Ever wondered what David Bowie reads before bed? Wonder no more. As part of the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, curator Geoffry Marsh has given us a glimpse of Bowie’s personal literary preferences and one thing is for sure, Bowie knows his books. In fact, the exhibition audio guide features an interview where the man himself admits that if he had not been a musician, he would have liked to have become a novelist.
David Bowie remains one of pop cultures influential icons and this exhibition gives fans a chance to discover something about the singer’s own inspirations. The list of 100 titles ranges from the obvious to the more obscure, from Dante’s Inferno to The Beano and I thought I would share with you five of my favourites that make it onto both his list and mine.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a European man who moves to New England after suffering a nervous breakdown. There he falls in love with 12 year-old Dolores Haze, who he nicknames Lolita. Nabokov believed that every story should resemble a fairytale in some way, so although Humbert is a pedophile, the reader comes to feel empathy towards him. Lolita is a tragedy and explores disturbing themes; however the book is written in such beautiful prose and is scattered with such dry, witty humour, that although you cannot understand or justify Humbert’s behaviour, you sympathise with the character at times.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The novel centres around Alex, a teenage boy who takes pleasure in harming others. After a robbery goes wrong Alex is sent to a prison where he is subject to the “Ludovico Technique” and undergoes mental torture in order to cure him of his violent tendencies. In A Clockwork Orange, Burgess challenges our understanding of morality, but the story is a violent one and at times it’s not an easy book to read. If you’ve seen the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation then you haven’t seen the whole story. When A Clockwork Orange was printed in the US, the final chapter was cut as the ending was deemed too happy and Kubrick followed this amended version.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Exploring themes such as class distinction and elitism, The Great Gatsby is set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age of the 1920’s. The novel centres around Jay Gatsby, a filthy rich inhabitant of West Egg. We see Gatsby through the eyes of the narrator Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbour, and although there are things about him that Nick disapproves of, he still admires Gatsby. Gatsby throws legendary parties despite not socialising with his guests, but what Gatsby really longs for is his first love Daisy Buchanan, who happens to be Nick’s cousin. Daisy is married but after a reunion with Gatsby, the events in the novel spiral out of control.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood was published in 1966 and tells the story of the real-life events surrounding the Clutter family. In 1959, the Clutter family were found dead, with their throats cut and gunshot wounds to the head. The culprits were young Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Capote goes into an impressive amount of detail and we learn about the family’s history, about the murder itself and about the perpetrators. This is not a work of fiction and the author relays accounts from those directly involved, those that knew the victims, their neighbours, the police and lawyers. It took seven years for Truman Capote to write the book, which was publishes after the two men were executed. The story is compelling and unlike any book I had read before.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I read this book a couple of Summers ago during a road trip in Italy just because the title seemed appropriate and I was pleasantly surprised. The novel was published in 1957 and was based on two road trips Kerouac himself had taken ten years earlier. Kerouac’s writing style is spontaneous and unconventional and focuses on themes such as drugs, alcohol and disillusion. The protagonist, Sal Paradise, is an aspiring writer who lives with his aunt but dreams of following his friends across America. On The Road helped to define the Beat Generation, a social and literary movement of the 1950’s (see first post ever about Kill Your Darlings).