Books: The John Lennon Letters (2012)

After years of wondering when a book containing John Lennon’s personal correspondence would be published, that moment has arrived and here it is — just in time for today’s 72nd anniversary of the former Beatle’s birth.

Weighing in at nearly 400 pages, The John Lennon Letters (Little, Brown and Company) not only features letters and postcards sent to family, friends, fans and foes, but doodles, shopping lists, questionnaires and reams of assorted odds and ends. Scores of photos further cushion the hefty tome, along with historical facts and comments furnished by famed author Hunter Davies, who wrote The Beatles back in 1968 — which decades on, some folks believe to be the best book ever penned on the band.

Arranged in chronological order, The John Lennon Letters commences with a note written in neat penmanship to Aunt Harriet in 1951, thanking her for a towel and book she gave her nephew for Christmas. Examples of John’s homemade books, created when he was in grammar and art school, also stage an appearance. Even at a young age, he exposed a wildly keen wit and biting humor.

Though no shocking secrets are disclosed, The John Lennon Letters serves to be a very interesting and entertaining read. Ranging from love-laced notes to John’s first wife Cynthia (not to mention a lengthy, tear-stained musing where he apologizes and feels guilty about not spending enough time with son Julian) to a totally wacky letter to George Harrison’s mother to political and religious insights, the book is an ongoing delight.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: John Lennon's posthumous album 'Milk and Honey' is a half-chiseled monument to creative rebirth for the ex-Beatle -- unvarnished, but unrepentant and very real.]

A heavy reader, John often replied to letters in magazines and newspapers. For instance, a school teacher wrote a letter to The Sunday Times in England, complaining children’s reading skills were suffering because they watched too much TV. John defended television, saying how “Sesame Street” was particularly educational. Responses to fans are light and friendly, and in one letter John even provides the home addresses of the Beatles!

John was asked to write a review for The Goon Show Scripts, a book by Spike Milligan, which is additionally included in The John Lennon Letters. In his piece, he admits he has never written a review before and now knows why critics are so nasty. John loved the book and states it would be easier to write something if he didn’t like the book!

In letters to his Scottish cousins, John stresses how and he and Yoko eagerly await the birth of their child and how healthy he is, due to a good diet and yoga. Such letters are actually pretty intimate and expose John’s sensitive side to fine effects. He had not been in contact with his kin for a while, and was obviously pleased as punch to reconnect with them, for they were close when they were kids.

Nail polish remover, “Great Balls Of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, Tender Vittles, yogurt, moving Sean’s mattress, categorizing books, the influence of Buddy Holly, instructions on how to fix various appliances, Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass,” a whole chapter of correspondence to Beatles press agent Derek Taylor, an ugly rebuttal to Paul and Linda McCartney and albums by Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Wings are other tidbits covered.

John was a man of multiple moods, yet his core personality shines blindingly bright in The John Lennon Letters. Akin to his brilliant songs, his written communications offer an agreeable mix of wisdom, sarcasm, goofiness, surrealism, intelligence, childish whimsy, spirituality and humanity. It’s a frequent challenge trying to decipher John’s sloppy handwriting and single-finger typing technique, but have no fear as each slice of correspondence has been reproduced in text form to allow easy reading.

A high quality job all the way around, The John Lennon Letters is a must have for the rock and roll soul. Buy with confidence!

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 on the national charts with "Stand By Me" - which is ironically one of her favorite songs, especially the version by John Lennon. She has also contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as associate editor of Rock Beat International. Paterson's own publications have included Inside Out, and Twist And Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://bloggerhythms.blogspot.com Charlie

    I believe the best Beatles bio was Phillip Norman’s The Beatles in their GenerationM written in the early 80s. I like Hunter Davies’ book too but parts of that were whitewashed because it was officially approved by The Beatles, and although he updated it later, it was published in the late 60s while the group was still together.

    Regardless, thanks for this review. I didn’t know the book existed and now I know what I want for Christmas. Great video for “Real Love” too.

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for the review, Beverly. The only thing I don’t like about this book is how it has revived Lennon’s arguments with Paul McCartney, George Martin, and others. Unfortunately the media has seized upon these very old stories, and have focused on them rather than his other writings. You certainly nailed it when you said Lennon was a man of many moods!