“Sometimes when I want to feel smarter, I sneak up on this volume on my bookshelf and kiss it:” Recommended reads from John Waters


“Nothing is more impotent than an unread library” says Waters in the 6th chapter of his book Role Models (2010), one of my personal favorite reads of the summer. Here, Waters confesses his love and admiration for his friends and heroes Johnny Mathis, Leslie Van Houten, fashion designer Rei Kawakubo and others, including the authors of and characters featured in the following books: 

  • Denton Welch’s 1945 novel In Youth Is Pleasure (“so precious, so beyond gay, so deliciously subversive…”) 
  • Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003) (“a hit cult book for women without offspring who were finally able to admit they didn’t want to give birth.”)
  • Christina Stead’s 1965 The Man Who Loved Children (a “devastating portrait of one of the most hateful, spiteful, unhappy marriages ever imagined…”)
  • Jane Bowles’s 1943 Two Serious Ladies (“Tennessee Williams’s ‘favorite book’ might just perk up your mood.”)
  • Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett (1951) (“Little actual action, almost no description, and endless pages of hermetically sealed, stylized, sharp, cruel, venomous Edwardian dialogue.”)
  • and (from a subsequent chapter) The Life and Times of Little Richard (1984) (“perhaps the best and most shocking celebrity tell-all book ever written…It’s a real lulu.”)

And guess what?! Brooklyn Public Library has them all! Well, all but one. I checked.

Waters advises his readers, “You should never just read for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgemental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”


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