For the inaugural VM Book Club choice, my I please present to you: M Train, by Patti Smith.
Perhaps some of you have read Just Kids, her tale chronicling her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City in the late 60s and 70s. That’s on my list to read too, but I decided to start with her lesser known tome looking back over her life now, a peek inside the brain of someone so unconventional and talented through the places and people she has loved and lost.
Patti is an inspiration to me as I grow older, and this quote from The Guardian‘s review of M Train says it all: “with her unkempt grey hair and crow’s feet, looking for all the world like the kind of ageing lady who talks to her cats – radiating anarchic energy, urging us all to see things differently, and demonstrating just how kick-ass a woman in her late 60s can be”. I’m halfway there with the hair and the cats, but I’ve a long way to go with the rest.
For the unititiated, Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist who gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone, and her books include Just Kids, winner of the National Book Award in 2010, Wītt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence. (Penguin Random House).
About M Train
From Penguin Random House
From the National Book Award–winning author of Just Kids: an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the cafés and haunts she has worked in around the world. It is a book Patti Smith has described as “a roadmap to my life.”
M Train begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, we travel to Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico; to the fertile moon terrain of Iceland; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; to the West 4th Street subway station, filled with the sounds of the Velvet Underground after the death of Lou Reed; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima.
Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation. Here, too, are singular memories of Smith’s life in Michigan and the irremediable loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith.
Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multiplatform artists at work today.
“Home is a desk. The amalgamation of a dream. Home is the cats, my books, and my work never done. All the lost things that may one day call to me, the faces of my children who will one day call to me. Maybe we can’t draw flesh from reverie nor retrieve a dusty spur, but we can gather the dream itself and bring it back uniquely whole.”
You can find it on Kindle at Amazon, on eBay, and the audio version on audible. Also online at Booktopia, the Book Depository, and Abebooks (although that can take a while to ship). I took the last one from Brotherhood Books online, sorry! For in-store in Melbs, I love Brunswick Bound and Readings, but it should be available in your local.
Check out the New York Times review by the mighty Michiko Kakutani (who recently retired from her long, stellar career as the New York Times chief literary critic) and the aforementioned Guardian review, both useful in trying to explain the unexplainable.
Why not check out Patti Smith’s favourite books of all time (a couple in there I’ve got my eye on), and if you’re the more aural type, check out her melodious reading of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, written to Lord Alfred Douglas his *special* friend while he was in prison for gross indecency, aka, “being gay”.
Also I can never get enough of seeing her so moved by First Aid Kit’s incredible cover of Dancing Barefoot.
About the Veggie Mama Book Club
This is super-chill, read what you want, as much or as little as you want, participate however you want kind of book club. Maybe challenge yourself a little because that is a good thing, but let this not be a burden.
We’ll pick a book per month and discuss it both on the blog and in the Facebook group (and for locals, in real life, over a beverage and platter of some type).
You can share at any time anywhere with the hashtag #vmbookclub and you can tag me @veggie_mama. I am also open to suggestions at any time, and I look forward to us maybe getting out of our literary comfort zones and always learning something when we do, even if we don’t like the book itself. Or the author. Or Tuesdays. Or broccoli.
See you back here at the end of February for a bookish chat about M Train!