Goodreads Blog

The Bowie Effect: Discovering New Books Through a Music Legend

Posted by Hayley on January 21, 2016


"Don't you love the Oxford Dictionary?" David Bowie once mused. "When I first read it, I thought it was a really, really long poem about everything."

Bowie, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was always hungry—for art, for knowledge, for music, for being "something more than human." He achieved near-mythical status over the course of his career as a musician, actor, and cultural icon. He was also a bookworm. In 2013, he shared his 100 must-read books with his fans, showcasing his unsurprisingly eclectic reading taste. Modern classics like A Clockwork Orange and The Great Gatsby made the cut, but so did more obscure tales like Infants of the Spring and A Grave for a Dolphin.

In the wake of Bowie's death, the list has gained new life, with fellow book lovers embracing it as a way to connect and to pay tribute. In fact, you can see the effect right here on Goodreads.



The above chart shows the number of users who have recently added, rated, and reviewed The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima, one of the books on Bowie's list. (This information is available for all books on Goodreads. You can find it by clicking the "Stats" link in the top right corner of any book page.) The spike of readers adding the book occurred the day after Bowie died.




Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, a lush historical fiction novel about the decline of a decadent Sicilian aristocracy, experienced a similar spike on the same day.




Unlike The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and The Leopard, Vile Bodies is not its author's most well-known work. Evelyn Waugh's 1930 witty society tale is usually overshadowed by Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust. But thanks to an endorsement from Bowie, Vile Bodies received more adds that day than any other Waugh book.





Meanwhile, some books on Bowie's list (like David Kidd's All the Emperor's Horses) had almost nonexistent shelving activity leading into January. The spike here, though small, represents a group of passionate readers who discovered something new, all because of Bowie.


Check out the full list of books—and add them to your Want to Read shelf here: David Bowie's Top 100 Must-Read Books.

(Top image credit: David Bowie's READ poster for the American Libraries)

Comments (showing 1-44 of 44) (44 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben Lovegrove I have kept a copy of his list of top 100 books. The list appeared in the Daily Telegraph last week.


message 2: by Sorobai (new)

Sorobai It's difficult to asure that all people who added this book were Bowies' fans or got it through him. The statistics only show the added or reviewed books, etc. They don't reflect Bowie's fans however. Maybe only one fan added it and his friends got it through him. The interesting fact to me is that Bowie was a avid reader another thing he shares with me, and I didn't know about the book statistics too. That was a welcome new and it can be very useful. Thank you for your post.


message 3: by Erma (new)

Erma Talamante "Don't you love the Oxford Dictionary?" David Bowie once mused. "When I first read it, I thought it was a really, really long poem about everything."

Lol - I thought I was the only one who read the dictionary! (It used to be my punishment from my dad's wife, until she found out I enjoyed it!)

I prefer the American Heritage Dictionary, or those old dusty tomes called Unabridged Dictionaries! My dad brought home a few once when his University library was going to throw them out.... But that's another story!


message 4: by Becky (new)

Becky I actually used to like looking through our encyclopedia/dictionary collection. That's so funny. I am not a huge David Bowie fan, definitely want to check out his music more and see what's on his list of books.


message 5: by Suvi (new)

Suvi The loss hurts immensely, because not only was Bowie an incredible artist as a musician, but he also had an insatiable hunger for knowledge. I appreciate curiosity and open-mindedness in people. It's good to see he read lesser known books as well, and it'll be interesting to find out whether I'll find new favorites, too (or maybe I start to think what passages he would have liked the best).


message 6: by Lidiana (new)

Lidiana I am a huge Bowie fan. Knowing how much he loved reading, I created a book club here on Goodreads in his honor. The idea is to read all the books that he admired so much, such as the ones he mentioned on his 100-must-read books and many others he mentioned in his songs and interviews...

Whoever is interested, feel free to join us: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

Our first discussion will start on February 1st and it will be centered on the book 1984.


message 7: by Erma (new)

Erma Talamante Lidiana wrote: "I am a huge Bowie fan. Knowing how much he loved reading, I created a book club here on Goodreads in his honor. The idea is to read all the books that he admired so much..."

This is such a great idea! I'm in!


Erin ☕ *Proud Book Hoarder* I wish the list could be locked, but then it turns static, so they don't want to do that. But people keep messing it up. Wish the lists could be locked without being changed to static lists, oh well....nice idea for a list, and nice blog post tribute Goodreads. Glad you acknowledged the losses.


message 9: by CJ (last edited Jan 21, 2016 08:21PM) (new)

CJ Scurria It doesn't surprise me much that a genius like Bowie had such a huge list of well-loved books. How many here have read or will try out some of the books he has suggested?


message 10: by Edith (new)

Edith By the way, the picture of Bowie reading a book is an ad he did in the 1980's for the New York Public Library. He was a supporter of the library and of literacy.


message 11: by Marie (new)

Marie I read the dictionary too, mainly when I wrote poetry. It's good when musicians openly acknowledge literary sources. I loved his music and his insight as a creative artist. He'll be missed.


message 12: by CJ (new)

CJ Scurria Edith wrote: "By the way, the picture of Bowie reading a book is an ad he did in the 1980's for the New York Public Library. He was a supporter of the library and of literacy."

That is awesome! Such a wonderful thing to advertise.


message 13: by Edith (new)

Edith CJ wrote: "Edith wrote: "By the way, the picture of Bowie reading a book is an ad he did in the 1980's for the New York Public Library. He was a supporter of the library and of literacy."

That is awesome! Su..."


That was David Bowie!


message 14: by Victoria (new)

Victoria This wonderful poster was also in an admin office of the Huntington Beach (CA) Central Library!


message 15: by Gerd (new)

Gerd "It's difficult to asure that all people who added this book were Bowies' fans or got it through him. The statistics only show the added or reviewed books, etc. They don't reflect Bowie's fans however. Maybe only one fan added it and his friends got it through him."

That would still mean that those people added it influenced by Bowie's death, though.


message 16: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Such an interesting post. I must check out the 100 books.


message 17: by Lidiana (new)

Lidiana Ruth wrote: "Such an interesting post. I must check out the 100 books."

Come join us on the David Bowie's Reading Club


message 18: by Sorobai (new)

Sorobai Gerd wrote: ""It's difficult to asure that all people who added this book were Bowies' fans or got it through him. The statistics only show the added or reviewed books, etc. They don't reflect Bowie's fans howe..."

Not necessarily. You could well be fan of the book or the author of the book and not of Bowie himself or is music. This is not meaning to disconsiderate his superb art form and his qualities as a reader.


message 19: by Sarah (new)

Sarah This is wonderful, thank you. I've always felt you can get to know someone a bit by looking at their favourite books and this list makes me love David a little bit more.


message 20: by James (new)

James Balch cool


message 21: by Edith (new)

Edith Victoria wrote: "This wonderful poster was also in an admin office of the Huntington Beach (CA) Central Library!"

Good to know!


message 22: by Gerd (last edited Jan 24, 2016 05:38AM) (new)

Gerd Sorobai wrote: "Not necessarily. You could well be fan of the book or the author of the book and not of Bowie himself or is music. This is not meaning to disconsiderate his superb art form and his qualities as a reader."

We are strictly speaking about the pike in numbers, not about every reader that added it during this phase, there's no doubt that some of these just added it coincidentally to Bowie's death.

But when one says that numbers of them may have added it influenced by reading friends, which in turn added it piqued by Bowie's death, the former ones can well be counted among those influenced by Bowie's death, too, if only indirectly.

Further, as told above, Bowie's death led to new circulation of his personal Best Hundred List, which will have influenced readers to add some of these books to their own reading list, regardless of if they new Bowie - in this his death, too, influenced those people.
Naturally non of the above says anything about their state of fanship - but it shows his influence.

I'd say this shows quite clearly when you look at a (for western readers) rather obscure writer like Yukio Mishima.


message 23: by Sorobai (new)

Sorobai Gerd wrote: "Sorobai wrote: "Not necessarily. You could well be fan of the book or the author of the book and not of Bowie himself or is music. This is not meaning to disconsiderate his superb art form and his ..."

Dear Gerd, I agreed with what you said about the indirectly influence that Bowie's death had in adding books but I was refering particulary to this part of the article:

"In the wake of Bowie's death, the list has gained new life, with fellow book lovers embracing it as a way to connect and to pay tribute. In fact, you can see the effect right here on Goodreads."

