Rummaging in a rock star's library

Art Garfunkel's website lists every book he's read since 1968.
Having a nose through it is great fun

January 24, 2008
Guardian Unlimited (UK)

Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour isn't just a trove of obscure records; it's also worth listening to for the odd bits of trivia (and recipes) that Bob shares with his listeners. A few weeks ago Dylan mentioned that Art Garfunkel's website lists every book the singer has read since 1968. I'm sure I wasn't alone in immediately checking whether Bob was pulling our legs.

Happily, he wasn't. Art's mammoth list begins in June 1968 with Rousseau's 'The Confessions' and runs until the end of last year, 1,023 books later, with The 'Magnificent Ambersons'. That works out at just over two books a month - not, perhaps, an achievement for a serious reader. What's impressive is that Garfunkel's bothered to record what he's read for the last 40 years.

Art Garfunkel's fans already know he's a bookworm. His first solo album, Angel Clare, was named after a character in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and the songs he made famous with Paul Simon include references to Emily Dickinson and Tolstoy.

But what does the list tell us about the man who's most famous solo single remains Bright Eyes? For starters, as far as I can see, he's never read Watership Down. He probably thought an allegorical novel about rabbits a little lightweight. A random dip into the list (p19, Feb-Dec 1992, 23 books) offers a fairly typical glance onto Art's bookshelf. There are few contemporary novels; instead, many of the fiction choices will be familiar to anyone who's taken an Introduction to American Literature course (Hawthorne, Poe, Faulkner).

Art's a history buff too. Titles like 'Managing US Soviet Rivalry' (July 1984) crop up regularly. One subject which makes a poor showing is music, though Art did make time to read Patrick Humphries' 'Bookends - The Simon and Garfunkel Story' in June 1983.

The list becomes a more fascinating browse once you try to match Garfunkel's reading habits with what he was up to at the time. He read 'Catch-22' in February 1969, 14 years after the book was published, but while he was making his acting debut in Mike Nichols' adaptation of the novel.

There was plenty of time for kicking back with a good book during 'Catch-22's' long production. Paul Simon's The Only Living Boy in New York, from the duo's final studio album together, was a plea for his partner to get cracking with the record ("Tom, get your plane right on time/I know your part'll go fine"). Unfortunately for Paul, Art was firmly on location, reading doorsteps such as 'The Brothers Karamazov' and 'Moby Dick'.

The wheels came off the Simon and Garfunkel tandem again during their 1982-83 reunion world tour. Paul wiped Art's vocals from the album they recorded together following the tour. Anyone who'd been paying attention to what Garfunkel was picking up in airport bookshops during the duo's global jaunt might have spotted signs of disharmony. In December 1982 Art got stuck into 'The Book of Job' , followed by Robin Lane Fox's biography of 'Alexander the Great'. A few months later he was onto Emil Ludwig's 'Napoleon'. Could the mild-mannered singer have been driven to weighty tomes about dictators and the nature of evil, one wonders, by spending too much time with his old pal?

In recent years, his 13-year (frequently staggered) Walk Across America has evidently led Art to ponder the state of the nation. In May 1988, while Ronald Reagan was back in the USSR, our constant reader was hiking through West Virginia with a copy Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and Donald Regan's 'For The Recor'd in his knapsack. (Regan was Reagan's former chief of staff.)

Until a Google search took me to Art Garfunkel's virtual library I can't say I'd given the singer too much thought. Now I know I'm a going to be making regular visits to see what he's reading - and I wish a few other singers would keep similar lists. The first section of Bob Dylan's Chronicles was an enjoyable guided tour of his early literary influences and Leonard Cohen must have got through a few books during his five years in a Buddhist retreat.