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From Philip Larkin to Sylvia Plath: Nick Cave's 50 favourite books of all time


We take great pleasure in reading Nick Cave’s fan-led forum Red Hand Files. The singer and leader of The Bad Seeds has been a longtime idol of the Far Out office and we’ve enjoyed seeing fellow fans reach out and connect with the singer on all manner of subjects. Within one such entry on the files, Cave delivered a list of his favourite books of all time.

The Red Hand Files, a space for the musician to connect with his supporters, has seen Cave continue his role as the maturing rocker you dreamed of and found a formerly menacing figure now wise, warm and happy to field questions on everything from dealing with loss and grief to picking his favourite records and films. One such entry has seen Nick Cave select his 50 favourite books of all time as well as providing a literary caveat to boot. The list is just as you’d expect, rich, dense and full of intrigue.

The latest effort from Cave sees him responding to a question from Victoria. The Bad Seeds fan asks, referencing our recent feature on Bob Dylan’s 40 favourite books, whether he would “consider compiling a list of 40 books you love?” Cave dutifully replied not only with his list, and a few more to boot but with some advice for those searching for truth in his “incoherent” list that he was without his extensive library to choose from.

An avid reader and one of the most criminally underrated wordsmiths in rock music, Cave is no stranger to immersing himself in literature. Like any good book reader and literature lover, it’s clear he could assemble a different list of his favourites every different day of the week: “Normally, to answer this question I would simply go to my bookshelves and choose forty books,” replies Cave. “However, my bookshelves are completely empty. The 5000+ books I have accumulated over the years have been shipped to the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen.”

The library of books that Cave holds so dear appeared as part of the truly astonishing Stranger Than Kindness exhibit, a show which chronicled everything about the Aussie legend. The list is simply booming with incredible titles from some esteemed authors and literary figures, all of which had an influence on the Bad Seeds frontman in some capacity.

“Without my library in front of me, it is a little difficult to assemble a comprehensive list of my forty most loved books,” he writes, referencing that the collection of work remains in Denmark. “The best I can do is throw together a rather formless and incoherent grab bag of titles that come to mind at this moment that, for one reason or another, I have loved over the years. I think I got carried away. I think there are fifty — in no particular order.”

The below list acts not only as a selection of Nick Cave’s most-loved books but a chance to peer through into what makes Cave tick and the opportunity to add to your summer reading list.

Nick Cave’s 50 favourite books:

  • American Dreams – Sapphire
  • Break, Blow, Burn – Camille Paglia
  • The Largesse of the Sea Maiden – Denis Johnson
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor
  • I and Thou – Martin Buber
  • Straight Life – Art Pepper
  • The Bible – King James Edition
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  • High Windows – Philip Larkin
  • The Conference of Birds – Attar of Nishapur
  • My Promised Land – Ari Shavit
  • The Christ at Chartres – Denis Saurat
  • King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild
  • America a Prophecy – Jerome Rothenberg
  • Ariel – Sylvia Plath
  • The Book of Ebenezer Le Page – Gerald Basil Edwards
  • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
  • The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
  • Shaking the Pumpkin – Jerome Rothenberg
  • The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
  • The Collected Works of Saint Teresa of Avila
  • Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
  • Mid-American Chants – Sherwood Anderson
  • Collected Works of Billy the Kid – Michael Ondaatje
  • American Murder Ballads and Their Stories – Olive Woolley Burt
  • Poems of W. B. Yeats – Selected by Seamus Heaney
  • The Good Lord Bird – James McBride
  • Consolations – David Whyte
  • Roget’s Thesaurus – Peter Mark Roget
  • Here I Am – Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Lives of the Saints – Alban Butler
  • Inferno/From an Occult Diary – August Strindberg
  • Poems 1959-2009 – Frederick Seidel
  • S.C.U.M Manifesto – Valerie Solanas
  • Complete Poems of E. E. Cummings
  • The Anatomy of Melancholy – Robert Burton
  • Dave Robicheaux Novels – James Lee Burke
  • Victory – Joseph Conrad
  • A Flower Book for the Pocket – Macgregor Skene
  • The Informers – Bret Easton Ellis
  • The Frog Prince – Stevie Smith
  • Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov
  • Sanctuary – William Faulkner
  • Short Stories of Anton Chekhov
  • The Factory Series – Derek Raymond
  • The Dream Songs – John Berryman
  • Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
  • Walkabout – James Vance Marshall