I don't think most book addings were done as " a way to connect and pay tribute". They were just the likings of those people.

Anyhow, I also don't think Mishima to be an obscure writer at all.


message 24: by IAmBroke (new)

IAmBroke No YA?


message 25: by Licha (new)

Licha My daughter also loves to read the dictionary. I caught her reading the dictionary for fun when she was about 6yrs old. Now she's 15 and she still reads it before going to bed. Accfording to her, she dreams about the words. I've never understood exactly what that means, but I love that she does that.


message 26: by Gerd (new)

Gerd Sorobai wrote: "Dear Gerd, I agreed with what you said about the indirectly influence that Bowie's death had in adding books but I was refering particulary to this part of the article:

"In the wake of Bowie's death, the list has gained new life, with fellow book lovers embracing it as a way to connect and to pay tribute. In fact, you can see the effect right here on Goodreads." ..."


Ah, agreed.
Read as a consecutive sentence it really does sound like they mean to say that these books got added as a means to pay tribute, rather than in the wake of a new popularity brought on by the renewed circulation of the list.
I'll take it a as a further example of the English language lacking clarity at times. :)

I don't know, Mishima is certainly not in a row with a Stephen King or Dan Brown, and I doubt that even on a readers site like GoodReads you will encounter than many who recognize the name, less have read him.


message 27: by Sorobai (new)

Sorobai Gerd wrote: "Sorobai wrote: "Dear Gerd, I agreed with what you said about the indirectly influence that Bowie's death had in adding books but I was refering particulary to this part of the article:

"In the wak..."


That was what I meant.
You're right, maybe I am a particulary fan of japanese authors even if from Europe and I find Mishima rather common place among other more obscure japanese or asian writers! I see what you mean though and I agree with you.


message 28: by Tytti (new)

Tytti IAmBroke wrote: "No YA?"

You ARE joking, right?

And for the regord, I have heard of Mishima before, I had even shelved one of his books.


message 29: by J (new)

J I liked Bowie, but come on, all of a sudden his literary tastes are supposed to be influencial? You can't really call him well-read. The oldest book on this list is from 1945.


message 30: by Tytti (last edited Jan 25, 2016 08:53AM) (new)

Tytti Jason wrote: "You can't really call him well-read. The oldest book on this list is from 1945."

That's a wrong list, with only about 75 books in the chronological order. For some reason it goes around, the real one has Dante's Inferno and like. Oh and I just find all book lists interesting, I already had a few of those books on my own TBR list, too.

(I also flagged the previous comment for spam.)


message 31: by J (last edited Jan 25, 2016 09:07AM) (new)

J At any rate, I find this worship of the dead ridiculous. How many cared about his top books before he died?


message 32: by Lidiana (new)

Lidiana Jason wrote: "You can't really call him well-read. The oldest book on this list is from 1945."

Not only you got the incomplete list, as Tytti had already mentioned, but I do not think you can judge if a person is well-read or not based on the timeline covered on his list of must-read books. I have a degree in Literature and Masters in Literary Theory, and I have read most of the classics, such as Oroonoko, Utopia, The Canterbury Tales, Middlemarch, just to give some examples, and believe me, none would make the cut on my must-read list.


message 33: by J (new)

J I don't care what you have read.


message 34: by Lidiana (last edited Jan 25, 2016 09:16AM) (new)

Lidiana Jason wrote: "At any rate, I find this worship of the dead ridiculous. How many cared about his top books before he died?"

Well, if you find it ridiculous, why do you bother being part of a conversation that revolves around Bowie?

And as a huge Bowie fan who had already the list printed since it was published and who decided to form the book club to share the reading experience of reading these books with others who appreciated Bowie as an artist, I can tell you, you would be surprised with the amount of Bowie fans genuinely interested that were already reading those books because of him.


message 35: by J (new)

J Lidiana wrote: "Jason wrote: "At any rate, I find this worship of the dead ridiculous. How many cared about his top books before he died?"

Well, if you find it ridiculous, why do you bother being part of a conver..."


Good for you, that you cared about his list before his death. Great! Am I not allowed to voice my opinion because it is not inline with yours? I never saw anything about it before he died, now I can't get on here without seeing it. Go on reading books on others' lists so that you can be more like everyone else.

