Getting Better All the Time

James Rosen ends his fine review of John, Cynthia Lennon's new memoir of her former husband (Book World, Oct. 9), by commenting that perhaps Paul McCartney had John Lennon in mind when writing the following lines from the 1967 Beatles song "Getting Better": "I used to be mean to my woman/ I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved/ Man I was mean. . . . " "Getting Better" was indeed a McCartney song, but it was augmented by Lennon, who contributed the quoted verse. See John Robertson's The Complete Guide to the Music of the Beatles (1994), p. 60. Given John's other admissions and Cynthia's testimony, there is no doubt that John's contribution to "Getting Better" was autobiographical.


Arlington, Va.

James Rosen's review of Cynthia Lennon's memoir offers a sad and sobering perspective on her ex-husband. Rosen, however, slightly misquotes the Lennon/McCartney song "Getting Better." The lyric is, "I used to be cruel to my woman," not "mean," though the adjective does appear in the next line. Further, it has been widely documented that Lennon, and not McCartney, contributed this line, along with the deadpan "It can't get no worse," to the song's refrain. These are minor distinctions, though I wonder if the sentiment alerted listeners of 1967 to Lennon's volatility and subsequent remorse toward those he loved and ill-treated.


Baltimore, Md.

James Rosen replies:

My apologies for, and my thanks to my fellow Beatles fanatics for pointing out, my error in quoting the lyrics to "Getting Better," which I caught prior to publication but too late to correct. These astute readers are also wise to direct our attention to John Lennon's seminal 1980 Playboy interview, in which he claimed to have written the lines in question. However, Paul McCartney, in his own Playboy interview, conducted four years later, said:

"All I remember is that I said, 'It's getting better all the time,' and John contributed the legendary line 'It couldn't get much worse.' " Noteworthy here is that McCartney himself misquoted the relevant line (it was actually "It can't get no worse") and remained silent on whether Lennon contributed any other lyrics.

Never the Twain

In his eagerness to discover "leaps of fact" and "mistakes" in his review of my book, Mark Twain: A Life (Book World, Oct. 9), Michael Patrick Hearn commits some leaps and pratfalls of his own.

Hearn scoffs at my claim that Sam Clemens studied the McGuffey's Reader as a boy, pointing out that Mark Twain never mentioned this text. Most scholars understand that Twain's memory is a notoriously unreliable instrument. My source is page 84 of Dixon Wecter's authoritative Sam Clemens of Hannibal, published in 1952.

Hearn then upbraids me for asserting that Clemens read Louisa May Alcott in McGuffey's Fourth Reader as a boy -- "She was only three years older than him." I made no such assertion. I merely pointed out that Alcott appeared in this edition.

And surely Hearn meant to write, "She was only three years older than he."


Middlebury, Vt.

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading

While taken with Brigitte Weeks's enthusiasm for my colleague Maureen Corrigan's memoir, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading (Book World, Oct. 2), as a student of children's literature I feel the need to point out an error that matters to some of us: Alcott's Jo March does not use the term "a kindred spirit," though she clearly has friends and family who fit the description. The phrase belongs to Lucy Maud Montgomery's protagonist Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables.


Georgetown University

Passing References

Patrick Lane recalls in his conversation with Margaret Atwood (Book World, Oct. 16) that, "As I wrote during those first months of 2001, small things began to happen to me . . . each of these brought back memories of earlier gardens and of the people who'd inhabited them . . . especially my mother and father, both of whom were dead . . . my mother a victim of cancer in 2003." And then later, "At the end of that year (2001), I listed all those I thought I had harmed in the past through my words and actions. . . . The hardest to apologize to were the dead, but even there, at the graves of my mother, father and brother, I found both redemption and peace."

So his mother must have died before 2001, but when?


Olney, Md.

Patrick Lane replies:

How terrible that I got that wrong. Mom would not be pleased. (Though she might be, given that I gave her some extra years.) She died in 1993. My sincere apologies for all the confusion. Maybe I still want her alive? No. No.

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John Lennon