Bowie, Alex Turner, Florence and more talk about novels that inspired them
To celebrate World Book Day, here are what your favourite musicians-turned-bookworms love to read, plus how their top literary picks have influenced their music.
Bowie used to often read “a book a day,” according to ‘David Bowie Is’ curator Geoffrey Marsh. The Ontario museum displayed personal items of the singer back in 2013, which included his book collection. The music icon’s son, Duncan Jones, also later started a ‘David Bowie Book Club’ on Twitter, encouraging followers to read Bowie’s favourite books together.
What Bowie read:
Unsurprisingly, Bowie was a fan of dystopian works, like A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and 1984 by George Orwell. Bowie referenced the latter on Diamond Dogs with tracks ‘1984’ and ‘Big Brother’ and even once planned a musical TV adaptation. Bowie also kept Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Angela Carter’s Nights At The Circus on his book shelf.
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, has said how she wants her music to be treated like literary, saying: “I’ve always wanted to make music like people write plays, so I was inspired by writers as much as musicians.”
What St. Vincent reads:
Appearing on KLRX Radio’s Unbound Book Club, Annie revealed some books that have inspired her work. They included Mythologies by French theorist Roland Barthes and Bossypants by Tina Fey, revealing a rather diverse taste. She also listed four books by cult US author Joan Didion (The White Album, The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It As It Lays).
Jack Steadman, Bombay Bicycle Club
NME caught up with Steadman for World Book Day a few years ago and the frontman reminded us reading isn’t just for escapism – it can also have a practical use.
What Jack reads:
Steadman tends to read travel guides when on tour. “You can be sure I’m looking up the best places to eat local food,” he told us. “I get very overweight on tour and have to move around loads onstage every night to shake it off.”
Van McCann, Catfish and the Bottlemen
Catfish and the Bottlemen singer Van McCann admits he is not the biggest reader. “It really bugs me as I’d love to be into books, but I can’t envision things when I read over the words,” he said in 2014.
What Van reads:
Despite not being a massive reader, one book has managed to capture McCann’s imagination: The Story Of The Streets by Mike Skinner. The Streets frontman “tells of riding a BMX into a London estate agents in a Lacoste trackie,” McCann remembers of the memoir. “They go to kick him out until he tells them he has a 100-grand-a-month budget.”
The US singer is a big fan of sci-fi, which she once called “an exciting and new way of telling universal stories.”
What Janelle reads:
Monáe’s list of favourite books is a varied selection of sci-fi novels, political texts and music books: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison all included.
Michael Stipe, R.E.M
R.E.M frontman Michael Stipe is an avid reader and previously revealed his top 10 books for One Grand, a bookstore that only stocks artists’ selected favourite works based on the question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, which ten books could you not do without?”
What Michael reads:
Stipe’s Desert Island books include On The Road by Jack Kerouac and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Another favourite is Just Kids, a Patti Smith’s inspiring memoir that delves into her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.
Simon Rix, Kaiser Chiefs
A founding member of Kaiser Chiefs, Simon Rix has been on the road pretty consistently since 2000. NME caught up with the bassist for World Book Day in 2015 to see what he reads on the road.
What Simon reads:
Rix loves 45 by anarcho-punk musician Bill Drummond, saying: “Drummond was in The KLF, who were as famous for their stunts as they were for their music. It inspires me to just try things and see what happens without worrying about what might go wrong.”
Not only a keen reader, Springsteen has written books himself. His first, Outlaw Pete, was published in 2014 and is a children’s book that tells “the story of a man trying to outlive and outrun his sins.” He told the New York Times in the run-up to its release what novels most influenced his life.
What Bruce reads:
The Boss is a big fan of Russian authors Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. “I never read any of them until the past four years, and found them to be thoroughly psychologically modern,” Springsteen told The New York Times in 2014. Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina are his favourite works.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is also a “watermark” in his reading. “It’s the combination of Faulkner and Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns,” he said, “that gives the book its spark for me.”
Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys
After ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ came out last year, Arctic Monkeys Alex Turner singer spoke to NME about which books influenced his band’s sixth album, a sci-fi themed concept album centred around a leisure resort based on the moon.
What Alex reads:
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, which looks at the influence of media and entertainment on society, had a marked impact on Turner. “Information-action ratio”, how often owe act on information consumed from media, is mentioned in ‘Four Out of Five’. “I think one of the things I liked about that phrase is that you sort of know exactly what it is right away,” Turner told us.
Satirical novel Infinite Jest by David Foster also influenced the self-referential lyrics of the LP.
Florence Welch, Florence + The Machine
Between Two Books is Welch’s book club that has over 119,000 followers on Instagram. Other musicians chime in with recommendations on the platform too, with The Maccabees suggesting Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
What Florence reads:
Welch has expressed her love for Amy Liptrot’s novel The Outrun. “I was profoundly affected by this book,” she said. “To get swept out to sea and make it back to tell the tale is a kind of grace… that anyone who has managed to get sober will recognise.”