Miles: The Autobiography of Miles Davis, Pryor Convictions by Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce’s How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. These books are elegant, pained, wild and brutally funny—like the souls who wrote them.
Delacorta’s Nana, Diva, Lola, and Luna—these mysteries are delicious French trash, full of pianos, crème de menthe, murder.
Children’s books are often salvation for adults: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, any Lewis Carroll, Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology remind me how stories are at the core of our spirits and subsequently our history as human beings.
Please Kill Me is the oral history of punk, and We Got the Neutron Bomb is the LA follow-up. Another oral history (i.e. a transcription of interview segments with involved persons) is Edie, the story of Edie Sedgwick, Factory superstar and speed queen.
I love rock-and-roll books. The Hammer of the Gods (the story of Led Zeppelin), Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Motley Crue’s The Dirt, Cherie Curie’s Neon Angel on her experience in the Runaways. This is largely a matter of living vicariously. Billie Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues isn’t rock but it is amazing. Taschen put out a little book of record album covers that I look through all the time.
Anything by Jung or Freud—both of whom sound more like poets than scientists.
Henry Miller and Bukowski are men I might fight with if we were sitting at the same table, but whose books I love.
Bataille’s Story of the Eye, Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus and Little Birds, Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. When I fist found these books, I liked them just because they were dirty and illicit. And that’s still the reason I like them.
Reading books about how artists in other mediums make their work is worth its weight in gold as inspiration—not just to write, but also to live. The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, and The Art of Making Dances by Doris Humphrey are beautiful books.
My show-business obsession has lead me to many books, including: Brooke Hayward’s Haywire, Budd Schulberg’s The Disenchanted, A Damon Runyon Omnibus, The Lady the Legend the Truth: Lana by Lana Turner, Mel Torme’s It Wasn’t All Velvet, Earl Wilson’s The Show Business Nobody Knows.
I love reading books of Haiku and Japanese novels. I also collect books on Japanese culture like: Confessions of a Yakuza, and a collection of essays called Speed Tribes.
Poetry by Dickinson, Whitman, Donne, Shakespeare, Frost, e.e. cummings, Bishop, Hopkins. It’s amazing how many times I can go back to these poets and realize another level or angle.
There are books I really don’t understand, but reading them is a little like praying; I’m usually fortified afterwards. Berryman’s The Dream Songs, William Gass’s On Being Blue are good examples.
Talismanic books ward off evil. I sometimes carry around any book of Gary Snyder poems (they’re all odysseys of wilderness and enlightenment) or Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems (a New York City odyssey in all its earthy glory).
I love reading the manifestos of certain groups. I found a Narcotics Anonymous guidebook at a Salvation Army, complete with someone’s notes to themselves. I like the Bible. Betty Ford’s Betty, A Glad Awakening is great. And I picked up L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics recently.
Anything by Jean Genet. It took me a long time to enter Genet-land. I’d try to read The Thief’s Journal every couple years, but I was always too bewildered to get far into it. And then, as it often happens with the greatest, craziest books, one day you pick it up again and the light goes on. This just occurred to me when I tried for the third time to read Nightwood by Djuna Barnes and what had been gibberish before was now the most stunning, surreal prose.
Cookbooks. From The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, which combines literary history with recipes for hash and aspic, to The French Laundry Cookbook, which is like food porn. But I don’t cook.
Art books, from Mel Odom’s Dreamer (with its super-80s, creamy, iridescent portraits), to Aya Takano’s hot babana fudge (subversive, rainbowed, Japanese watercolors) to books of Picasso, Gaugin, the Pre-Raphaelites, prison art, erotic woodcuts—any book I can find that has art in it.
Anything by Colette.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer is hyper-stylish, and when I read it, I realized that I love science fiction—a genre I’d never sampled. So going on that, I started to read Anne Rice. And now I love vampires, too. It’s good to be wrong about what you think you like. It’s great to have a whole section of the shelf suddenly open to you.
I have my grandfather’s handwritten Navy log, which cites dolphins and Caribbean meals. My grandmother’s family sent one son to take the tuberculosis-suffering son hunting and fishing in the West until he died, and we have the photographic story of those three years in a big, dusty book.
The best books by Eudora Welty, Ford Maddox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard and Christopher Isherwood are such well-made things.
Books by friends: The Mask-carver’s Son by Alyson Richman, Marc Nesbitt’s Gigantic, Lisa Selin Davis’s Belly.
Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic-novel series is wickedly good, and I love Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake comics. I often go to a comic-book store called Forbidden Planet near Union Square in Manhattan and look through their inventory.
I like 25-cent books at church thrift stores, books left on the street, and I have a re-found appreciation of library books, having recently discovered the inter-library loan system of the Brooklyn public libraries.
Crime noir is a sure thing for me. I’ll read anything by Dashiell Hammet, Patricia Highsmith, David Goodis, Charles Williams, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, James Ellroy, Graham Greene (not quite his category but close), Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain.
I love books that detail extremes of fashion and style, like Goth Chic, Fashion at the Edge and Excess: Fashion and the Underground in the 80s.
Fuck You Heroes is a collection of Glen E. Friedman’s photographs. Friedman was a top contributor to SkateBoarder and Thrasher magazines.
Books on artists’ lives are moving: I recommend Nijinsky and On Rothko
Slang dictionaries, dream dictionaries, encyclopedias of symbols, books of flapper phrases or cowboy lingo—it’s good to luxuriate sometimes in words and meaning without going further and having to have narrative.
I read books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Tzu’s The Way of Life, The Bhagavad-Gita. And I do a poor job of implementing their wisdom into my life, not for lack of effort.
Mob books: Mob Star, Underboss, Doublecross, Wise Guy.
Dirty comic books are often European, like Eric Von Gotha’s A Very Special Prison and Manara’s Butterscotch and La Piege. I also like Michael Mannings’s The Spider Garden series.
Books that devote themselves, with their whole hearts, to the periphery are even better when they’re as brilliant as these: Subculture: the Meaning of Style, and Hustlers, Beats and Others.
Some books give me the rare sense of American heritage: Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral, Cormac McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”, Wolfe’s You Can’t go Home Again, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.
Lillian Bell’s At Home with the Jardines was published in 1902. I like it for obvious reasons.