Books Reviews

Chronicles Volume One – Bob Dylan

Who is Bob Dylan?

A twentieth century legend, a giant of contemporary American music (and letters), with an unmistakable, inimitable ever-changing drawl? Or a humble folk musician – forever imitating his own idols, expressing himself through music, lyric and hard work, who happened to be in the right place (or the wrong place, perhaps) in the early 1960’s? Let’s dig into Chronicles Volume One to try and find out.

A Folk Musician

Bob Dylan, in Chronicles, tries hard to convince the reader that he’s only the hard-working folk musician. That the right place was New York. That all those people in the sixties got it wrong. Or that they hung on to something that didn’t exist and never could have. Or as he put it:

I really was never any more that what I was – a folk musician who gazed into the gray mist with tear-blinded eyes and made up songs that floated in a luminous haze.

Bob Dylan – Chronicles Volume One

He goes on to say that he wasn’t a preacher performing miracles, but that the attention and adoration and harrasment that he received was of that level and that it would drive anyone mad. That while he was attempting to raise children and start a family people were calling for him to lead the people. To bring down the Roman Empire (as in America, and what it had become).

Thankfully Bob doesn’t dwell too much on this part of his life, and chooses to explore his feelings and experiences before the amazing fame took hold. Also he goes into some depth about after his status had subsided (from ‘Prophet, Messiah, Saviour’ down to ‘Legend, Icon, Enigma’, ‘anachronisms’ which are, according to Bob, easier to get around with…).

Middle Chapters

Bob recalls working on later albums in some of the middle chapters and dives deep into the writing and recording process for his 1989 album Oh Mercy. The work involved sounds draining, the effort intense. His relationships, with his wife, the musicians and his producer, are tested by the experience but remain strong. Some of the insecurities which, one imagines, all aging/changing artists must deal with are written about head on. His experience with fellow aging rockers The Grateful Dead sounds like it would make an interesting book in itself.

Where the Book Really Shines

The first and last of the chapters – in which Bob recalls leaving his hometown, living in New York, mainly on other people’s sofas, performing anywhere he could with his ‘harp‘ and his ‘double-0 Martin acoustic‘, really standout though. They’re fantastic to read. His rambling style in these sections is great. It’s nostalgic, indulgent, and passionate – these are some of his fondest memories. They are the creation myth of this towering figure.

The details, in the odd way memories have, are at times vague and murky. At other times they are bright and clear. The specifics of place and weather and timings and all kinds of interesting minutiae bundled in with vagaries and generalisation.

And the people. The names are eclectic. People you’ve heard of, many you’ve not, people you’re supposed to know and those you aren’t. Those that shine in Bob’s memory, and a few who don’t.

His memories of listening to records over and over, and of trying his hardest to find different records by the artists he admired, of encountering others greatly inspired by those artists – his awe at discovering Woody Guthrie’s music, and how Robert Johnson’s music, lyrics and image had him ‘possessed’ on the very same day that he signed to Columbia records, and many more gems are found in these chapters.

Legend, Humble Musician, or Both?

As mentioned Bob tries hard to convince you he’s simply a folk singer and nothing more, however, with these memories and anecdotes he manages only to confirm his legendary status…

Apparently Bob has, at times, been working on a follow up in the form of Volume Two, but reddit seems to think differently…

Books Reviews

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is perhaps Hemingway’s most well loved, and certainly his most well known novel. He even saw it as probably his greatest piece of writing – the remarks which he made while it was being published certainly give that impression.

Books Reviews

Rabbit, Run – John Updike

Beginning with a kid’s back-alley basketball game, Updike’s novel, ‘Rabbit, Run’, lures the reader in by foreshadowing the deeper events to come later. The game is interrupted by an ‘odd adult’, 26 year old Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom – our (anti-?) hero. Even here, on the basketball court, where Rabbit feels most at ease in his own skin, he is an outsider and unwanted. Imagine how he fits into the wider American society – the middle class family life, the department store job demonstrating and selling the ‘Magipeel’, and being a member of the Episcopal Church. It is this basketball game that initially represents his estrangement from society, a theme which develops deeply throughout the novel.

Books Reviews

Stoner – John Williams

“In the University library he wandered through the stacks, among the thousands of books, inhaling the musty odor of leather, cloth, and drying page as if it were an exotic incense.”

Although I thought I was 50 years late to reading (and writing a review of) Stoner (1965) by John Williams, it turns out I’m really only a year or two late. Apparently this unassuming and, in some ways, unremarkable novel was the must read book of 2013 according to Julian Barnes writing in December of that year. Anyway, it is indeed a substantially good read – worthy of the fanfare it received recently, and almost frustrating that it did not receive similar reviews during Williams’s own lifetime.

Blog Books

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights – Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s new novel is being released this September…

Books Reviews

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

More to this tale then meets the eye…

Kazuo Ishiguro has been receiving mixed reviews for his first published work in ten years, The Buried Giant. A highly anticipated arrival onto the book market, due in part to the length between releases, but mainly because of Ishiguro’s literary history and triumphs.

Blog Books


Albert Camus – The Stranger

Tl; dr – (Then read the book instead, you won’t regret it.)
In The Stranger Camus uses imagery of nature in an otherwise simply worded text to ultimately express the absurdity of the human condition, and the over-powering steadfastness of nature.

“Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.”

Blog Books Knowledge

The Complexity of Learning

“…learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.” – Umberto Eco, via Brother William of Baskerville. ‘The Name of The Rose’

Thus ends the ‘First Day’ of this week long murder mystery.