Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

The Top 12 List of the Favorite Fiction I Have Read in 2020


This being the year of the lockdown, I had time to read a couple of lengthy doorstop novels (‘The Maias’ and ‘Life A User’s Manual’) just like I used to do before I began writing regular blog posts. Also this year I discovered that there was some amazing fiction from the past which I had missed previously.

Click on either the bold-faced title or the cover image to see my original review for each work.


The Maias’ By Eça de Queirós (1888) – ‘The Maias’ is a jaunty vastly pleasurable trip in mid-to-late 19th-century Lisbon, Portugal society with some lively quick-witted companions. Readers new to Eça de Queirós can start with the short novella ‘The Yellow Sofa’ to determine if you like his style of writing or not.


‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar (2020) – ‘A Burning’ is a vivid powerful novel which focuses on one of the major crises in our world today, racial hatred. ‘A Burning’ is a world-changer if enough people read it and take it to their minds and souls.




‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell (2020) – A most intense depiction of family life and death in the late 16th century. Imagine an entire novel about William Shakespeare that contains not one line from his plays or his sonnets.




‘Tyll’ by Daniel Kehlmann (2017) – ‘Tyll’ is a sometimes light, sometimes black comedy which entirely suits the Thirty Years War. This novel is fascinating at the sentence level, a real accomplishment for both the author and the translator. Daniel Kehlmann brings a smart playful quality to his fiction that makes his writing well nigh irresistible.


Missionaries’ by Phil Klay (2020) – ‘Missionaries’ is a novel about the United States’ never-ending, misbegotten wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, and now Yemen. It is most focused on the drug wars in Colombia. ‘Missionaries’ opened my eyes to what is really happening in this world. It is a novel that will change your entire worldview.


‘Woe From Wit’ by Alexander Griboedov (1823) – From the very first words in the prologue of this verse play in four acts you can tell that it is going to be sharp and special:

Fate’s a mischief making tease,

That’s her character in brief,

a fool is blissfully at his ease,

a man of spirit comes to grief.


‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman (2017) – Someone could argue that the story in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ is not very sophisticated. I do not see sophistication as a necessary or even desirable attribute of literature. Rather I see stating situations as simply and clearly as possible as one of the hallmarks of good literature, and that ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ does. Eleanor Oliphant’ is a poignant and affecting story.


‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor (2016) – ‘Hurricane Season’ is not for the squeamish or easily offended. The characters in this novel tell the truth about some very rough things. They are angry and the words they use are coarse and direct. Read ‘Hurricane Season’ if you are brave and honest enough to take it.



Other People’s Love Affairs’ by D. Wystan Owen (2018) – These eloquent stories go deeper into the circumstances and the psyches of their main characters than most stories do. People in them almost connect but not quite. This is a collection of short stories which will move you if you are willing to be moved.


‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid (2020) – ‘Such a Fun Age’ is a novel with a light touch that captures the dialogue of people socializing, whether it be a group at a party or dinner or just two people alone. Rather than an individual character contemplating a problem or situation, we get the interplay of many voices. What this novel really excels in are exchanges between groups of young women, whether young mothers or young single women. Kiley Reid’s enthusiasm for her story rubs off on the reader.


Indelicacy’ by Amina Cain (2020) – ‘Indelicacy’ is a powerful novella about creativity. Can a woman who cleans toilets and mops floors for a living have strong ambitions to be a writer? ‘Indelicacy’ answers that question with a resounding “Yes”. ‘Indelicacy’ is a novel about the struggle to create. One gets the impression that Amina Cain carefully chose each precise word in this unusual novella ‘Indelicacy’. It is a work that captures you on a visceral level rather than an intellectual level, which is always a good thing.


‘Life A User’s Manual’ by Georges Perec (1978) – I just cannot leave this novel off my year’s best list even though at times I loathed, loathed it and at other times I loved, loved it.






Also this year I read two excellent works of non-fiction – ‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson and ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan.





My favorite collection of poems in 2020 is ‘Failing Heaven’ by Charles Behlen.










‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan – The Songwriting Begins


‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan   (2004) – 293 pages

I am by no means a Bob Dylan completist.

