Category Archives: One degree of separation

This category is for posts about books, articles, pictures, video, or other materials that relate in some way to a book which we have read. For example, another book by the same author, another book about the same period, place, theme, etc.

“In His Own Write” one degree of separation from “Finnegans Wake”

In His Own Write and later lyrics by John Lennon, and their relation to James Joyce and Finnegans Wake

When John Lennon’s first book came out in 1964 it was suggested that he was influenced by James Joyce for his use of wordplay and nonsensical storylines.  In truth, he did not read Joyce until he heard of the alleged influence, and then picked up a copy of Finnegans Wake and his reaction was “it’s GREAT and I dug it and I felt like—here’s an old friend!”  Richard Gerber, in his article about the connection between Joyce, Lennon, and Lewis Caroll, said  “…his subsequent experience of Joyce’s novel confirmed Lennon’s conviction that wordplay was a valuable way to augment meaning, and studying Joyce encouraged Lennon to continue experimenting with language in his own prose, as well as in his lyrics.”  The use of the word play with portmanteau words (combined syllables or words to form new words with compound meanings), misspelled words, word puns, and so forth, can be traced back to Lewis Carroll who used them in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.  Carroll’s works influenced Joyce to use his own portmanteau words and similar devices and both of them influenced Lennon to do the same in some of his lyrics e.g. “I am the Walrus”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,”  “Across the Universe,” “Come Together,” and others. Both Joyce and Lennon also used some of Carroll’s characters like Humpty Dumpty (The Eggman), and the Walrus.

As I experience them, “In His Own Write” contrasts with the later Lennon lyrics in that the story lines are bazaar but easy to get and the wordplay mostly enhances the meaning and the humor.  In later the songs, the  coherence of the lyrics dissolve into word music and images.  The alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and especially rhythm become more salient by obliterating the literal meaning of the overall lyric.   Consider the following examples from “I am the Walrus”

“Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob”   


“Expert textpert choking smokers
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you? (Ha ha ha! He he he! Ha ha ha!)
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snied
I’m crying”

and from “Come Together”

“He bag production, he got walrus gumboot
He got Ono sideboard, he one spinal cracker
He got feet down below his knee
Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease
Come together right now over me”

The later lyrics as with Finnegans Wake, or abstract art, circumvent some of the organizing features of more traditional forms to open up alternate pathways of expression.

For a detailed analysis of the connection between Lennon,Joyce, and Carroll,  see the article by Richard  Gerber: Goo Goo Goo Joob!:
The John Lennon/James Joyce Connection
Through Lewis Carroll’s “Looking-Glass”  at:

The following video contains an interview of John Lennon about In His Own Write in which he is asked if he was influenced by James Joyce.  The interview begins at 1:55

This following video is a brief performance by John Lennon of one of his stories from In His Own Write

Bill Sargeant


“Tales of The City” by Armistead Maupin

Related by time and place to Season of The Witch, and mentioned in it, is Armistead Maupin’s farcical comedy, Tales of the City. It first came out as a serial in 1976 in the “San Francisco Chronicle“, then in the “San Francisco Examiner”, and in novel form in 1978.  Later it became a TV mini-series and sequel novels were written.  This time capsule back to the ’70’s is packed with period and local references.  The book is composed of vignettes alternating between the day-to-day lives of the major characters.  In spite of its ephemeral nature it carries an enduring theme: people are often not who they seem to be on the surface.  Nearly all the characters have two layers which are in ironic conflict with each other.  Their facades slowly give way to their deeper identities creating both tragedy and comedy in the process.  It is a good complement to Season of The Witch for experiencing the flavor of the times.

Bill Sargeant 

“The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature” by Ben Tarnoff, 2014


DCF 1.0
Ben Tarnoff at his lecture and book signing for the San Francisco Public Library

This new history book picks up on the theme of counter-culture creativity in San Francisco from our selection for June: Season of The Witch.   This time, instead of San Francisco in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, it’s San Francisco in the 1860’s and 70’s.  Rather than large-scale social movements centered in San Francisco, it’s a countercultural literary movement of several writers including Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith.  As the title suggests, these writers brought a new style of American literature to the international stage and  San Francisco served as its birthplace.

San Francisco in the 1860’s had become a free-spirited, diverse,  wealthy, and sophisticated city through the influx of people and trade from all over the world during the gold rush and Comstock eras.  It was the only real city west of St. Louis and it’s isolation from the East Coast, and from the Civil War, allowed for the germination of new ideas.  Reading, here, was considered more a necessity of life than a luxury, hence there was a large, eager audience for writing and a demand for new publications along with writers to provide content. Previously, American literature was centered on the East Coast and derived from the British traditions.  These four writers mentioned above, self-described as “Bohemian” in their unconventionality, felt unrestrained to come up with a new voice which was more relevant to the spirit of the West.   “Tall Tales” is one of the hallmarks of their style.

Without Mark Twain, it’s safe to say, the  others wouldn’t have achieved the national and international impact that they did, however, without, the “Bohemians” and especially Bret Harte, there probably would not have been a Mark Twain, the writer.  Bret Harte helped Twain to develop his craft and persuaded him to persevere with his writing when Twain suggested quitting to go back to river boats.  Harte edited Twain’s first successful piece, “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” and later edited Twain’s, The Innocents Abroad.  Along with these two authors, are Charles Stoddard, a gay writer and friend of Walt Whitman, and Ina Coolbrith, the first California Poet Laureate (first of any state), and the  “literary mother” of Jack London.

Just as the counter-culture idealism of the 1960’s fell into decay after its initial flourish, the Bohemian movement in San Francisco, subsided by the mid 1870’s. The “Bohemian Club”, still in existence today, exemplifies a name-only continuation of the original ideal.  When Oscar Wilde visited them in 1882 he said, “I never saw so many well-dressed, well-fed, business-looking Bohemians in my life.”

Having heard the lecture on the book by its author, I look forward to reading the book in the next few days.

Bill Sargeant

One degree of separation

This page is for books and materials other than the monthly selection which are closely related to the monthly selection by one or more salient characterists: i.e. books by the same author, books covering the same time or place, a movie, play, song, poem derived from the selection of the month, a book or other work which served as a source for the monthly book, a book connected by theme, style, etc .  The goal is that the link will lead to new books or works to explore, and at the same time, will reflect back on the monthly selection to further enhance our understanding and appreciation for it.