with thanks to the Is It Rolling, Bob? podcast interviews with me for most of the chat


... of my first new Dylan book for 15 years: "Outtakes On Bob Dylan: Selected Writings 1967-2021"; available direct from the UK publisher:




I really don't keep this blog any longer, but just in case you visit it in 2021, let me make sure you know about this new book. It's over 350 pages and is a UK hardback compiling a series of essays and articles of mine, some published (everywhere from Rolling Stone to the Weekend Telegraph, from Melody Maker to ISIS and from Sight & Sound to the Japan Times and Canadian Folklore canadien)  -  plus some never previously published work, including a massive essay on Rough And Rowdy Ways
If you order direct from the publisher at http://www.route-online.com/all-books/outtakes-on-bob-dylan.html BEFORE THE END OF APRIL 2021 you will receive an individually numbered copy. The book will not be available through bookshops or other online outlets until much later in the year. This is my first book about Bob Dylan since the updated Bob Dylan Encyclopedia 13 years ago!

rather late but here's my list of...


A READING DIARY: A Year Of Favourite Books, Alberto Manguel, 2004 many gemlike quotations & a nice restrained chattiness, but he's often precious, and a bit of a name-dropper.

THE SECRET LIFE OF COWS, Rosamund Young, 2017 edn Credible & creditable close long-term observation of cows allowed to live relatively free lives, yielding much about their quirks, feelings, behaviour, differences, and levels of trust in the author and her partners. No word about their responses to being taken for slaughter by the same people though.

STATION ELEVEN, Emily St.John Mandel, 2014 A surprising delight: elegaic, well-written and unusually kindly novel while telling, very thoughtfully, a tale of dystopian cataclysm; I was sorry to come to the end of it.

KIM, Rudyard Kipling, 1901 Strongly written - with British Empire confidence yet huge respect for, and knowledge of, such variegated Indian life - and though its long, slow beginning tries the patience (and no modern child would persevere) it becomes beguiling and includes too few of the depictions of landscape he does superbly.

RECENT HISTORY, Anthony Giardina, 2001 Well-written novel in which a sensitive, observant suburban youth grows up to be a drip.

MURDER, MAYHEM & MUSIC HALL: The Dark Side of Victorian London, Barry Anthony, 2015 Thoroughly researched, entertaining account centred on theatre-world scandals & crime.

DOGS FROM ALL ANGLES, Nina Scott-Langley & K.R.G.Browne, 1936 Largely hilarious commentaries (sometimes wildly inaccurate, eg re Bedlington Terriers) & quaint angular drawings.

HALF AN INCH OF WATER, Percival Everett, 2015 Short stories (a form I've never liked) in each of which a decent, laconic man living in a sparse western-state landscape that is described in spare prose either solves or fails to solve a problem handed to him by someone he hardly knows.

EUROPE BY RAIL: The Definitive Guide, Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, 2017 Strikingly well-written, thoughtful guidebook not only to train routes but to countries, cities and landscapes.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT, Michael Ondaatje, 1992 A major WW2 novel I'd never read. It's framed with great originality and in prose of reverberating intensity.

MAGPIE MURDERS, Anthony Horowitz, 2016 A whodunnit about whodunnits predictably more concerned to be clever than to be plausible (postmodernitis). Plus a horribly smug narrator; is this a deliberate attack on people in publishing, or does he think this woman's ok?: hard to tell. Tosh.

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, Edith Wharton, 1905 In the end a sad story but so sharply witty in its observations of society I found myself thinking it made Jane Austen seem myopic.

THE DEATH OF THE HEART, Elizabeth Bowen, 1938 Penetrating scrutiny of: a self-suffocating upper middle class 1930s London couple and their obliviousness to their soon-to-vanish servants; a naive teenager; lower middle class seaside life; and the wretchedness of a redundant ex-soldier's poverty & social isolation.

MARCH VIOLETS, Philip Kerr, 1989 Serviceable detective novel set in Nazi Germany; hopeless about women characters (and this is not defensible on period-attitude grounds because he uses a noticeably more modern voice on other topics).

ORLEY FARM, Anthony Trollope, 1862 For much of this long novel I felt that it might well be a great 19th Century novel that somehow no-one ever mentioned, but in the end it failed at a couple of hurdles, especially in its surprising insipidity as the young romantic heroine eventual gains the lover of her choice; but a fine novel all the same, full of characters, a decent & dramatic plot and a particularly moving scene of between a loving father and daughter.

A CRIME IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, Suzanne Berne, 1997 Strong portrait of an American suburb in the early 1970s; well plotted, shifting our view of the child-narrator cleverly as it goes; I appreciated it more after discussing it later than during the reading.

THE SINGER'S GUN, Emily St.John Mandel, 2010 Such a compelling story of crime, conflicted loyalties and love - modern and brilliant (and very different from 'Station Eleven') from a real writer. So many strata above workaday crime fiction like the Philip Kerr. She's a major find.

THE HEAT OF THE DAY, Elizabeth Bowen, 1948 Patchy but important novel of WWII London, exploring issues of identity, loyalty and trust, with passages of improbable dialogue and a habit of awkardly arranged sentence structure, yet the most superb, hyperreal, inspired description of the psychology of Londoners in the Blitz.

THE DISCOVERY OF SLOWNESS, Sten Nadolny, 1983 [English translation by Ralph Freedman 1987] Beguiling, admirable novel not quite like anything I've ever read; a fond and ingenious partly fictional portrait of Sir John Franklin from boyhood to death; sorry I reached the end.

A SHILLING FOR CANDLES, Josephine Tey, 1936 Whodunit; useful display of the class snobberies of England between the wars.

SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW, William Maxwell, 1979 A beautiful novel of sensitive intelligence, compassion and sense of place (rural Illinois 1920s-70s); reminded me in these ways of The Other Side of The Bridge by Mary Lawson.

MR. NORRIS CHANGES TRAINS, Christopher Isherwood, 1935 Another I'd never read before. Disliked, early on, the exaggerated portrayal of Norris and the sordid allusions to S&M, but grew to admire this short, distinctive novel. Scrupulous portrait of German Weimar Republic life.

BLIND CORNER, Dornford Yates, 1927 A preposterous adventure yarn by a favourite author of my father's, typifying what Alan Bennett calls "that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good-class tweed through [British] twentieth-century literature."

INTO THE WATER, Paula Watkins, 2017 It's 90 years later and the crime thriller is more real, but though it's a page-turner, no one character is half as vivid or convincing as the narrator in her terrific 'The Girl On The Train'.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, Anthony Doerr, 2014 Unlike the characters trapped in WWII, I wanted it to never end: the best book about the coming of war and war itself that I have ever read; a beautiful and great novel.

CHASING THE MONSOON, Alexander Frater, 1990 I'm re-reading this after many years (having now been to India, though only once). The copious background research is too often introduced clunkily, but it's otherwise entertaining and quite funny; there are also large chunks of autobiography about his own childhood on a similarly rainy island in Vanuatu.

ABOUT GRACE, Anthony Doerr, 2005 Had to read this, his first novel; not as outstanding as t'other, but a very unusual, compelling book, suffused with a special sadness throughout.

WHEN A CROCODILE EATS THE SUN, Peter Godwin, 2006 Shaky start but becomes a well-written, convincing insider's account of watching Mugabe's Zimbabwe descend into violence, cruelty, stupidity and waste: an account that blends very skilfully and articulately a detailed picture of his own white family life with the shameful detail of national disintegration.

TWO CARAVANS, Marina Lewycka, 2007 A lovely book: clever, multi-faceted and funny, but at the same time a vivid education in the gruesome exploitation of immigrant workers in today's UK.

ALWAYS OTHER VOICES: Writings on Bob Dylan in the 21st Century, Stephen Scobie, 2018 An attractive mixed bag, featuring Stephen's distinctively appealing voice on many topics.

SMALL ISLAND, Andrea Levy, 2004 Starts so badly I almost gave it up; so glad I didn't. She has no style but the story she tells is so multi-layered, so wide-ranging (Jamaica, India in WWII, London 1948) and uses many character-narrators, all of whom work well except the first. An important synthesis of many cultural strands told with sympathy for all sides. Bit soulless, though.

THE CLEARING, Tim Gautreaux, 2003 He's a great writer, and this is as memorable a novel as 'The Next Step In The Dance' (1999). He makes a world so vividly realised here, in such detail and yet with an elegaic sweep; so atmospheric yet so specific. A novel of such violence yet so much humanity, a time and place of tough realism created with unerring poetic prose.

THE SHIPPING NEWS, Annie Proulx, 1993 A masterpiece. Straight in to my (unwritten) list of Best 5 Novels Ever Read. Came to the end with the greatest possible reluctance. Cast adrift, bereft, without it.

AFRICA EXPLORED: Europeans in the Dark Continent 1769-1889. Christopher Hibbert, 1982 Efficiently told, well summarised accounts, yet in some detail, of the extraordinary people who made these dangerous explorations and the equally extraordinary people they encountered.

THE TRANSLATION OF THE BONES, Francesca Kay, 2011 A beautifully written and very English, very Roman Catholic novel mesmerised by the language of liturgy, set mostly in a barely-present London but terrific on parent-child love.

JANE EYRE, Charlotte Bronte, 1847 A re-read after many decades. Remarkable novel, rather better than the more currently modish 'Wuthering Heights" by her sister and at least as racy in its time; and in St.John Rivers she has created one of the most truly loathsome characters in English fiction.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, Elizabeth Strout, 2016 A short and very American novel that took me by surprise: I spent the first 75% or so finding it thin and insubstantial (and the wide high praise for it inexplicable) and then suddenly I found it very moving indeed.

THE GREEN YEARS, A.J. Cronin, 1944 Having only read 'The Citadel' (and that many years ago), and aware that Cronin has fallen heavily from literary favour in recent decades, I loved and admired this exceptionally well-written, compelling coming-of-age novel set in a time-past Scottish town.

THE BREAKER, Minette Walters, 1998 Whodunit that begins ok but plummets horribly: dodgy, flat characterisation and toe-curlingly bad dialogue, especially when her characters are being friendly or flirtatious. It makes Agatha Christie seem literary.

THE ACCIDENTAL, Ali Smith, 2006 Rapturous.

RED BIRDS, Mohammed Hanif, 2018 Starts badly with an uncertain narrative tone, achieves a clever and inspired central 150-page portrait of the mad relationship between foreign wars and the refugee camps & rehabilitation programmes those wars create... and then a final 70-odd pages so exasperatingly pointless and silly you wonder why Hanif didn't just delete them.

THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, Maggie O'Farrell, 2006 Moving novel written with beautiful clarity and with a glorious main character whose life is ruined but not quite crushed by her family and the mores of the age in which she grew up.


photo © Andrea Orlandi

I've added four November UK dates to my tour: in Inverness and on the Isle of Man on "Bob Dylan, Literature & the Poetry of the Blues" and two on "Searching For Blind Willie McTell: A Biographer in the Deep South": one in Peel, Isle of Man and the other in London. Here's the current list:

Tuesday October 30, 7.45pm

Riverfront Arts Centre
Bristol Packet Wharf
Newport NP20 1HG South Wales
box office: 01633 656757
tickets £13 (includes £1 booking fee) on sale now

Thursday Nov 1, 7.30pm
Queens Hall Theatre & Arts Centre
Beaumont Street, Hexham NE46 3LS
box office: 01434 652477, or online here:
tickets £10 (£8 concessions) on sale now

Sunday Nov 4, 5pm
Byres Rd,
Glasgow, G12 8QX
box office: 0141 357 6200
, or online here:
tickets £10 (+ £1.50 fee) on sale now

Monday Nov 5, 7.30pm

Bishops Road, Inverness, IV3 5SA

Box Office: 01463 234 234
or online: details tba
tickets £10 (+ £1 fee) on sale soon
Thursday Nov 8, 9pm

28 Thomas Street
D08 VF83 Dublin
(01) 402 0914


for tickets in advance:
tickets €15

Saturday Nov 10, 6pm
Edge Hill University, St Helens Rd
Ormskirk Lancs. L39 4QP
box office:
01695 584480 or https://tinyurl.com/edgehilldylan
tickets £5 (free to EHU students) on sale now

Sunday Nov 11, 7.30pm

New Road, Laxey, Isle of Man IM4 7BD
07624 414299

but for tickets phone
07624 204320 or e-mail

online booking details to come
tickets £12

Monday Nov 12, 7.30pm

SEARCHING FOR BLIND WILLIE McTELL:A Biographer in the Deep South (incl. tracks & possibly footage)
plus guest artist John Gregory performing selected McTell songs (guitar & vocals)
(The Atholl Room) 22 Atholl St, Peel IM5 1BD
but for tickets phone 07624 204320 or e-mail
online booking details to come
tickets £10

Wednesday Nov 14, 5pm
A Biographer in the Deep South
(possibly including audio gems)

GoldsmithsCollege, University of London
New Cross, London SE14 6NW
room details tba in September
free admission

a tour of talks by Michael Gray with surprising tracks and rare footage
one or two more dates may be added

Tuesday October 30, 7.45pm

Riverfront Arts Centre
Bristol Packet Wharf
Newport NP20 1HG South Wales
box office: 01633 656757

tickets £13 (includes £1 booking fee)
on sale now

Thursday Nov 1, 7.30pm
Queens Hall Theatre & Arts Centre
Beaumont Street, Hexham NE46 3LS
 box office: 01434 652477, or online here:
tickets £10 (£8 concessions) on sale now

Sunday Nov 4, 5pm
Byres Rd,
Glasgow, G12 8QX
box office: 0141 357 6200
, or online here:

tickets £10 (+ £1.50 fee) on sale now
Thursday Nov 8, 9pm

28 Thomas Street
D08 VF83 Dublin
(01) 402 0914


for tickets in advance:
tickets €15
Saturday Nov 10, 6pm
Edge Hill University, St Helens Rd
Ormskirk Lancs. L39 4QP
box office:
01695 584480 or
tickets £5 (free to EHU students) on sale now

Sunday Nov 11, 7.30pm

New Road, Laxey, Isle of Man IM4 7BD
07624 414299


for tickets phone 07624 204320 or e-mail

online booking details to come
tickets £12


It's not often I review a book, but I have to review this one: "EUROPE BY RAIL: The Definitive Guide" by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, 15th edition, Nov. 2017.

This is a beautifully produced paperback, with inside cover flaps you can use as bookmarks, clearly not made on the cheap.

It offers 50 suggested routes you might not have considered yourself, each taking you through striking parts of Europe, and each properly rail-tested by the authors, from 'Exploring the French Riviera' to 'Through Balkan Byways to Greece', and from 'Through Poland to Ukraine' to 'Across the Alps: Bavaria to Northern Italy'.

In every case there's up-to-date info on how to take the slow route; where to break your journey overnight; how long each section will take... and which side of the train to sit for the significant views. There are also quite substantial asides (on pink backgrounds) on, for example, Kosovo, languages of Vojvodina, the Alps by bus, orthodoxy in Finland, the Aland Islands ("Although part of the European Union, this scatter of islands lies outside the EU's fiscal regime - a little accounting curiosity..."), "the wandering Arctic Circle", and Rhine versus Moselle.

At the back there's a 60+ page gazeteer covering 48 European countries and telling you about their currencies, time zones, languages, types of electric socket and more; and at the front there are glossy photographs showing, for example, that "enthusiasm for Soviet-style memorials has not waned in Belarus" and that "steam-hauled trains are still seen every day in the Harz Mountains in eastern Germany". There are also maps, thoughtful advice about tickets and rail-passes, stations worth a visit in their own rights, and an enormous amount more besides. And an index.

One of the great virtues of this book, and a key to its being so enjoyable to read (even when no real journey is planned), is that it's well written - which makes it a rarity among practical guidebooks. It reminds me, in this way, of the Cadogan Guides of the 1980s-90s written by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls. They too had a relish for alert, vivid prose free of travel-hack cliche and addressed with generosity of spirit to readers assumed to be open-minded and interested.

