By Bob Dylan
320 pages; Simon & Schuster

When the Swedish Academy shocked the world in October by awarding the Nobel Prize in literature to Bob Dylan—the first musician to win the honor—many puzzled over whether a songwriter could be as deserving as a novelist like Toni Morrison, the last American to win the literature medal. Dylan can make answering the question complicated, with his sphinxlike persona and abstract lyrics. Although the award is for lifetime achievement—not one particular piece of writing—Dylan's 2004 memoir is remarkably clear, openhearted and beautifully written, capturing his early love of music in his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, his first days on the New York folk scene, and moments of crisis later in his career. He's even refreshingly up-front about putting on all those masks to preserve his privacy. ("The press? I figured you lie to it. For the public eye, I went into the bucolic and mundane as far as possible.") The book is more a collection of snapshots than a full-blown autobiography—despite the "Volume One" subtitle, he hasn't delivered a follow-up. But this is an excellent place to peek into his past and his motivations.