Volume One
Bob Dylan
Simon and Schuster, $24, 304 pp.

So vividly written and deeply engaging is Bob Dylan’s memoir that it would be memorable and valuable even if it were by someone less famous and fascinating. Chronicles: Volume One says, shows, and reveals much about the elusive, mysterious author. Any curious reader will find this a distinct, compelling, and sometimes surprising book.

The first surprise is Dylan’s persistently clear communication. He tells his story and presents himself “in plain talk,” without artifice or evasion. Richly written, often beautifully realized, the prose lucidly conveys Dylan’s abiding attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. The organizing principle of the book, and the essential identity of the subject, is music: Chronicles testifies to the passion and purpose of creative expression.

Whoever Dylan may really be or have been, the Bob Dylan of Chronicles is an enthusiastic, dedicated, and haunted folk musician, properly regarded as “someone in the long line of a tradition, the tradition of blues...and folk, and not as some newfangled wunderkind on the cutting edge.”

Dylan deplores his image, fostered by legend, as a guru, prophet, and “conscience of his generation.” Still, his vehement rejection of “the image of me” as poet-prophet isn’t simple or straightforward: though he always only wanted to play, he eagerly, emphatically wanted to mean something. His dark sensibility, brooding introspection, and imaginative powers...

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About the Author

Robert H. Bell is Kenan Professor of English and founding director of the Project for Effective Teaching at Williams College. He is the author of Jocoserious Joyce: The Fate of Folly in 'Ulysses' and, with William C. Dowling, A Reader's Companion to 'Infinite Jest'.