In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works by John Lennon

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In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works by John Lennon

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Category: Humour
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A new edition in one volume of Lennon's comic writings and drawings, first published in the 60s
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 978-0099530428

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During the height of Beatlemania, John Lennon used to doodle or write short poems or nonsense stories to pass the time (and there must have been a good deal of time to pass away on tour, if only waiting for screaming fans to leave them alone and go back home). Some of them were seen by Tom Maschler, literary editor at Jonathan Cape, who encouraged him to produce more. The results were published in two very successful short books in 1964 and 1965.

The drawings have something of James Thurber about them, though rather more crude, and the writings are not that far removed from the likes of Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash and Stanley Unwin. There is a kind of anarchic wordplay about his prose, a comic perversion of the English language, where people are invited to send in stabbed undressed envelopes, caramels escape from Wormy Scabs, and people's faces light up like boiling warts. Why did Harassed MacMillion go golphing mit Bod Hobe? In one short story a character stud in front of the fire with a thoughtfowl face, smirking his pile, and casting an occasional gland at the massage. There is a piece on 'Snore Wife and some Several Dwarfs', and a twelve-verse poem about 'The Fat Budgie'.

It's the kind of book which is guaranteed to raise a chuckle, if you're in the right mood. Humour is a very personal thing, and from what we know about Lennon as a personality, he was noted for quite an acerbic, even cruel sense of humour that was not universally appreciated, least of all by those on the receiving end, in his early days. Like those lavish Monty Python spin-off books that became all the rage a few years later, it's a rather acquired taste that is probably very much a product of its time. In the mid-60s the Beatles were tearing up the rules on popular culture and setting new boundaries themselves, and in a sense this book of writings was part of the process, even though the Lennon of the period is better remembered for songs like 'Nowhere Man' and 'Norwegian Wood' than these books (though it should be added that they have been regularly reissued by various publishers over the years, and rarely out of print).

They're amusing and a kind of quaint period piece. If you're a fan of Lennon's musical work, I think you would enjoy it. Equally I can see it leaving many others cold. Obviously any artifact – be it the written word or anything else – by one of the most famous men in the world in 1964 was manna from heaven to any publisher at that time and was guaranteed to fly out of the shops on arrival, but would these pieces have readily found their way into print had they been written by a complete unknown? And I wonder what the more intense Lennon of the early 1970s thought of his books by then. At the risk of sounding cynical (and was he not a notorious cynic himself?), would he have been proud of these literary contributions and the sideline he had secured himself as an author, or did he look back on them as puerile meanderings which managed to fool the great and the good reviewers in the broadsheets to great effect, in those heady days when any member of the Fab Four only had to cough to get a round of applause? That's up to you, the reader, to decide.

Our thanks to Vintage for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

If you enjoy this, for more surreal humour of a recent age you might also like Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years by Michael Palin.

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