A diverting and occasionally revelatory stroll through a master’s work, but one that will have a difficult time finding an...

A gifted poetry critic takes on the lyrics of rock bard Bob Dylan.

Ricks (Humanities/Boston Univ.) has penned tomes on Milton, Keats, Eliot, and Tennyson, but he has long been fascinated by Bob Dylan: His 1984 essay “Clichés and American English” was a much-lauded textual reading of the singer-songwriter’s work. In this ambitious and intellectually freewheeling work, Ricks takes a full-length look at the poetic and moral underpinnings of Dylan’s songs. Selecting tunes both well-known (“Positively Fourth Street,” “Lay Lady Lay”) and obscure (“Clothes Line Saga,” “Handy Dandy”), Ricks analyzes them lyrically and structurally in terms of their relationships to the Seven Deadly Sins, the four virtues, and the three heavenly graces. This approach is sometimes strained, and some of the songs don’t sustain the author’s thematic scrutiny. Ricks nonetheless proves to be a lively and learned guide through the sometimes-daunting thickets of Dylan’s compositions. He is especially astute at picking apart the musician’s rhyme schemes and turns of rhythm, and he is an especially lively and (surprisingly, for an English poetry scholar) playful guide through the mechanics of the work. A chapter doesn’t pass without some deft and amusing allusion to other pertinent numbers in the Dylan canon. But the author is less skilled at discussing the meaning and moral weight of the songwriter’s oeuvre. Unlike most Dylan pundits, he completely eschews a biographical reading of the texts; while that might open the door for a fresh consideration, Ricks’s interpretations often seem too open-ended and airless. The reader—especially one with a nonacademic bent—may ultimately wonder for whom this was written. Its length, intellectual density, and plentiful citations of poets both ancient and contemporary will probably put off all but the most devoted Dylan enthusiasts, while poetry buffs will likely ask themselves if a musician, even one of Dylan’s caliber, is worthy of something as weighty as this.

A diverting and occasionally revelatory stroll through a master’s work, but one that will have a difficult time finding an audience.

Pub Date: June 18, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-059923-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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