In the end, taking in "Europe By Rail" without taking myself around Europe by rail, it's hard not to be mournfully wistful about all the places I've never been, all the rails not travelled. (It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry, perhaps.) But it's also a powerful reminder of the cacophanous splendour of Europe itself - a continent so compact yet so riddled with infinitely varied quirks, beauty, age and elan. This book replenishes the feeling those of us who've spent time in Los Angeles or Newfoundland always tend to harbour: thank god for Europe.
Here's the list of  books I read last year, and what I felt about them:

THE WOMAN IN WHITE, Wilkie Collins, 1860 long and wonderful, its suspense maintained very vividly across most of the novel.
THE SEED COLLECTORS, Scarlett Thomas, 2015 pretentious & self-regarding.
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, 2008 despite the awful title, dual authorship & horribly perky first 20 pages or so, this becomes a wonderful, moving book that works as fiction and as a documentary portrait of wartime occupied Guernsey; exceptional.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE, Mary Lawson, 2006 an even more admirably clear-sighted and deeply affecting novel than her "Crow Lake"; too short, though.
THE CROSSING, Andrew Miller, 2015 vital, poetic prose & a compelling heroine.
CHARLES DICKENS: A CRITICAL STUDY, George Gissing, 1898 to my surprise (since I loved "Grub Street" and love a lot of Dickens) I had to give this up after five chapters; far too stuck in the agonies of late-Victorian moralising.
GRAY MOUNTAIN, John Grisham, 2014 many GoodReadsers have moaned about it being an "issue book", but it's deeply researched about strip mining, black lung disease & the corporate trashing of the Appalachians; commendable & timely
ROAD ENDS, Mary Lawson, 2013 a lesser work & even shorter, but recommended; I wish there were more of her work - three novels aren't enough from this great writer (though there's another one written in French, which I wouldn't be able to tackle; there seems to be no English translation).
THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, Anne Bronte, 1848 both narrators (speaking as letter & diary writers plagued by total recall) seem foolish early on, and the ending is too pat, but the portraint of the heroine's dissolute husband is absorbing. The book never explores or questions reliance on and exploitation of faithful servants, but it does examine the double standards in law & marriage between men and women.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, Philip K. Dick, 1962 patchiest book ever read; fresh sentences, long tedious passages, improbable characters, one great character.
GEORGE GISSING: A LIFE, Paul Delaney, 2008 diligently researched sympathetic study of an affecting, hopelessly wretched life & of a fascinating literary novelist; few people can ever have shot themselves in the feet as repeatedly as Gissing did.
THE ABORTIONIST'S DAUGHTER, Elisabeth Hyde, 2006 third-rate crime novel with implausible plot detail; manages to be both glib and clunky at the same time.
TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY In The Cevennes, R L Stevenson, 1879 a rare delight.
MRS. DALLOWAY, Virginia Woolf, 1925 an absolute masterpiece.
THIS SIDE OF BRIGHTNESS, Colum McCann, 1998 a gruelling read: such sordid lives, such compelling & tragic characters, such powerful prose.
TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, Thomas Hardy, 1891 passionately written tale of tragic characters; a then-progressive foregrounding of the rural working-class (though hardly Zola).
THE LAST DETECTIVE, Peter Lovesey, 1991 superior whodunit of original construction and decent prose, though the culprit perhaps too easy to guess.
THE PACT, Jodi Picoult, 1998 gives readers no sense of whether her cringeworthy adults are meant to be seen as awful; riddled with creativewritingschoolitis; but when it becomes a courtroom drama it gets moderately compelling sub-Grisham.
DISSIDENT GARDENS, Jonathan Lethem, 2013 a great novel: of wide-ranging genius & lapidary intelligence; historical accuracy fused with alert imagination.
THE DIVIDE, Nicholas Evans, 2005 nature well described, people almost entirely one-dimensional & self-regarding, as promised crime novel becomes long, tedious family-agonies story; humourless & witless throughout.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, Paula Hawkins, 2015 mystifyingly compelling page-turner early on, when the two main narrators seem creepy yet not sinister; develops into something extraordinarily clever as the tension is racked up. Brilliantly plotted. No wonder it was such a mega bestseller. Finest thriller I've read since Gone Girl, but so beautifully English instead of American.
PLOT 29, Allan Jenkins, 2017 a beautiful, sad book about the agonies of his unknown antecedents & his & his brother's abandonment, and of trying to uncover it all and adjust to it, interspersed with a journal of his cathartic life planting & growing veg, fruit and flowers. The first non-fiction book I've read for months.
THE BRICKS THAT BUILT THE HOUSES, Kate Tempest, 2016 probably in the top ten greatest novels I've ever read; truly contemporary, wide-ranging yet concentrated, wholly distinctive voice, moving & funny & impassioned & so shrewdly observant, and pins down situations we've all lived yet have never found in fiction before.
MR. NICHOLAS, Thomas Hinde, 1952 at first I thought it just a very inferior Elizabeth Bowen, but it grew on me. A bit.
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST, Stieg Larsson, 2007; English translation 2009 my first read from Larsson; mind-bogglingly well-planned & plotted; an intelligent, substantial page-turner; and it reads well in English. One oddity: it's set in Sweden yet there's never any weather...
LOVE AMONG THE RUINS: A Memoir of Life & Love in Hamburg 1945, Harry Leslie Smith, 2012 & 2015 should be interesting re life for a British soldier staying on in Germany when WWII has ended - but he's no writer so it isn't. I gave it up.
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG: A Compendium of Childhood, ed. John Burningham, 2004 a fresh, tremendously well-chosen range of childhood memoir pieces with an admirable literary bent & no dumbing down; full of quotable moments.
ENGLEBY, Sebastian Faulks, 2007 compelling story, dark humour, intellectually sharp; near total-recall of 1970s minutiae; crucially, the tranparently unreliable narrator (an almost common current device) comes within a highly inventive form of the novel that is ingenious without postmodernism (ie without being irritating).
ROBINSON CRUSOE, The Life and Strange & Surprising Adventures of, Daniel Defoe, 1719 [1808 edition] I'd read it as a child, but had no idea how ruthlessly this immensely long book had been abridged for children; in this edition he doesn't see the footprint till 27% of the way through, doesn't meet Friday till almost 40% of the way through and has returned to Europe by 50%, after several hundred pages. I gave up after that; the edition I read (on Kindle) seems to have added in all Defoe's far less popular follow-up novels. The original full-length novel, interesting & skilfully done, was enough.
AGAINST MISERABILISM, David Widgery, 2017 posthumous collection of his brilliantly prescient, wide-ranging essays written 1968-92: admirably relevant on politics and soberingly good (and affecting) on his experience as an NHS doctor in London.
A LESSON BEFORE DYING, Ernest J. Gaines, 1993 a short, likeable novel compelling through its detail as well as its quiet humanity; a portrait of racial injustice in the Deep South of the 1940s, set in a rural black community full of its own tensions; but told calmly.
WINTER IN MADRID, C.J.Sansom, 2006 a highly researched historical-adventure novel of politics & intrigue set in 1930s-early '40s Spain; a page-turner through accretion of detail long before it becomes one through tensions and twists of plot.
IN COLD BLOOD, Truman Capote, 1966 what a book! The perfect template for a historical crime non-fiction case, inspirationally structured from its calm, detailed, intelligent and humane beginning to its forgiveably sweetened end.
THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, Stephen Crane, 1895 uncanny maturity of tone & humour from a 21-year-old writer, and so innovative: the first Civil War novel about ordinary soldiers instead of great generals. An easy read too.
THE VINYL DETECTIVE, Andrew Cartmel, 2016 goes on too long, many implausibilities but great fun for anyone who's ever been or befriended a hi-fi freak or obsessive record collector.
A RIVER TOWN, Thomas Keneally, 1995 admirable, vivid, unhurried novel from a major writer, and one of those rare authors whose books truly differ from each other & are unified only by his robust, engaged imagination. His adjectives dance but are never showy.
HERE I AM, Jonathan Safran Foer, 2016 provoking in both senses, this unfunny "hilarious" novel is so wearingly clever, so delighted by its own cutesy introspection and by its self-absorbed main characters (a drippy couple and their precocious children). It's also far too long, but that's another outcome of its shouty self-indulgence. (And boo to Penguin for a UK paperback with such a small typeface that they don't even admit what it is on the copyright page.)
THE HOUSE IN PARIS, Elizabeth Bowen, 1935 a re-balancing after the horrors of "Here I Am": forensic quiet intelligence in place of clever shouting, and that rare but special pleasure, a striking child character (Leopold).


