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John Lennon and the Beatles, by the book

Thinking of building a Fab Four bookshelf? Now’s the time
/ Source: msnbc.com

It doesn't seem possible that John Lennon has been gone for 25 years, a full quarter of a century. You don't even have to be the ex-Beatle's biggest fan to have wondered what kind of music he would have produced in recent years, had he been given the chance.

Would he have continued to innovate, incorporating new genres as he went? Would he have ever reunited with longtime collaborator Paul McCartney, who's still touring today? Would he have inspired a whole new generation of musicians, who grew up with Beatles tunes as lullabies? Perhaps he would have retired from music, just settled down and been a husband to Yoko, a dad to Sean and Julian. Sadly, on Dec. 8, 1980, the world was robbed of all that.

This holiday season, every publisher on the planet seems to be pushing a Beatles or Lennon-centric tome or two, picking up on the sad anniversary as well as speaking to the wallets of Beatles fans of all ages. If you were ever thinking of adding a Beatles bookshelf to your home library, now's the time to do it.

Unquestionably, the biggest Beatles title of the season is "Beatles: A Biography," by Bob Spitz (Little, Brown, $30). It's nearly 1,000 pages long, and it's already garnering raves as the must-have tome for hardcore fans, for whom 1,000 pages will fly by. It reportedly traces all of the four Beatles' lives from Liverpool on through superstardom, no glossing over Ringo and George to get to John and Paul. And the book is also being praised for not shying away from the darker aspects of the Fab Four's lives, including drug addictions.

The "365 Days" series of squat, long books has focused on topics from "Star Wars" to gardens. Think of them kind of like a calendar that you set on the coffeetable instead of hang on the wall, with a new image each day. In "The Beatles: 365 Days," (Abrams, $30) Simon Wells collects photos of the band from 1963 to 1987, some of which have never been publicly available.

Crown

John Lennon's two wives continue to fascinate, especially with their husband gone. First wife Cynthia never got the ink that Yoko Ono did, for good or for bad. Cynthia has written another book about her famous ex, but tells a fuller story in "John" (Crown, $26). Critics say her bitterness at how she was treated is palpable, but that her story also fills in a bit of the always-fuzzy picture of Lennon's first marriage and child, son Julian.

Second Lennon wife Yoko Ono reports that it's too soon for her to fully examine her life with the husband who was murdered in front of her when son Sean was just five.  Yet she has a new book out too for the 25-year anniversary of that day. "Memories of John Lennon" (HarperEntertainment, $25) features an introduction by Ono that Publisher's Weekly calls "charmingly loopy." After that, she hands off to dozens of Lennon's friends and admirers (but not, sadly, Paul McCartney), who share their own memories of the man.

Tony Bramwell's own Beatles memoir, "Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles" (Thomas Dunne, $25), came out in April. He's not as well-known as Brian Epstein and others in the Beatles saga, but Fab Four fans know his name well. Bramwell was a Liverpool lad and childhood chum of three of the four and then worked with them at Apple. The book has drawn mixed reviews -- some adore the chance to get extra Beatles tidbits, others complain that the Beatles aren't as major a part of the book as Bramwell himself. And many critics note that Bramwell comes down quite hard on Yoko Ono, but then fans, and Ono, should be used to that.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Books Editor.