Friday, January 08, 2016

"M Train"

This latest book by Patti Smith was just read here.  Based on reviews skimmed, the book promised to be very different from her National Book Award winning "Just Kids" of 2011.  As opposed to a linear autobiographical approach to a period of time, "M Train" was thought to be the musings of a poet in the current day and maybe not something that would interest me.  I could not have been more wrong.

Wednesday, my usual night routine of piling up the pillows on the bed and settling in for a good read was underway.  Two books were already partially read, one somewhat demanding for late night and another becoming somewhat tedious.  "M Train", untouched, was in the pile as well, so why not.  The musings of a poet could be relaxing.  Propped up on the pillows at 11:30pm book in hand,  I did not move until 1:15am, 160 pages into the book, which was finished at lunch on the next day.  The book is a series of essays tied together by a Greenwich Village cafe where Smith spent her morning's writing, thinking, and drinking coffee for ten years, whenever she was in her place across 6th Avenue in New York and not traveling.  Once into the book, it is obvious that the cover photo is perfect.

Reading the book was just a matter of letting it flow.  I did not need to be familiar with all of the writers and poets that animated Smith's writing and activity.  In fact, many were familiar, some forgotten for years.  Where had I even read the name B Traven in recent decades, or seen someone write glowingly about "Black Spring" as I would have done circa 1970.  How many writers could be found who, looking for their next book to read, were frustrated to find that they had read all of the books in Henning Mankell's Wallander series(hand raised here).  Smith's travels to obscure places solely for the purpose of literary exploration, or meeting with writers that the beat generation adored, or laying amulets, significantly sourced stones, notes, or flowers on the graves of those that she had admired, these are captivating.

The many photographs throughout the book, taken by Smith, may seem somewhat quirky, definitely minimalist.  What they really are is personal, a sharing by the writer.  They add significantly to the book in a way that is cumulative.

I was completely taken with her humanity and her normalcy.  Her prodigious talent and wide ranging literary interests did not deter her from anything that she wanted to do, be it watch Horatio Caine in CSI Miami(clueless here), any episode of Law and Order Criminal Intent, or, when traveling to Europe, taking couple day layovers at a small Covent Garden hotel to eat room service and watch British television crime programs.

It's a disarming thought, but how many times could I have walked by her or seen her in the Village as I tramped about Manhattan for so many years.  Despite seeing her in concert several times, she is not a person that would have been recognized, just as she would have wanted it to be.


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