This is the list of books I read last year, with brief comments:

SWANN’S WAY, Marcel Proust, 1913 heavy going; acute; far too wordy; unique
THE CORRECTIONS, Jonathan Franzen, 2001 intelligent, funny, dark, cheering, depressing, fresh, humane
BOB DYLAN DREAM: My Life With Bob, Roy Kelly, 2015 touching, beautiful, intelligent memoir of an ordinary life roughly contemporary with mine & Dylan’s
EMOTIONALLY WEIRD, Kate Atkinson, 2000 sometimes very funny, sometimes too silly (improbability not counteracted by enough comic success), but the main character is likeable & it’s the only postmodern novel I’ve read that works, so that it ends up clever rather than irritatingly clever-clever
VANITY FAIR:A Novel Without a Hero, William Makepeace Thackeray, 1847-8
fascinating in its mix of modernity - pioneering C19 realism & an anti-heroine yet using C18 literary devices (which have a touch of postmodernism, we’d feel now); a sweeping satire on money, the class system and snobbery (a word he coined)... BUT! he’s not as deep or heartfelt as Dickens and his characters are mostly less vivid
DOWNHILL ALL THE WAY, Leonard Woolf, 1967 upper/upper-middle class man of letters and politics, Virginia’s husband, writing this in his 80s; clear and conscientious prose from a very fair-minded man acutely aware of both others’ even greater privilege and the great majority’s lack of it; a real socialist with servants
FUGITIVE PIECES, Anne Michaels, 1997 irksomely opaque start but opens into one of the most articulately heartfelt, intelligent, beautiful & distinctive of books
THE THUNDERBOLT KID, The Life & Times of, Bill Bryson, 2003 auto-Bryson with clunky research padding out a very superficial account of his upbringing
THE LIE, Helen Dunmore, 2014 moving and vivid on rural Cornwall life in 1920 & on the horrors of WWI trench warfare and its afterlife in the narrator’s mind; an intelligent novel yet comfortingly English & traditional
THE INVENTION OF WINGS, Sue Monk Kidd, 2014 potboiler with a heart, but with none of the originality of "The Secret Life of Bees"
FLUSH, Virginia Woolf, 1933 rather good: her language is very alive and without showiness
SLANG OF HANDS, Bernhard Widder, 2009 Austrian poems about northern UK; ok
JOY IN THE MORNING, Betty Smith, 1963 sister of the more famous “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”; had to give up on it. Too cute, sprightly, implausible & 1950s-sordid: all virginity & sweet-little-woman & manly cigarettes & plucky struggle
THE JOKE, Milan Kundera, 1967 [1992 translation] gloom-inducing portrait of mid-C20 Czechoslovakia & by extension general Eastern European gloom; it may linger, but it was sententious, with terrible attitudes to women, and mostly a pain in the arse to read
THE MOONSTONE, Wilkie Collins, 1868 seldom resorts to dodgy melodrama and overall a work of near-genius; pioneering detective novel, and for the first half, very funny thanks to a captivating narrator figure, old servant Betteredge
NOBODY MOVE, Denis Johnson, 2009 an indifferent contemporary Chandler, or perhaps a pale imitation of Cormac McCarthy
ANGEL, Elizabeth Taylor, 1957 quiet, superior page-turner about the power of vanity & self-deception, spanning a lifetime; it deepens into pathos as it goes
THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, George Eliot, 1860 tremendous, and so substantial. Early on, its pastorality (if that’s a word) strongly prefigures Hardy; but Maggie Tulliver the child and Maggie the adult seem too much like different people, which is its real flaw
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, Virginia Woolf, 1927 lapidary, powerful modernism yet with strongly drawn characters and their vivid interaction (with the Chapter17 dinner party as fine as any I know in literature); lively, intensive prose, great clarity and wit. A triumph
KNOTS AND CROSSES, Ian Rankin, 1987 first Rebus novel; surprisingly badly written; every character a cliché with a quirk; less than thrilling story; pallid suspense
EARTH, Emile Zola, 1887 good C19 solidity, vivid characters & uncompromising portrait of wretched French peasant life, in which degradation cheats just desserts
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Cormac McCarthy, 2005 addictive, violent, very modern; sometimes so stripped-down you can't work out what's happening; but always saved by its brilliant dialogue
A SEASON IN SINJI, J.L. Carr, 1967 a very English & appealing personality well rendered, but lacking either some essential depth or else some rapier thrust of asperity
CIRCLES IN A FOREST, Dalene Matthee, 1984 it took me 100 pages to like this, the first of her four "forest novels" (too much on poor-noble-Afrikaans-woodcutters) but it became an intensely detailed imaginative achievement and thoroughly absorbing story
MURDER ON A SUMMER'S DAY, Frances Brody, 2013 a 1924 setting allows for massive snobbery & conveniently primitive evidence standards, but it's also a setting that recalls the English atmosphere still prevalent in my 1950s childhood, and it's a satisfyingly lengthy read & a satisfyingly Christiesque trad detective story
BERTOLT BRECHT: A Literary Life, Stephen Parker, 2014 encyclopaedic uber-detail, and using newly available post-Cold War archives, sewn into a readable, attentive narrative... but I had to give it up on realising, after long immersion in his adolescent tics, maladies & hypochondria, that I still have absolutely no interest in Brecht or his work
DYING IN THE WOOL, Frances Brody, 2009 the first in the series (I was given a set as a present); very readable but an arch, over-confident heroine-narrator sorting out shorthand characters
CHARLES DARWIN: VOYAGING, Janet Browne, 1995 The first of her 2-volume biography. I've never read a better non-fiction book in my life (except, possibly, 'The Road To Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination' by John Livingston Lowes, 1927, about Coleridge & his notebooks)
GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn, 2012 Exceptionally sharp-minded (in a very American way), electrifying page-turner, dazzlingly well plotted; a let-down ending, though not everyone will think so
MOBY-DICK, Herman Melville, 1851 lively start, then tediously garrulous for several hundred pages; a hard, grim voyage for this reader, which surprised and disappointed him
CHARLES DARWIN: THE POWER OF PLACE, Janet Browne, 2002 The second volume: a book I'm so grateful to have read and sorry to have finished
FLIGHT BEHAVIOUR, Barbara Kingsolver, 2012 Terrific; strong, convincingly detailed and sympathetic portrait of today's deprived, Appalachian rural life
SIGNS FOR LOST CHILDREN, Sarah Moss, 2015 half the book extremely gruelling, the other half boring; a powerful writer but with such talent, why do this? And the story's resolution isn't one, because the man in it never exists
MIKE AND PSMITH, P G Wodehouse, 1953 light jollity there's no point objecting to on political/class-snobbery grounds; a much needed balm after "Signs for Lost Children"
THE DOG: A LADYBIRD BOOK, 2016 even funnier: perfect Christmas trivia



As already noted, Bob Dylan wasn't Terry Kelly's only interest. Thanks to Val Kelly via Roy Kelly, I've been sent this, written by James Booth and just published by the journal of the Philip Larkin Society:


I'm extremely sorry to be saying that longterm Bobcat Terry Kelly has died, aged 57. I've written more about this here on my Facebook page, but here on this blog post I hand over to guest writer Roy Kelly (no relation), who knew Terry better than I did and who, especially, kept abreast of Terry's wide knowledge of, and writing about, poetry:

Terry knew and read a tremendous amount of poetry, and had much wider interests than me, even though I write poems.  He was particularly interested in Ian Hamilton, and poetry associated with his circle, and was really pleased when a posthumous big collected volume of him came out and he got a chance to review it in London Magazine, where over the last at least four years, and possibly more, he had had become a regular.  He liked too Craig Raine, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney and Hugo Williams, and was able to review his then latest volume (I Knew The Bride), weaving into it a skilful, knowledgeable round up of Hugo's whole career and technique and development. Recently he had reviewed Clive James The Kid From Kogarah, and poetry by David Harsent and Robin Robertson, and the big T S Eliot collected volume so eagerly awaited by aficionados. In his early reporter life he worked with and later championed a poet called Barry McSweeney, also a huge Bob fan, who had a difficult life but produced a lot of poetry. Terry was involved in a memorial type volume for him, including essays. He really did know an awful lot and liked an awful lot. 

