Tuesday, 22 March 2016

M Train by Patti Smith | № 1 spring reading list

I'm sitting here with coffee in the safety of my home, feeling shaken, sad and numb by events in Brussels. There is also a feeling inside that I don't have a word for. As most of you know, Belgium was our home for two years and immediately my thoughts were, Are our friends safe? Most of them live in Antwerp and, fortunately, we have received no bad news. When I watch the news I cannot help but thinking that the Icelandic Embassy is just a short walk from the Maelbeek station. When one has walked these streets this just feels too close to home.


Looking at the stack of books after my library visit I thought it odd to go straight from reading the diaries and works of Virginia Woolf to Patti Smith's M Train. Well, it sounded odd. All of a sudden my mind was going, Wait a minute, didn't I see an interview with Patti taken in the Charleston House? It was the home of artists Vanessa Bell (Woolf's sister) and Duncan Grant. I looked it up and found it on YouTube and there she was, talking about her admiration for the house and the Bloomsbury group's artistic way of living. I even found a clip of her reading Woolf to an audience.

Going from Virginia to Patti now seemed a basic choice.

Patti Smith starts M Train with the words, 'It's not so easy writing about nothing.' If she is writing about nothing, she is certainly good at it. I hardly looked up from the reading and before finishing had decided to buy my own copy. To give you some idea of this 'nothing', during the reading you will drink plenty of coffee with Patti in the Greenwich Village, and likely mourn Café 'Ino on Bedford Street, visit graves of authors in various corners of the world, and watch detective series. Remember Linden and Holden from The Killing (the US version of the Danish series Forbrydelsen)? Those two are there. Haruki Murakami is there; his book that 'did [her] in' was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (p. 94). The most important presence on the pages is her late husband Fred Sonic Smith (d. 1994). At one point she touchingly writes: 'You've been gone long enough. Just come back' (p. 171). In a way M Train is a book about nothing, yet it left me with an unexplainable richness. My only disappointment was that it ended. I cannot wait to pick up Just Kids, her memoir that won her the 2010 National Book Award. I shamefully have to admit that I haven't read it.

Perhaps inspired by Virginia Woolf, who occasionally wrote down reading lists in her diary, here is mine for this spring:

The first on the list is already marked as read and I had started reading the next two, finding Nicholson's book delightfully entertaining. When I started reading Miller's autobiography it grabbed me and I think my next reading list will contain one of his plays. It's been years since I read anything by him.



  1. I loved "Just Kids", and now I'm intrigued about the new book! Also have meant to read Miller for a couple years now, but it's still on the waiting list, what with my slow reading speed in general and the lacking time due to too much work and other activities. For instance, I'm still to finish the 700-page "The Tin Drum" I started during the Christmas break (even though, to be fair, I read "Lost Japan" and have been studying Japan's travel guides in the meantime).

    1. Great to hear you liked 'Just Kids'. Thank you for pointing out 'Lost Japan'. I have added it to my list, but I don't know about 700 pages of Günther Grass. Maybe some other time ;-)


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