book club.

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i recently read patti smith’s m train. the other night she was on the pbs newshour, and the interviewer mentioned that there is a level of grief over her late husband fred that permeates the writing. she said that it was not intentional, but that she carries fred and those that she has lost with her, and found that they make their way into her writing. there is a sort of undercurrent of grief in the book, but it doesn’t take center stage. it’s as if listening to a speaker with a hint of an accent. it’s at first noticeable but gets lost in the narrative and creeps in only occasionally. more than grief there is a sense that patti smith is honoring the memory of those she has lost, her memory. patti smith is somewhat of a professional appreciator. patti smith is a FAN. capitol F A N. patti smith spends a lot of her creative energy paying tribute to others. patti smith writes love letters and eulogies and thank you notes in her books and in her photographs. it’s something that i have always felt akin to: i am a FAN as well.

something that has also always resonated with me is her descriptive writing style. the devil and the gods are in the details. patti smith’s photographs and tales of objects are so powerful because she understands how these things are extensions of a person. how our clothing, our living and work spaces, our furniture, all of the little bric a brac that we keep around us represent us. these things are mementos and memento moris, relics and heirlooms and sign posts. part of what i loved so dearly about the documentary dream of life is that you got a glimpse into patti’s home and her world, and found it filled with so many cherished items. she would take each one out and caress it and tell its story as if it were a pet bird that she had rescued or that had been given to her by a loved one. patti smith treats her memories the same way: like little jewels that she takes out and polishes, holds up to the light and then carefully puts away.

i believe patti smith to be a person who is often overcome with nostalgia. a person who has a dream-like recollection of people and places and things that have left her. this is certainly my experience of memory: like a dream that i can walk into, with all of the strange sensations that come to us in dreams.

as patti says in m train: “we want things we cannot have. we seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. i want to hear my mother’s voice. i want to see my children as children. hands small, feet swift. everything changes. boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. please stay forever, i say to the things i know. don’t go. don’t grow.”

m train is not the linear story that just kids was, but something else. little vignettes, not unlike journal entries. it’s wonderful to spend time in patti smith’s world.

the art of memoir.

the art of memoir.

maybe it’s the time of year, but lately all that i want to do is read. this is pretty amazing for me, because i’ve been in somewhat of a reading rut for longer than i’d like to admit. after having my son i found myself reading only parenting books and then, nothing really appealed to me. a couple of weeks ago patti smith’s latest memoir was released, and that was when i knew: the time had come. memoir is an interesting thing, people’s versions of their own stories can wander into what some people consider fiction. this has never bothered me. i believe in the magic and validity of people’s experiences, no matter how factual they may be. here are 10 memoirs i’m planning on devouring, a reading list for the coming colder months.

  1. first up is patti smith’s m train. i plowed through this book in a few days. patti smith is such a huge part of me, and i love being in her world. she drifts in and out of reality, going into memories and dreams which can make this book feel a little fragmented but i think the key is not to look for a narrative and just let yourself wander along with her. it’s truly a lovely ride.
  2. next on my list is blackout: remembering the things i drank to forget by sarah hepola. i read an excerpt of this book in one of the big fashion rags and i was completely drawn in. the writing is very honest, candid and real. sarah hepola’s voice is clear and her stories relatable, whether or not you have struggled with addiction. i can’t wait to read the whole book.
  3. next is anjelica huston’s watch me, which is the follow up to her memoir a story lately told. i’ve been dying to read both of these books, despite their less than stellar reviews. the general consensus seems to be that huston does more name dropping than reflecting, but i must admit i’m still interested in the who what and what they wore aspect of her life.
  4. next is widow basquiat: a love story by jennifer clement. this book was written by the best friend of jean-michel basquiat’s partner suzanne, who also happens to be a quite brilliant writer. i’ve read some of jennifer clement’s poetry and i can’t wait to read her version of one of my favorite painter’s stories.
  5. the next book is not actually a memoir, but a biography of probably my favorite writer: joan didion. i love didion’s fiction but her essays and particularly her memoirs are unparalleled. surprisingly this is the first biography of didion. while i tend to approach biographies cautiously, this one is said to read like fiction, and what is a biography really but a writer’s interpretation of another person’s life? i hope that tracey daughtery’s portrait of joan didion pays tribute to the brilliant woman that she is.
  6. next is the memoir of one of my all time, top 10 favorite musicians ever: elvis costello. he is also one of my favorite writers, and unfaithful music & disappearing ink is 688 pages of costello. i’m so into it.
  7. next is another music memoir: carrie brownstein’s hunger makes me a modern girl (which is a pretty perfect title). as a girl who was a teenager in the 90’s, sleater kinney and the riot grrl scene was evvvverything to me. and one cannot deny the utter radness that is portlandia. really excited to read this book.
  8.  next is god and jetfire: confessions of a birth mother by amy seek. i read an interview with amy seek over on mother and found myself completely moved by her story, and also surprised at how much i could relate to her without having experienced the same thing. writing this book was brave, and i can’t wait to read it.
  9.  next is clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music, boys, boys, boys by viv albertine. i want to read this book based on the title alone, but it also happens to be by the guitarist of the slits. it’s supposedly full of tales from the 70’s london punk scene, which sounds like a blast to me.
  10. last but not least the memoir of the year: kim gordon’s girl in a band. somehow i haven’t read this one yet, and i have no excuse. the reviews are all raves, and gordon was certainly part of many scenes that are large in my world. perhaps it’s some silly teenage loyalty to courtney love that has kept me from reading it, but i’m ready to let that go and dive in. all ears, kim.

the end.