Never much of an enthusiast, though I don’t have the strong negative reaction to that voice that many have.

I do however have a fairly strong negative reaction to all the snobbish shock and awe being evinced at the Nobel Prize’s being awarded to him. Of course Bob Dylan doesn’t need the money, but sneering at the work because it’s just songs is surely élitist nonsense. Who really thinks that song lyrics are inferior? Robert Burns wrote quite a few which we hold dear. Did those trash merchants Schubert, Wolf, Loewe, Schumann, Beethoven, Mahler, Strauss, Britten fatally diminish the poems of Goethe, Heine etc. etc. by daring to set them to music?

As far as I know the remit of the Nobel committee is not to reward only stuffy art. And in any case don’t you remember Christopher Ricks’ serious, and to many, no doubt, sufficiently stuffy analysis of Dylan’s poetry? Professor Ricks’ book Dylan’s Visions of Sin compares Dylan to Marvell, Marlowe, Keats, Tennyson, Hardy, Yeats, and others. Well, I wouldn’t of course argue that being seriously discussed by Professor Ricks is sufficient reason to be awarded a Nobel Prize, but surely it’s reason enough to make those who have condescended blush. The Passive Voice gets in on the act.

More interesting to me than the embarrassment such élitists should be experiencing is the (typical) publishing confusion. In so far as the Nobel laureate is less well-known, or from our perspective, foreign, we will never have as many of their books available straightaway as we might wish. Scrambling to get books into the marketplace is an inevitable follow up to the announcement almost every year. New translations of Patrick Modiano are still trickling out. Maybe we could have expected someone as famous as Bob Dylan to be more widely available, but no. As The Wall Street Journal tells us, “Simon & Schuster Thursday announced it would move up publication of a new edition of Dylan’s book, “The Lyrics: 1961-2012,” by one week. It is now scheduled for release on Nov. 1. The new volume is a revised edition of a collection first published in 2014. The original was a 960-page large-format hardcover, priced at $299. The new version is 688 pages and priced at $60.” This appears to be the only book. At $60 it is certainly better than $299, but it’s not the sort of mass-market pricing that would make the book sell. Of course, we should not forget that Mr Dylan himself is alive and well, and no doubt controls the publishing trajectory of his works.

So while we await a mass-market collection, it’s probably better for the eager reader to take the low road and go to those sites which reproduce song lyrics, for example AZ Lyrics. If you are a member of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon is offering you Bob Dylan: The Complete A-Z Songbook: All the Songs, 1957-2016 Guidebook free of charge, but caveat emptor: it doesn’t include the lyrics, which, given the price, is hardly surprising. The title is surely willfully deceptive. The publisher, Music Sales, does have one or two meatier Dylan books on offer.

Later: An honorable exception to the sneering (others are now appearing) comes from Luc Sante at The New York Review of Books.

. . . and here’s Simon & Schuster’s reaction.

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