Avalanche of Books

by Paula Radice



This month, I have been mainly buying books.

Or rather, books have mainly been arriving like an avalanche from the friendly people at Amazon and other all-too-easy-to-order-from websites. And in addition to the electronic book ordering, I also went to Rome at half term and came home with half a dozen Italian Dylan books in my suitcase. (I was pleased, though, as the last three holidays I've been on, I've had to buy an extra suitcase to come home with, and this time I managed not to add to the luggage collection.) 

A quick run-through of the new books: 

1.  Chronicles, of course. 

I'm not going to comment on it, because I think we'll probably all have the same opinion of it, and besides I feel as if I need to read it at least another five or six times to do it justice. What a joy it is, though, to read all the positive reviews, eh?  Like the rest of the world has just discovered that Dylan can write, whilst we just smirk and say, "We told you so". Mind you, I don't think - I must admit - that I would have had the confidence to put money on the fact that he would be such a good writer, and have such a great eye and memory for detail. It was almost too much to expect, wasn't it?  But yet again, Dylan amazes and astounds. If he doesn't win a Nobel Prize for Literature after this, I shall want to know the reason why. 

It's proving expensive, though, as not only was there the audiobook to buy as well (not that I can listen to it, because I don't want to hear any other voice than Dylan's reading his words) but the foreign language editions are already pouring in: the Norwegian, Swedish and German have already arrived. Can anyone help me get hold of more obscure ones when they come out? The only websites I can't navigate are the ones with different alphabets - Japanese, Greek, Russian. 

2.  Lyrics.

Ditto the above. The English edition is very handsome, with a great silver cover, but the German one arrived today and is completely different and just as pretty. The danger with collecting different editions of this book, though, is that I may need to reinforce my house's foundations; it's a hefty beast in any language. 

3.  Like the Night (Revisited): Bob Dylan and the Road to the Manchester Free Trade Hall (C.P.Lee).

An updated edition of the very brilliant book by our very own wonderful C.P., and thus completely unmissable and totally recommended. The additional material on the controversy over the identity of the "Judas" heckler is particularly interesting, and the information in it completely unique.  C.P. is a great writer, and one can only hope that the third book in his Dylan trilogy comes soon (I heard him speak once at Helter Skelter bookshop, where he promised that the follow-up to "Like a Bullet of Light" and "Like the Night" would be a worthy successor called "Like a Bucket of Shite" - presumably a study of Hearts of Fire, C.P., or would it be about Dylan and the Dead?) Incidentally, it's also great to see that Helter Skelter, despite tragically disappearing from its shop premises, is still in the book publishing business, as they've made some really crucial contributions to the Dylan bookshelves in the last few years. 

4.  The Political Art of Bob Dylan (ed. by David Boucher and Gary Browning).

A very slim but very expensive (at 45) academic tome, which I must admit I haven't read yet, so will have to review another time. Opening a page at random, the first chapter seems to be talking about Rousseau and the history of alienation in Western thought. This may not be your cup at tea, especially at the price. There's a nice 1966 photo of Dylan on the cover, though (superficial, moi?), but no other photos inside.

5.  Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (Oliver Trager).

Another doorstop of a book, at over 700 pages, and interesting in its differentness. Its main usefulness, I think, will be in its treatment of individual songs, especially of songs Dylan has covered, and the detail it gives of the lives of other songwriters. 

However, there is a huge problem with the title. Because of the sheer volume of information that had to go into the book, the author has decided - and he explains the difficulty of this decision in the introduction (it's "a cut that we feel terrible about") - to leave out some people and events central to Dylan's musical career, like Joan Baez, the Band, The Grateful Dead, the members of the current band etc., and the effect of this, it seems to me, is very unbalancing. There are, for example, six paragraphs on Paid the Price, a song Dylan performed once and once only (at Toad's Place), yet no entry at all for Tom Petty or for Tony Garnier. The amount of research in this labour of love is awe-inspiring, though, and definitely makes it an interesting book both to dip into and for research purposes, even if the photo choices that illustrate many entries are rather quirky (to say the least). 

6.  Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader (ed. by Benjamin Hedin). 

A collection, very nicely presented, of some of the most important articles and bits and pieces written about Dylan at different periods of his career. All the obvious candidates are here (Shelton, Christgau, Hentoff, Gleason, Marcus, Ricks) plus some more recent pieces that may not be so familiar. The final piece, for example is Alex Ross' article from The New Yorker in 1999 on Dylan "The Wanderer", which ends up examining the whole field of Dylanology and interviews many of the book's preceding contributors. As a collection, it's more than worthwhile, and a worthy successor to earlier compilation-style books.  Nice "Pop Art"- style cover, too. 

7.The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan (Nigel Williamson).

Hooray, at last a smaller book!  One that's great fun, as well, and sublimely easy to read. Divided into four sections (The Life, The Music, The Movies and Dylanology), the Rough Guide is thorough, but with a light touch. If there are huge biographical or music errors in it, I didn't spot them (tho' as I've said in previous book reviews, I'm not the person to be able to do that anyway, having a minimal brain for retaining detail - don't tell my ex-PhD supervisor - the way proper Dylanologists do.  It's hard enough for me to remember the order the albums came out, sometimes, let alone which songs were recorded at which blasted recording sessions...I'd blame it on advancing age, if I didn't know I've always been scatty.) Anyway, a nice easy read, accessible for the newcomer, but detailed enough for those of us who have been finding out about Dylan for a little while now. Very reasonably priced, too, at under 8. 

And finally, two new Italian books. There's a nice new Italian edition of Scaduto, published last year with the subtitle "La Mitica Biografia Con Due Capitoli Inediti": I can't read it, but it has a great psychedelic-style cover. And an altogether new book, by Cesare Rizzi, called (very originally) Bob Dylan, and only just published. Another "overview" book, with many colour photos giving a full discography (including some of the more colourful bootlegs, and albums with Dylan contributions); very good value for the few euros that it cost (amounting to less than 4) and worth getting even if you don't read Italian, I think. 

Enough books! Let me know if you come across any weird or wonderful foreign editions you think I might be interested in. I won't have any money left to buy them by then, but the information might be useful! I'd better warn Father Christmas that he may have a few foreign language copies of Chronicles in his sack next month.