My relationship with Dylan’s songs over the years has been erratic to say the least. I have only bought a few Dylan albums, and a couple of them I have been disappointed with. At least one of those originally disappointing albums I learned later to really like and another one I stayed disappointed with. For a long time I preferred Joan Baez’s versions of his songs, especially ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and ‘Farewell Angelina’.

I remember when the radio became inundated with Dylan songs including ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ by the Byrds, ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ by the Turtles. ‘All I Really Want To Do’ by Sonny and Cher, ‘The Mighty Quinn’ by Manfred Mann and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix as well as Dylan’s own performances of his classics including ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, and ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’.

I could list my 10 favorite Bob Dylan songs as of today, but tomorrow the list might change anyway.

It took me sixteen years to finally get around to reading his partial autobiography, ‘Chronicles: Volume One’. It turns out that ‘Chronicles’ is a fascinating book; it is offhand, spontaneous, and enthusiastic, everything I look for in an autobiography.

Bob Dylan did not start out as a songwriter. He started out playing other people’s songs. From the beginning he was almost totally devoted to music but not his songs. Much of ‘Chronicles’ is about how Dylan came to write his own songs. Two of his primary influences were the folk musician Woody Guthrie and Delta blues musician Robert Johnson. However he expresses enthusiasm for many other musicians and songwriters throughout ‘Chronicles’. He is for the most part generous in what he says about them, and when he can’t be generous he is sincere. I admired his sincerity throughout ‘Chronicles’.

‘Chronicles’ gives us striking word pictures of only a few of the many phases of Dylan’s life, starting when he arrives in New York City alone with his acoustic guitar from his family home in Hibbing, Minnesota, not even 20 years old. At this point Woody Guthrie is his idol, and Dylan seeks out the offbeat folk music venues where he can perform. He also visits Woody Guthrie who is hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital in New Jersey.

Then we jump ahead to 1970, and Dylan is working on another album ‘New Morning’. By this time Dylan is mighty tired of being “the voice of a generation’, being accused of “turning my back on the folk community”, and being hounded by the press and everyone else. He just wanted to be left alone with his family. Just before ‘New Morning’, he apparently intentionally put out a bad album ‘Self-Portrait’ to deflect attention away from himself.

The next jump in this autobiography is to 1987. This long chapter is about Dylan’s renewal as a songwriter and musician. He came together with producer Daniel Lanois and some musicians in New Orleans and created the album ‘Oh, Mercy’ of his own original songs, and that album is considered a comeback for him.

The last chapter goes back to Dylan’s very early teenage days in Minneapolis when he first discovered folk music.

Along the way, throughout the book, we get scattered appreciations of Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Joan Baez, Johnny Rivers, Johnny Cash, and Tennessee Williams, among several others. Here are some of Dylan’s words on Harry Belafonte :

Harry Belafonte was also there. Harry was the best balladeer in the land and everybody knew it. He was a fantastic artist, sang about lovers and slaves – chain gang workers, saints and sinners and children…He was a movie star, too, but not like Elvis. Harry was an authentic tough guy, not unlike Brando or Rod Steiger. He was dramatic and intense on the screen, had a boyish smile and a hard-core hostility…To Harry it didn’t make any difference. People were people. He had ideals and made you feel you were part of the human race. There never was a performer who crossed so many lines as Harry. He appealed to everybody whether they were steelworkers or symphony patrons or bobby-soxers, even children. He had that rare ability.”

I admired Bob Dylan’s sincerity and enthusiasms throughout this autobiography.



Grade:    A



‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ by Bob Dylan


bob-daylan-8x10-photo-107There is some controversy over Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature,  yet it would be difficult to find anyone who has had more of an impact on more people with their words than Bob Dylan.  Many consider Bob Dylan a poet, and the tradition of a poet putting their words into music goes way back.

Another reason Dylan is a good selection is that, yes, Bob Dylan is from the United States, but he is known and admired throughout the world.

As my last argument that he deserves the prize as well as to honor Bob Dylan, I am setting down the words to one of his great lyrics.  You might want to listen to the song too.  Here are both the Bob Dylan version and the Joan Baez version.


“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan   (1965)


You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
The empty handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
Your empty handed armies, are all going home
Your lover who just walked out the door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start a new
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

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