Here’s another book review. I liked this one. I was totally absorbed. Patti Smith, is of course the New York punk-rock legend from the eighties who has now written multiple award-winning books.

M Train Pattie Smith book revieew Sarah Wilson
M Train, Patti Smith

Background: I don’t know why I picked up this book. When I did a quick flick through it at the bookstore, it immediately sucked me in. Part-memoir, part-Beat prose, set in New York and woven together with a thread of pure whimsy (witness Smith’s love of sitting in a daggy café drinking black coffee and eating brown toast with olive oil) it ticked many boxes for me.

The gist: Smith meanders without rule or self-consciousness, tracing all the things she misses, including time itself. It reads like the diary entries that she writes on paper napkins and scraps of paper in the daggy café. Probably because that’s how the book was written. It’s a real time journey with an artist in her twilight years settled into her slightly eccentric ways of finding peace and identity and place.

The best bits:

The whimsy. And the melancholy shared in a way that reminds us all that our own melancholy can be special.

She seems to have one outfit (nine of the same T-shirt worn on rotation), eats the same thing every day, finds solace at the same cafe:

“I loved my coat and the café and my morning routine. It was the clearest and simplest expression of my solitary identity.”

She’s a melancholy artist, but not once does the book veer into a moan. She simply doesn’t see things that way. Indeed, the whole read is joyous in the most existential of manners. It’s this that saw me turn the pages. It was like a meditation in being thoroughly yourself and thoroughly accepting of the is-ness of life.

When things get a bit wobbly she packs up and travels, usually to connect with a favourite artist or writer in absentia. She travels for days to extract some rocks from a remote island off Mexico that one such artist always lamented not visiting in his lifetime. She then delivered the rocks to the other side of the world, to the artist’s grave. Just because it meant something to her. Even if she didn’t know what. It was some sort of certainty anchor. Pure whimsy.

“I sat on the makeshift step of what would be my refurbished porch and envisioned a yard with wildflowers.

“Anxious for some permanency, I guess I needed to be reminded how temporal permanency is.”

And there’s something about this snippet – and the book is full of snippets – that made my heart expand. I also love this one. She’s on a plane, about to take off. “I was reprimanded for not buckling my seat belt. I forgot to hide the fact by throwing my coat over my lap.” She adds this bit of loveliness:

“I hate being confined, especially when it’s for my own good.”

Me too.

Read it? Liked it? Want to share another important big read with us?

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