So, this past Sunday was bookclub and we were all gathered together to discuss Just Kids by Patti Smith, which is our first non-fiction book.
One person loved it, a few liked it and a few didn’t.
It was an interesting read, but didn’t hold me. The patchy poetic style and changing rhythms bugged me and it felt – for an autobiographical work – distant and like Patti Smith was looking down on events from somewhere a long way above. But, Robert Maplethorpe is one of my favourite photographers and so I was still interested to see, through her eyes, him as a young man and artist, struggling to find a way in the world and coming to terms with being gay.
The other issue was that the book talks about a vibrant scene that included a lot of the great names of the 60s, 70s and beyond. If you knew the names it was a bit like playing 1960s fame bingo, and if you didn’t it was just paragraph after paragraph of names without context.
One interesting aspect of the discussion, was that the world of artists it describes – their passion for creativity, their one-eyed pursuit of a non-mainstream life and their way of seeing the world – was really foreign to most of the bookclub. They found it interesting, but alien and it struck me that most of them found it a world so different to their own that it was almost like they were reading a story set on another planet.
Overall, I think writing an autobiographical story about just one part of your life has to be a challenge. How do you position it in the bigger story of your fame? And in such a dynamic time and place as it happened, what do you include? What really matters to the story of your relationship with another person when art, artist and the time are all important formative elements in that relationship?
In the end it’s one person’s choice and this was Patti Smith’s.