Monday, July 18, 2011

What Are You Reading?

The best thing I've read all year is Just Kids, rocker legend Patti Smith's lovely memoir of her deep friendship with iconic and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.   The two met in New York City in 1967, when both were unformed and drifting seekers--still "just kids"-- who were nevertheless determined to define themselves somehow as artists, but who in the meantime had to cope with the external struggle of day-to-day survival and the internal one of coming to terms with their own identities.   Their love for and support of each endured hunger, rejection, drug abuse, recklessness, thoughtlessness and Mapplethorpe's realization that he was gay (he died of AIDS).  Smith handles this all with exquisite clarity and tenderness.

Smith also writes evocatively of a New York City that really no longer exists.  A place where penniless artists, writers and musicians could manage to survive (barely) amid the squalor and grittiness of the lower East Side or (if one was really talented and lucky) a legendarily bohemian place like the Chelsea Hotel, where Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin lived or hung out.  Smith and Mapplethorpe were courting homelessness when she heard that it was sometimes possible to barter art for rent with the Chelsea's manager, Stanley Bard; unfortunately, Bard was uninterested in what Mapplethorpe and Smith had to offer.  But Smith did have a steady job, something many of the famous Chelsea residents lacked.   He rented them a tiny room for $55 a week (Smith earned $65 working at a bookstore).  This was in 1969.  Today, a room with a shared bath at the Chelsea will run you at least $200 a night.

Check out this podcast of Smith reading two terrific passages from Just Kids.  The first describes walking to Times Square on Christmas Eve in '69 to view the famous Lennon/Ono billboard, "War is Over (If You Want It)...Happy Christmas, John and Yoko."  The second is Smith's delightful account of her introduction to the poet Alan Ginsberg, who at the time was trying to pick her up...he had mistaken her for a "very pretty boy"


Justin Montez and Jonah Gevercer  (CKM, 2011) both recommended to me the book What is the What by Dave Eggers in the wake of discussions/focus on recent developments in Sudan.   Justin was kind enough to pass along a copy to me.  I'm reading it now.  Wow. 

So, what are you reading?  What have read? What do you recommend?  Summer time is reading time.


  1. Your summer reading. that's what I'm reading. And I have the book Friday Night Lights that my grand mother just got me. Maybe I will try that after.

  2. I just saw harry potter with my cousins and it was good. I'll read the last book the deathly hollows even tho i haven't read any of the others, my plan is to start there and work back. see you in september mrs jablonski

  3. I read this little book called Dar Star Safari. It was very good! Paul Theroux was quite snarky... I can see why you liked him so much.

  4. And this is Erin, not anonymous!

  5. I loved Just Kids - have followed Patti for years. Seems to me she always kept so much of her life private, it was really a wonder to read where she came from and how her friendship with Mapplethorpe developed.

    I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and recommend it, both for thought-provoking societal issues and scientific ones.

    Currently reading Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked. I like his wry sense of humor and strong opinions that come through in his writing. In this novel, he's elaborately constructed a fictional rocker, with so many quirky details that I half believe he's a real person.