Of late he was really proud of the London Magazine work because at first I think it was for nothing but developed into him being a rated and paid reviewer. He knew the whole modern British and American poetry scene very well. He liked what was the Hamilton template, the short, slightly obtuse lyric, but was also way open to modern American forms. He was endlessly getting books and telling you of his haul, either as review freebies or what he'd bought. Poetry totally engaged him. In some ways the literary life seemed more real to him than actual life, which was probably a help in the trial of his last fourteen months. He had also recently starting reviewing for a newish thing called The Next Review and was very pleased about that.
A major poetic interest, too, was the work of Philip Larkin. He wrote articles for About Larkin, the journal concerned with Larkin's work and life, reviewing there and elsewhere new Collected editions, and writing knowledgeably about the choices different editors of the volumes made. One of his most recent reviews was of the new book of photographs taken by Philip Larkin, and the connection that could be made with his poems.

I should say too he was always very kind. I think that was a big aspect of his character. He was a networker and a giver, and, that old-fashioned word, a gentleman. Unasked for and unexpected at different times he gave me various books that he knew I would like. He did love Bob Dylan and his work and thought he was a genius, and probably didn't think plagiarism was relevant to whether he was or not, unlike me, but he knew and was interested in everything poetic really. I mean everything. He was much more than someone who was crucial to a Bob Dylan magazine [The Bridge]. Though of course he was always that.


I seem to have read more books this year than last - and far more than in any recent year before that. I haven't included here the Dylan-related books I've also read or skimmed through during 2015:

THE 8.55 TO BAGHDAD, Andrew Eames, 2004 so badly written it’s absurd that it won an award from the British Guild of Travel Writers, but good subject-matter
LET THE DEVIL SPEAK: Articles, Essays, & Incitements, Steven Hart, 2014 some substantial, brilliantly sleuthed essays
CHATTERTON, Peter Ackroyd, 1987 vivid, absorbing, but the insistent wackiness of every  character is over the top, & really he says nothing about plagiarism, which is his theme
CROW LAKE, Mary Lawson, 2002 completely wonderful novel, fresh and true
THE DOCTOR & MR. DYLAN, Rick Novak, 2014 good on Hibbing, hopeless on humans; it's not about Bob Dylan, and it's a novel
THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER, Hilary Mantel, 2014 short stories, with a whiff of using up old rejects; 2nd-rate by her standards
HISTORY OF MADNESS, Michel Foulcault, 1961 I gave it up: it's far too clever for me
GREAT APES, Will Self, 1997 I gave this up too: couldn’t stand his interminable showing off or his brutish arsehole-obsessing modernism
REVALUATION, F.R. Leavis, 1936 his least readable book
THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS, Joseph Conrad, 1897 a slim volume but very demanding: intensive and poetical, with echoes of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner
JOURNEYS: An Anthology, ed Robyn Davidson, 2001 snotty intro, sloppy edits, and a wayward selection of pieces, in that many aren’t really travel pieces at all
THE HUNGER GAMES [Bk 1], Suzanne Collins, 2008 clever, strongly plotted, decently-written dystopian-world page-turner; understandably a cult best-seller
TO FOLLOW THE LEAD, Annie S. Swan, c1911 appealing simplicity till the regrettable crescendo of god-bothering
THE SAFFRON KITCHEN, Yasmin Crowther, 2006 boring till p60, then a great central patch of affecting drama, and then a long ending of tiresome didactic hokum
THE OUTCAST, Sadie Jones, 2007 strikingly clear prose describing a slew of terrible events; compelling, sensitive, touching, and with strong characters
PRECIOUS BANE, Mary Webb, 1924 I was bereft at finishing this wonderful, beautiful, forcefully-written, unique book: so vivid, poetic, touching, sustained, humbling, sweet-natured - all without any cuteness or arch self-consciousness
THE GOLDFINCH, Donna Tartt, 2013 couldn’t be more different from ‘Precious Bane’ but its equal or better: phenomenally good - vast canvas (centred on a small one...)
FRANKIE & STANKIE, Barbara Trapido, 2003 terrible title and a bit shallow, but funny, fresh and quirky
WRITERS IN HOLLYWOOD 1915-1951, Ian Hamilton, 1990 very solid but afraid to be anything but studious, so too few Hollywood Babylonian anecdotes
THE EDWARDIANS, Vita Sackville-West, 1930 patchy writing; some implausible plot twists & characters; poor dialogue; fascinating material; glad I read it
DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE, Amanda Petrusich, 2014 loved it: a necessary look into the avid world of the 78rpm rare record collector; intelligent & humane
THE PAYING GUESTS, Sarah Waters, 2014 riveting, richly imaginative, a tense major work: nearly as good as ‘Fingersmith’ (high praise); so admirable
THE VERSIONS OF US, Laura Barnett, 2015 alluring premise, crap book: all so calculated instead of imagined; in shaming contrast to the Sarah Waters
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee, 1960 a book almost everyone read at school but I never did; lovely, though read now - in retrospect - a bit apologist about the very southern racism the book deplores
SKIOS, Michael Frayn, 2012 this is Wodehouse Lite (with similarly ingenious plotting)
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, John Boyne, 2006 a clever, touching, unusual, good novel by no means only for Young Readers
WHEN WE WERE THIN, C.P. Lee, 2007 a really interesting social history of the UK music biz 1968-1980s - and a great title
THE MAN IN THE QUEUE, Josephine Tey, 1929 engaging and well-written, except for the purple prose paragraphs designed to prove she’s a Real Writer; the usual whodunit cheat: introducing a surprise relationship we couldn’t have guessed at
SMALL CEREMONIES, Carol Shields, 1976 at times piercing observation in taut, captivating prose; at times I felt oh-for-fuck’s-sake-you-precious-twee-middle-class-wimp
THE TERRIBLE PRIVACY OF MAXWELL SIM, Jonathan Coe, 2010 the terrible title, the awful postmodern ending - both indicative of garrulousness - and in between, a deflating, depressing book; Time Out found it “hugely enjoyable”...
PURPLE HIBISCUS, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2004 completely absorbing novel from a justifiably confident writer creating a refreshing, convincing Africa
THE TRAVELLING HORNPLAYER, Barbara Trapido, 1998 substantial, fiercely intelligent, dexterously plotted but with a horrible and improbable end section
BUDDY HOLLY, Dave Laing, 1971 captivating, modest, refreshing to read again now, full of acute small observations & quite right in its analysis of his influence [I wrote an earlier blogpost about this book]
THE MILLSTONE, Margaret Drabble, 1965 a slim volume in the best sense as well as literally; light touch, swift intelligence, subtlety & gaiety & delicacy of feeling and, now, a fascinating glimpse into pre-Carnaby St 1960s London life
STRAIGHT LIFE, Art & Laurie Pepper, 1994 edn mammoth oral autobiography + others’ testimony, of & to a very contradictory life: rich yet impoverished, creative yet sunk in addiction & its gruesome degradation; and vivid, espically about violent prison life; a hugely more candid autobiography than most
THE END OF THE AFFAIR, Graham Greene, 1951 occasional moments of sharp interest sticking out of the blancmange of dated Catholic hooey
THE L-SHAPED ROOM, Lynne Reid Banks, 1960 marvellous to find so belatedly: brilliantly plotted, vivid characters but subtly drawn, a glorious opinionatedness and such robust intelligence about human feeling and behaviour
THE BACKWARD SHADOW, Lynne Reid Banks, 1970 so very disappointing: contrived, ricketty plotting, shallowed characters who become hard to care about; a plunge into what would now be called Chick Lit
UNDER MILK WOOD, Dylan Thomas, 1954 [posthumous] pioneering but now a smaller thing than its reputation
BHOWANI JUNCTION, John Masters, 1954 powerful, compelling, brave, compassionate book it would be all too easy to dismiss today for its political incorrectness, yet in some ways ahead of its time, and from a really individual writer
THE LAST SEPTEMBER, Elizabeth Bowen, 1929 full of her exceptional brilliance, yet an oddly muted depiction of a crucial period in Irish history and the uncomfortable Anglo-Irish life clung to within it
SKATING TO ANTARCTICA, Jenny Diski, 1997 abiff with intelligence and self-indulgent pawing at the wounds of her appalling childhood; and brilliant, if brief, about penguins
A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD, Anne Tyler, 2015 much lauded; I was left wondering why
THE DEATH OF THE HEART, Elizabeth Bowen, 1938 another piercing scrutiny
CANADA, Richard Ford, 2012 not a pleasurable  read but a highly compelling and original novel
TIPPING THE VELVET, Sarah Waters, 1998 not a patch on ‘Fingersmith’: far too and-then-this-happened-and-then-this-happened, and too heavily playing the lesbian card - where ‘Fingersmith’ was a masterpiece of plot, character and prose
MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT, Charles Dickens, 1843-4 a great start but then filler and comparative failure: the least solid Dickens novel I've read
LONG BEFORE THE STARS WERE TORN DOWN, J.A. Wainwright, 2015 very readable cowboyish novel with a deft structure, though weak on women characters and with an unsatisfying semi-postmodern ending (aren’t they always?)


