, the outrageous characters and toilet humour left a lasting impression.  The same can be said of Private Eye, such a satirical view of current affairs and public figures can be quite a revelation.

Other titles on the list are maybe more expected such as A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess), Inferno (Dante), The Iliad (Homer) and 1984 (George Orwell), whilst others are likely to be much less known such as Berlin Alexanderplatz (Alfred Doblin), As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner) and Passing (Nella Larsen).  

It’s a massive achievement to review 100 books, outlining some of the history and linking them to different parts of Bowie’s career.  Each review is concise, thorough and very well balanced and if there’s a book that you really want to read but don’t want to spoil the experience by reading a summary beforehand then you can always skip that particular review and save the book for your own judgement.  What’s really good is that following each review there are ‘read it while listening to’ and ‘if you like this try’ suggestions that help you explore different aspects of Bowie’s music and suggestions for other books that you might also like to read. 

After reading the book I’ve subsequently re-read Kerouac’s On The Road after some considerable time and dug out a couple of others that I’ve not read for a while.  I also now have a fairly long reading list, a lot of these have captured my imagination, especially ones about Germany, some post-modern literature and there are a number of new authors to discover. I suspect some will be difficult to find.  Now where’s the nearest secondhand book shop?