Monthly Book Group's Reviews > Chronicles, Vol. 1

Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan
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's review
Jan 18, 2014

really liked it

The structure chosen for the book - a series of different shots in time presented in a circular rather than linear manner - provoked wide differences of view. For those who did not like the book this structure was simply awful. Even for some Dylan fans the circularity and complete lack of references or even dates was the major weakness in the book. For others, including some non-Dylan fans, the circularity of structure, cleverly moving through time to end back at the beginning, was not very different to many modern novels. It helped to illuminate cause and effect in the creative process. Dylan had a similar approach to his songs as he argued the order of the verses did not matter.

Guileless as the book appeared, we felt there must be some shaping - or re-creation - of his image involved. He never criticised anyone, and this became irritating and implausible after a while. He went to great lengths to list all the writers he had come across in the libraries of his friends, without saying much of substance about what he took from them. We wondered if this was partly a response to academic speculation about his influences, but felt it also revealed the insecurity of the auto-didact. That being said, his years in New York had clearly served as a very valuable education in the university of life. On the subject of his influences it was pointed out that he seemed to have little or no knowledge of black music in his early formative years. But the most interesting insight into his influences was the role played by reading old newspaper cuttings in public libraries.

Surprisingly open as the book was, he was still enigmatic in some areas, starting with the complete lack of introduction or dedication for the book. We were surprised to be told that the "wife" he refers to in two different episodes was in fact two different wives (the second wife being revealed for the first time to Dylan scholars through the publication of this book). We also noted that he, presumably deliberately, never referred to the colour of any person he mentions.

We ended as we had begun with a wide range of contradictory views. This might be partly explained by the fact that the book assumed in the reader a wide knowledge of Dylan's life and works. However, while most of the non-Dylan fans were not fans of the book, this was not true of all of them, and while most of the Dylan fans were fans of the book, this was not true of all of them either...

This is an extract from a review at Our reviews are also to be found at


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