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Publisher's Summary

When the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan in 2016, a debate raged. Some celebrated while many others questioned the choice. How could the world's most prestigious book prize be awarded to a famously cantankerous singer-songwriter who wouldn't even deign to attend the medal ceremony?
In Why Bob Dylan Matters, Harvard professor Richard F. Thomas answers this question with magisterial erudition. A world expert on classical poetry, Thomas was initially ridiculed by his colleagues for teaching a course on Bob Dylan alongside his traditional seminars on Homer, Virgil, and Ovid. Dylan's Nobel Prize brought him vindication, and he immediately found himself thrust into the spotlight as a leading academic voice in all matters Dylanological. Today, through his wildly popular Dylan seminar - affectionately dubbed "Dylan 101" - Thomas is introducing a new generation of fans and scholars to the revered bard's work.
This witty, personal volume is a distillation of Thomas' famous course and makes a compelling case for moving Dylan out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and into the pantheon of classical poets. Asking us to reflect on the question "what makes a classic?", Thomas offers an eloquent argument for Dylan's modern relevance while interpreting and decoding Dylan's lyrics for listeners. The most original and compelling volume on Dylan in decades, Why Bob Dylan Matters will illuminate Dylan's work for the Dylan neophyte and the seasoned fanatic alike. You'll never think about Bob Dylan in the same way again.
©2017 Richard F. Thomas (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Buretto on 11-27-17

Classical Dylan

I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook. It's exactly the kind of book on Dylan I've been waiting for. I've been a fan since I was a kid in the '70s, when Street Legal was the very first album I ever owned. I've steadfastly resisted the attempts at interpretive biographies, as if these authors presume to explain the the masses what Dylan himself has left enigmatic.

This is different. It's much more involved with Dylan's connection to the classical structure of literature and storytelling. There are the periodic references to Suze Rotola and Sara Lownds, and others involved in Dylan's life, but they are presented as characters in the epic stories that Dylan refashions from Ovid, Homer, Rimbaud and others.

The author, clearly a huge fan himself, may have underestimated the negative reaction amongst the more snobbish literary types regarding Dylan's Nobel Prize. I know of several who were beside themselves in horror. But I suspect Dylan might regard them as the right types of enemies to have.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By J.B. on 12-01-17

His Work is Talmudic; But He is Only A Man

Why Bob Dylan Matters, by Richard F. Thomas, and narrated By Nick Landrum. Professor Thomas is a classical (Greek/Roman) literature professor. That means he studies fate; under the command of the gods, and man’s function and duties within that realm. That’s a perfect background for studying Homer, Sophocles, Euripides and Ovid; but does it translate into an insight into Dylan? Maybe not so much.

What Professor Thomas has to say in heling us understand Bob Dylan is somewhat interesting, but not sufficiently insightful for me to recommend this as a must read. I found most of this work to be a rambling dive into who was Bob Dylan at the time he wrote his original (1960s through mid-1970) works, and what may have occurred to him since that early time that affects his later day works. Only the final two chapters were probative into what Dylan provided western literature.

There is one part of the story I found fulfilling. It seems Dylan has taken parts of other great authors, poets and philosopher’s works and incorporated their exact or like statements into his work. This, as is well explained in the book, is not an act of plagiarism. Rather, a deeper dive into the concepts previously provided by the earlier writers. For example, a lot of Dylan’s such undertakings came from the Roman poet, Vigil. (In fact, Vigil, like Dylan, took from others to create his poetry, as well.) Since, Dr. Thomas is a classical expert, which thus includes a good understanding of Vigil and his times, there was much substance to these arguments, and this was the most interesting and learning part of the work. There seems to exist poetic licenses to take from others their insights and incorporate that combination of words or thoughts into your own. As explained by Dr. Thomas, it is not theft; it is love. (Is that where the title Love and Theft comes from?)

I think those who try to delve into and explain poetry by figuring out the poet’s nature at the time his/her work was written is absurdly wrong because knowing the poet’s nature does not teach you the ephemeral drift into thought and insights that poetry permits. One must concentrate on the words, not the author’s history. One might even hypothesize, a poem has little or nothing to do with its author. It has to do with the reader. What does the work invoke in the reader?

Perhaps that is why Bob Dylan is always so annoyed with his purveyors; those who seek to report on Dylan and those that want to tell us what he meant. Dylan wrote the stuff and if you enjoy it, it is not Dylan that is providing the meaning. He, with great genius, provides the lattice for which the reader must develop a full flagged structure.

Yet, I do not mean to totally discourage you from this read. This read does provide one with remembrances as Dr. Thomas reviews the famous landmarks of Dylan’s work product. This is a good trip down memory lane and provides an opportunity to remember where when and with whom you were at the time of that Dylan Album.

When the audio speaks, my eye catches a flash off into the corner of my peripheral ability.
Something like the effects of thunder storms behind a cloudy sky.
Then I am left with the ozone to drift upon, and provide a lie for me to lay within.

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2 of 5 people found this review helpful

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