"The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait" (Harper), by Daniel Mark Epstein: At one point in "The Ballad of Bob Dylan," the author is asked to pitch a plot for a musical featuring the folk-rock star's songs.
Because of Bob Dylan's conversion to Christianity, his handlers say, he will no longer play the songs that made him a symbol of 1960s counterculture and are looking to a Broadway musical as a way to keep them alive.
The story that Daniel Mark Epstein pitches is essentially the same story he tells in this book: A young man comes to New York's Greenwich Village from out West, perfects his art against a backdrop of interesting characters and becomes a full-fledged rock 'n' roll star before finding Jesus.
The musical never gets made and Dylan eventually makes a comeback as a secular musician. So the story winds on, but it's clear this is something Epstein's been ruminating over for a while.
Epstein was lucky enough to catch Dylan _ and Dylan fever _ early on, taking in a 1963 show, at the start of the singer's meteoric rise.
His description of the show is testament to a 15-year-old's memory, packed with minutia _ from each song's time signature to the position of Dylan's guitar capo. The reader quickly begins to fear the book is for only the most die-hard fanatics.
But in subsequent chapters, the story picks up speed and as Epstein checks back on Dylan at subsequent concerts during various stages of the artist's career, his focus thankfully widens.
Epstein disputes the perception that Dylan rarely gives interviews, citing and quoting from quite a number of them as well as from Dylan's 2005 autobiographical book, "Chronicles," but he never interviews the man himself. This leaves him to rely on interviews with former band members, friends, acquaintances and secondhand sources.
Epstein acknowledges that there is already an absurdly vast library devoted to Dylan, and it's not always clear what he has to add, aside from an overview of the most recent literature and his obvious love for his subject.
"The Ballad of Bob Dylan" works best as an introduction to one of the 20th century's most famous musician-poets or as something for hardcore fans to pick over, but it may fall short for those in between.