Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Word Lovers Should Hop On to Patti Smith's M Train

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Patti Smith may look formidable on the cover of her most recent memoir, but if you've already read "Just Kids," her National Book Award-winning tale of her early years in New York City with Robert Mapplethorpe (a book whose beauty just knocked me flat), then you'll feel as if you're visiting with an old friend when you open "M Train." I started it last night and couldn't put it down.

Now, I'm no connoisseur of punk rock. In fact, the name Patti Smith was only something in the periphery of my core knowledge. I did not know of her talent as a poet, though it stands to reason that a song writer would have a flair as a wordsmith. "M Train" is a very different animal from "Just Kids," but it's a haunting piece of work just the same.

Librarians, readers, and writers just can't help but fall in love with a person so passionate about words. Smith's lyricism flows like a kind of prose poem as she takes us from the present to the past and back again in a dreamlike, stream of consciousness style. One moment we're in Mexico on the prowl for the best cup of coffee in the world, and the next we're ensconced in a London bedsit overdosing on British murder mysteries. "Luther," here we come.

Ms. Smith has a wildly eclectic taste in literature, often referencing books that she returns to time and again. She credits her mother, whose gifts of books she cherishes to this day, and fondly recalls being enthralled with "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew." How many readers our age will even admit to that? Whether she's quoting Wittgenstein or passages from "The Story of Davy Crockett," we're right there with her.

There is a lovely soulfulness to Patti Smith's reminiscences. One minute she's taking us back to Michigan and her marriage, which ended so abruptly with the death of her husband at the ridiculous age of forty-five, the next, she's hiding in the bathroom at her daily haunt, the Café 'Ino, waiting impatiently for her table to be vacated by the interloper harping away on a cell phone and disturbing the atmosphere of Smith's favorite writing spot - other than her own bed.

Everyone seems to be putting out their "best of" lists too soon. There are fifteen days left until the end of the year. Just think what literary marvels might still be waiting to be discovered. I'll be traveling and devouring books over the next two weeks, taking a break from the Internet. Though "M Train" has just been added to my short list of favorites for the year I remain open to the next great read before 2016 arrives.

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