I've written before of my admiration for Roy Kelly's writing about Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan fandom and the past and its impingement on the present, so it's no surprise that I should be glad to see, published at long last, Roy's book!:

As you may barely be able to see, I've written one of the endorsements for it - the one in the white ghetto by the barcode at the bottom of the back. But that aside, I like the whole cover - the very Woody Guthriesque Bob figure on the front, the pale blue, Roy's own very skilful blurb on the back, and the splendid quote from Nigel Hinton quite rightly there on the front.

It's available as a paperback and as an e-book, and the link to the paperback is here. Get it and read it. A Christmas present to yourself.


Before Bob comes on and starts the main and lengthy part of this exceptional concert with 'Gotta Serve Somebody', things begin with a still unpalatable, hopelessly corny godbothering "story" from Regina McCrary. Then comes some beautifully sung, very ordinary gospel fare - though with gorgeous keyboards, and the pleasure of seeing the wondrous Clydie King and the others so clearly. But Bob arrives to offer a really forceful performance of many gems. He gives out so much energy and yet takes so much vocal care - and of a kind only Dylan can. Now this whole concert has been made available with hugely improved footage and audio quality. My thanks go to Andrea Orlandi for posting it on Facebook today.

I thought it might be useful to add the approximate start times of each Bob song performance. They are:

18:00 - Gotta Serve Somebody
24:36 - I Believe In You
29:30 - When He Returns [Bob on piano]
35:20 - talks about Ronnie Hawkins
36:15 - Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody
40:43 - Cover Down, Break Through [brief remarks at end]
45:20 - Man Gave Names To All The Animals
50:59 - Precious Angel
56:06 - instrumental twiddling, feeding into...
57:03 - Slow Train
1.03:30 - introduces 2 solo song performances by women singers
1.13:42 - Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)
1.18:23 - rambling, opaque, preachy speech eventually leading into...
1.25:00 - Solid Rock
1.29:10 - Saving Grace
1.34:17 - Saved [no pause at end]; straight into...
1.39:06 - What Can I Do For You?
1.45:52 - speech
1.46:48 - In The Garden
1.53:00 - introduces band & singers & goes preachy again
1.56:20 - Are You Ready?
2.01:10 - Pressing On.

If these timings don't exactly correspond to what you find when you try them, it'll be because (a) my computer is elderly and (b) everything digital is inherently unstable and unreliable. But anyway, an extraordinary concert.