Now that Bob Dylan is officially a Nobel laureate and has accepted his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, a new book by Harvard Professor Richard F. Thomas arrives and opens a dialogue on the relevance of Dylan’s artistry, classical literary references, and his importance to “the great American song traditions.” In Why Bob Dylan Matters (Dey Street, $24.99) Professor Thomas expands on the basic outline of his freshman seminar class and adds his own personal and cultural connections to the songs. In one example he traces the cultural significance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and concludes with the urgency of its questions. The answers are timeless. Dylan often borrowed folk melodies and created something new out of them. From the early influences of Woody Guthrie to the ancient classical poets, and including Dante, Machiavelli, Gogol, Balzac, Maupassant, Hugo, Dickens, and Melville, Thomas looks at how Dylan’s songs borrow and steal from a wide range of literary and song traditions and transform them all into the phenomenon folks simply refer to as “Dylan.”
Known as the originator of ‘trap music,’ a style of rap that is taking over the music industry, Gucci Mane reveals his vulnerability in his first memoir and shows us the man behind the Trap God, his hit songs and the infamous reputation behind the criminal charges and prison time he experienced. As a fan of his music, I appreciated learning the stories of his childhood about the creation of hit songs, and how he was able to overcome his drug addiction. His story shows how easy it is for us to get caught up in a celebrity’s image without knowing who they truly are as a person.
Nathaniel Mackey might be best known as a poet—he’s won the National Book Award and received a Library of Congress lifetime achievement honor—but his most idiosyncratic work is an ongoing fiction series tracing the development of a California space-jazz group. This latest volume—a perfect introduction—is a beautiful thing, from its intricate epistolary structure to Mackey’s overwhelming language, which takes you deep inside the sounds of the instruments and the minds that make them sing. Tracking the group in microscopic, romantic, even surreal detail—from gig to gig, from idea to idea—gives you a novel unafraid to ask big questions of how artists relate to their art once it enters the audience’s lives.