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(Credit: Douglas R. Gilbert)

Bob Dylan's 40 favourite books of all time

As well as selling over 100 million records worldwide and celebrating induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bob Dylan is a prolific author with an eclectic taste in literature. Over the years of immense creativity, the 79-year-old has indulged himself within a wide-ranging mix of fiction and non-fiction and repeatedly cited authors as an inspiration to his iconic writing style.

In fact, we’d argue that there is no singer who has ever been more neatly assimilated into the world of literature. Besides his own book, the songs he has composed all reek of literary intent and integrity at every turn.

Such as his commitment to literacy, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

However, as per Dylan, he responded to the Nobel Prize announcement in a nontraditional way; making no comment for two weeks, ignoring all the calls from the Academy, refusing to collect the award and causing mass controversy in the process.

Eventually, safe in the knowledge that the Academy stipulates that winners must give a lecture within six months of the ceremony in order to collect their massive prize money, Dylan rocked up wearing a hoody and gave a rambling 27-minute standup discussion of literature. 

Despite acting somewhat dismissive of the award, Dylan did say that receiving the honour was “amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?” when in conversation with Edna Gundersen.

The truth is, Dylan is a major writing addict. His love for literature knows no bounds and, when talking about his favourite authors, he speaks with the utmost admiration. Take, for instance, when Dylan cited Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory as a favourite, when he said: “I went through it from cover to cover like a hurricane, totally focused on every word, and the book sang out to me like the radio. Guthrie writes like the whirlwind and you get tripped out on the sound of the words along. Pick up the book anywhere, turn to any page and he hits the ground running. ‘Bound for Glory’ is a hell of a book.”

When discussing Jack Kerouac’s now-iconic book On The Road, Dylan commented: “On the Road speeds by like a freight train. It’s all movement and words and lusty instincts that come alive like you’re riding on a train. Kerouac moves so fast with his words. No ambiguity. It was very emblematic of the time. You grabbed a hold of the train, hopped on and went along with him, hanging on for dear life.”

Below, we scoured the archives and past interviews Dylan has conducted over the years and listed some of his favourites to look behind the curtain of one of popular culture’s most significant artists.

“This is a book where you lose your childhood, your faith in a meaningful world, and your concern for individuals,” Dylan previously said when discussing All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. “You’re stuck in a nightmare,” he added.

Elsewhere, in past conversation about the work of Herman Melville, Dylan commented: “Moby Dick is a fascinating book, a book that’s filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue. The book makes demands on you. The plot is straightforward.”

He added: “The mysterious Captain Ahab—captain of a ship called the Pequod—an egomaniac with a peg leg pursuing his nemesis, the great white whale Moby Dick who took his leg. And he pursues him all the way from the Atlantic around the tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. He pursues the whale around both sides of the earth. It’s an abstract goal, nothing concrete or definite. He calls Moby the emperor, sees him as the embodiment of evil. Ahab’s got a wife and child back in Nantucket that he reminisces about now and again. You can anticipate what will happen.”

Bob Dylan’s 40 favourite books:

  • The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club by Sonny Barger
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch
  • Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  • Stories by Anton Chekhov
  • On War by Carl von Clausewitz
  • Victory by Joseph Conrad
  • The Complete Poetry and Prose by John Donne
  • The Anchor Anthology of French Poetry by Angel Flores
  • Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork by Jerry Garcia
  • One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding by Robert Gover
  • The White Goddess by Robert Graves
  • Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps by Emmett Grogan
  • Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick
  • Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Mexico City Blues by Jack Kerouac
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards by Al Kooper
  • The Land Where the Blues Began‘ by Alan Lomax
  • Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and “Inventor of Jazz”‘ by Alan Lomax
  • Girl from the North Country by Conor McPherson
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Blues Line: A Collection of Blues Lyrics by Eric Sackheim
  • Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  • Woody Guthrie: Radical American Patriot by Bill Nowlin
  • Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta by Robert Palmer
  • All Access: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Photography of Ken Regan by Ken Regan
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • The Oxford Book of English Verse by Christopher Ricks
  • A Season in Hell & The Drunken Boat by Arthur Rimbaud
  • Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
  • Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga
  • The American Songbag & Selected Poems‘ by Carl Sandburg
  • Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues by Arnold Shaw
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Dave Stewart Songbook: The Stories Behind The Songs by Dave Stewart
  • Thucydides: The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians by Thucydides
  • Poems by Henry Timrod
  • The Conscience of the Folk Revival: The Writings of Israel “Izzy” Young by Scott Barrett

For additional Dylan, see a playlist of his six favourite songwriters, below.

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