27.
While on her hearth lay blazing many a piece
Of sandal wood, rare gums, and cinnamon;
Men scarcely know how beautiful fire is—
Each flame of it is as a precious stone
Dissolved in ever-moving light, and this
Belongs to each and all who gaze upon.
The Witch beheld it not, for in her hand
She held a woof that dimmed the burning brand.
The Witch Of Atlas by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wallace Stevens was apparently a fan of this stanza, as critic Harold Bloom remembers:

Auden I knew pretty well, mostly through John Hollander. Eliot I never met. Stevens I met just once. I was still a Cornell undergraduate. I came up to Yale to hear him read the shorter version of “Ordinary Evening in New Haven.” It was the first time I was ever in New Haven or at Yale for that matter. I got to talk to him afterwards. It was a formidable experience meeting him. We talked about Shelley, and he quoted a stanza of the “Witch of Atlas” to me, which impressed me. “Men scarcely know how beautiful fire is,” it starts [sic]. It’s a chilly, rather beautiful poem.

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The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard, 2007 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

Bowie’s list includes a Who’s Who of contemporary UK literature, with Stoppard, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Sarah Waters, and the late Muriel Spark and Christopher Hitchens all name-checked.

The Coast of Utopia is Stoppard’s trilogy of plays set in 19th-century, pre-revolution Russia.

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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, 1976 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

A classic and still controversial psychological study positing that human consciousness, as recently as 3000 years ago, was essentially “bicameral,” with one part of the brain perceived as “speaking” to another part which “obeys.” In other words, Jaynes believed ancient humans inhabited a mental state similar to what we would now call schizophrenia (and that schizophrenia is in fact a vestige of this state).

Paired with The Divided Self below, this choice seems to suggest that Bowie’s interested in psychological rifts and unconventional notions of the self. Who’d have guessed?

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Raw (a ‘graphix magazine’) 1980-91 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

Raw was the seminal underground comics anthology published from 1980-1991 by husband-and-wife duo Art Spiegelman (now most famous as the author of Maus) and Françoise Mouly (now most famous as the art editor of The New Yorker).

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The Divided Self, R. D. Laing, 1960 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist whose work challenged conventional definitions of mental illness. The Divided Self is a study of contrasts between people with a stable versus an unstable sense of self (“ontological security”).

Could this title, again, be a window onto Bowie’s own unconventional psyche? I mean, Ziggy Stardust’s?

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Money, Martin Amis, 1984 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

Probably the best-known novel by one of England’s best-known contemporary novelists. Subtitled “A Suicide Note” and published in 1984, it’s an indictment of ‘80s materialism and self-absorption.

Amis is the son of Kingsley Amis, himself a famous novelist (Lucky Jim).

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Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia, 1990 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

A much-debated 1990 study of sex and gender in Western culture. This one seems pretty appropriate for Bowie, rock’s reigning master of ambiguous sexual identity.

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The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, 2008 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

Jacoby’s 2008 volume argues that “America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism.” It’s a product of the George W. Bush era, but it hasn’t exactly become less relevant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx2scvIFGjE

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Stepper's photo

4,230

October 2nd, 2013

Ordered this book off Amazon because of this annotation. Got it for 1.50 too!

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2007 Top 100 Must-Read Books by David Bowie

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008. The story of “a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd” who dreams of love and creative fulfillment, it has been widely hailed as Junot Díaz’s masterpiece.

But has Bowie read Díaz’s Wao breakdown on Poetry Genius?

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Of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.
The Fall of Rome by W. H. Auden

Auden may be reworking an image from William Carlos Williams’s famous poem “To Elsie” (1923):

while the imagination strains
After deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
Somehow
it seems to destroy us

Here, too, the imagination of the speaker seems to “strain after” these mysterious animals. It’s at once an escapist image (giving us vibrant natural grandeur after so many images of decaying human grandeur) and an ominous reminder of the swift passage of time—of a natural world that operates on a far vaster scale than the petty comings and goings of human history.

“Silently and Very Fast” is also the name of a novella by Catherynne M. Valente, specifically referencing this poem. She quotes this last verse epigrammatically in the opening.

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