A Dylan Reading List: A Baker’s Dozen of Recommended Favorites

“We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.”

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Blowin’ in the Wind. Painting by the author. 24"x 36" acrylic on panel.

Someone recently sent me a link to a list of 35 Dylan albums arranged from worst to best. As with all lists there’s bias, and it always surprises me how low some of my favorite albums get ranked in such lists. For this reason I’m not ranking this list of books about Bob Dylan, just sharing the titles. I own more than I’m listing here.

There sure are a lot of Dylan books in the world, and since receiving the Nobel Prize in 2016 there are an increasing number of writers offering their own angles on the man’s story, style or substance.

For fans who enjoy reading and not just listening to the music, here are a few volumes that I own, a relatively small collection compared to some bookshelves I’ve seen.

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Some of the books from my collection. (Photo by the author)

Based on comments that I’ve heard, or read when I reviewed one or another of these, I already know there will be some naysayers who scratch their heads on one or more. I share these because I myself got something out of each. So in no particular order, let’s begin.

Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz
Wilentz is a Princeton historian who provides a deep dive into Dylan’s influences, historical sources and insights to many of the songs that have defined who he is.

Chronicles, Volume 1
Dylan’s autobiographical memoir features insights from key touchstones in his life. Inventive and entertaining, with surprising revelations. When will we see Volume 2?

No Direction Home by Robert Shelton
Shelton was a British music critic who helped launch the career of a young Bob Dylan. When published in 1986 it was declared the definitive unauthorized biography.

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Painting by the author.

Behind the Shades Revisited by Clint Heylin
Heylin is another English author who offered up this in depth bio 15 years after Shelton’s in time for Dylan’s 60th birthday.

The Dylanologists by David Kinney
Kinney is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who turned his lens on Dylan’s fans and followers. Gets close to home, as in Dylan’s homes here in Duluth and in Hibbing. You can read my 2014 review here.

Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Star by Lee Marshall
Lee Marshall’s book on Dylan is an examination of the meaning of stardom and its impact. Bob Dylan happens to be the organism under the microscope here.

Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan by Scott Marshall
Marshall’s book highlights the threads from Dylan’s various songs and interviews that show the vibrancy of his faith, which remained inseparable from the message of his life.

One More Night: Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour by Andrew Muir
Muir’s book documents the Never Ending Tour in a manner I had not yet seen. A good read for fans. His explanation of Dylan’s significance in the mid-Sixties is worth the whole book. Here’s my review, plus an interview with the author.

A Simple Twist of Fate by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard
Gill, a British music journalist, and Odegard, a Twin Cities session musician, collaborated to present the backstory on the making of Blood on the Tracks, considered by many to be one of Dylan’s great recordings, with Minnesota players very close to home.

Performed Literature by Betsy Bowden
Bowden argues that Dylan is a singer-songwriter whose art, as collected and documented by his intended audience, is the live performance. I’ve met a few folks who dismiss her views but she’s done some homework and given an original perspective that I found interesting.

Like a Complete Unknown by John Hinchey
Hinchey wanted to write about something that would interest him for a very long time and he chose to analyze the songs of Bob Dylan as poetry. His first book deals with the songs from Dylan’s first decade, and I assumed he would continue but have not seen anything since. I like the book as a reference source to stimulate ideas when I write about Dylan’s early songs. My review of this volume here.

Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks
Ricks is a literary critic and scholar who is intimately acquainted with Dylan’s work, who as a past president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics offers the fruit of his lifetime of study to shine an original light on the lyrics and writings of this man whom he considers a contemporary genius.

Dylan and Me by Louie Kemp
This book is not really about Bob Dylan. According to Louie Kemp, who met Bobby Zimmerman at Herzl Camp when the two were entering their teen years, Bob Dylan is just a persona. The real person is his friend Bobby, and Kemp — who punched out this memoir one letter at a time on his smartphone with his thumb — has much to say about this friend from his youth. New pictures and new stories can be found here, though many readers will be left wanting still more.

Kemp was the producer of the Rolling Thunder Revue, that wild ride documented in a film released earlier this summer directed by Martin Scorcese. This past month Kemp returned to his home town to launch this memoir of his friendship with Dylan. You can read about that event here.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.

PS: Check out my Dylan-themed pins here and an assortment of Dylan portraits I’ve drawn and painted.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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