Why would I bother being part of a conversation that revolves around Bowie? Because I, too, was (am) a big Bowie fan. I dressed up like him (from the cover of Aladdin Sane) for Halloween '15, while I played drums to many of his songs with my band.

This website, I thought, was a place to discuss books, lists, whatever, and if an opinion is different than yours about books, lists, etc., it doesn't mean that opinion should not be shared. I still think that a list by David Bowie about books was not popular until he died. Bob Dylan is known as a rather literary guy. Where is his list? How about Paul McCartney? He is pretty smart. Where is his list of books? How about Ryan Adams. He has published books of poetry. Where is his list of poets which he admires? Oh yeah, all those guys are alive. My point is that we don't celebrate those who are alive enough, as a culture, not you personally (so again, thank you for your anecdote about already printing his list and forming a book club), but generally, us, humans as a whole. This even has to do with our friends and family. Let's celebrate people while they are alive, is what I'm saying. Don't take things so personally.


message 36: by Lidiana (last edited Jan 25, 2016 09:43AM) (new)

Lidiana Well, Jason, so I suppose we both have problems with taking things too personally. I disagreed with your opinion very respectfully and then you were the epitome of education saying that you didn't care about the books I had read when I just mentioned them as an example of why I didn't think your argument was valid.

Now, you asked why do we care about Bowie's list and not from the other artists you mentioned... So, is there a Dylan, McCartney list? If there is, I would very happy to have it and to use it as reference for my future readings as well. I read Sylvia Plath for the first time, for example, because of Ryan Adams' song. Maybe Bowie's list was not as popular as it is now after his death (and that was the whole point of this blog article, right?), I just feel you should be more careful when it comes to putting everyone on the same bandwagon of opportunists.


message 37: by J (new)

J Generalizations, obligatorily, come with exceptions; so anyone clamoring about exceptions when a generalization is being made seems to me to be sort of missing the point. But hardly a sweeping or 'large' statement can be made without generalizing. And, saying I don't care what you read came from the fact that I found your comment superfluous to the point I was trying to make, and that you needed to throw your master's degree or whatever in the conversation.

You didn't disagree with my opinion respectfully, you asked why I even bothered to have it. I didn't take your comment personally, I simply did not think it mattered.

My main point is, as I said, I find it a bit sad when we extol people after they're dead, while I feel we should be appreciating them more while they're living.

Perhaps this is just human nature. But as we've seen throughout history, human nature is not always very...good.

Thanks for commenting with thoughtfulness, though. I also am glad to hear about a Ryan Adams song influencing someone's reading. He is an underrated talent, still prolific as ever. Sorry to sound caustic or whatever.


message 38: by Lidiana (new)

Lidiana Jason wrote: "Generalizations, obligatorily, come with exceptions; so anyone clamoring about exceptions when a generalization is being made seems to me to be sort of missing the point. But hardly a sweeping or '..."

I am very sorry as well if to mention my degree sounded to snobbish. I just wanted to make the point that even people who take literature very seriously may have some "blank spots" on their personal preferences.

I understand your point about our human behavior of appreciating people more after their death. Maybe it is just our way of trying to make legacies last, after all real artists never die, right?

And I couldn't agree more about what you wrote about Ryan. Last year I went to his concert. What a fantastic experience... He definitely doesn't get the credit he deserves...

Now that everything is clear, friends?! :D


message 39: by Lidiana (new)

Lidiana the world would be a bore if people could not disagree and discuss, right?!


message 40: by Sorobai (last edited Jan 26, 2016 02:38AM) (new)

Sorobai Glad you two made peace! ah ah By the way I never heard about Ryan Adams before. I though you mistaked the name of Bryan Adams! ah ah Him I know well. Sometimes things can be misleading on internet boards, guess we have to learn to live with it. Anyway, at the end as always books saved the day!


message 41: by James (new)

James Balch that is cool


message 42: by J (last edited Jan 26, 2016 07:06AM) (new)

J Ryan Adams' career has been impacted negatively, I would guess, by people confusing him with the more famous Canadian. But personally, I think there is no comparison. Ryan is a singular artist.


message 43: by Sorobai (new)

Sorobai I guess since most those names are artistic names invented by the artists themselves, he should seriously think about changing is name!


message 44: by Ankit (new)

Ankit Singh This is really very good for all of us


back to top