“Our stories, our books, our films are how we cope with the random trauma-inducing chaos of life as it plays.” — Bruce Springsteen
The Boss, otherwise known as the empirical legend Bruce Springsteen, may well be the salt of the earth but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t, and still isn’t, a bit of a bookworm. Judging by the below list, presented as a perfect antidote to lockdown boredom, the acclaimed singer has read his way across the literary world.
While his discography is most widely renowned for its replication of America’s beating heartland, Springsteen drew inspiration from a wide variety of sources. So we’re taking a look back at a list of his most treasured books and picking out 20 of his favourites for your essential reading list.
In an interview with The New York Times, Springsteen was asked to compile the list through a series of intriguing questions that always had a literature piece as the answer — a canny trick that has provided us with a searing essential reading list. The conversation remains a wonderful insight into the creative mind of one of America’s greatest songwriters, Bruce Springsteen and not only offers an opportunity to see how literary themes can develop in pop music but, if you’re a budding songwriter yourself, perhaps these books are the key to Springsteen’s talent?
Taking a look through the list of Springsteen’s favourite books of all time, there is most certainly a delicate balance being drawn. Some selected titles come from questions which are your usual affair for bar talk debates, such as “You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?”, to which the Boss answers with glee “Philip Roth, Keith Richards, Tolstoy — and one extra, Bob Dylan. A lot of life experience there, and the babbling in different tongues would be wonderful.”
While other questions are a little more probing and require Springsteen to dig a little deeper in his social lexicon, asking him for the book that “made him”, a question we’ve all likely posed ourselves. Springsteen answers, “One would be difficult, but the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me.” The singer continues, “You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day.”
The questions continue to light the way for us as fans to try and understand the Boss’ inner workings and the mind that created so many of our favourite tracks. They go on, “What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?” Bruce replies, “Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land.“, as well as, “The last book that made you cry?” with the ‘Born To Run’ singer answering, “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.”
Springsteen may embody the average American hero, there are also mentions of legendary Russian novelists Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Anton Chekov to show that Springsteen liked to challenge himself with his books both culturally and intellectually.
It is from these answers that the good people of Open Culture pulled together this list of the 20 mentioned books in the interview. It’s a reading list that shows off that while The Boss has always been a blue-collar rocker, he knows a good read when he sees one.
Bruce Springsteen’s favourite books:
- American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and Sabbath’s Theater, by Philip Roth
- Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
- Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
- Chronicles, by Bob Dylan
- Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick
- Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
- Life, by Keith Richards
- Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, by Dennis Overbye
- Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez
- Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
- Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, by Greil Marcus
- The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Soul Mining: A Musical Life, by Daniel Lanois
- The Complete Short Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
- The History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell
- The Novels of Jim Thompson
- The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford
- The Stories of Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov