Who’s not intrigued by Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe? Their struggles in New York during the late sixties and early seventies, as portrayed in Just Kids, bring to life a critical era of American art. Name dropping –Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, Todd Rundgren, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix— threads throughout the book. History unfolds as I turn the pages.
Yet, Just Kids as a piece of literature? No. As a work of art, the book is inordinately disappointing. I wish Patti Smith had hired a ghost writer. But, how could a poet summon the courage to hire a ghost writer? I wish the best for Patti—her music, her poetry, her life. I appreciate her opening this private world to us. I am disappointed to say, however, that I can only recommend Just Kids for its historical value.
I must say, I like writing this blog on reading one hundred memoirs. When Paul sees me curled up on the couch, eating bon bons, reading a luscious book, and asks, “What are you doing?” I can honestly answer,
“Working, dear. Working.”
My mentor, Theo Nestor, author of How to Sleep Alone in a King Sized Bed, says memoirs of famous people should not be considered the same genre as pensive, reflective books of virtually unknown writers. That may be true. Do we need call them “Memoirs F” (for famous people) and “Memoirs T” (for thoughtful works)? And yet, I’m including memoirs of famous people in my blog, if only for relief.
I have the amazing good fortune to live on a beautiful island where the sun rises over the Puget Sound, often rises over Mt Rainier, and deer roam, eating my few roses. I love my family. Like most Americans, I struggle to pay my bills, but if life were more perfect, I would tailspin into worry. I prefer to maintain this pleasant state of mind. Which is why, at times, I crave a respite from the gut wrenching memoirs. Tina Fey provides just such relief. Bossypants offers laughs where Map (see below) offers tears. While I’m riveted by Meredith Hall’s journey in the Middle East, I’m fascinated by how Tine Fey came be Sarah Palin.
Bossypants is not superbly written. It slides into preachy at times when discussing how women have historically been screwed as comedians and how gays deserve their rights. (Both are points I agree with, by the way.) But if you, like I, seek moments of surfacey fun, pick up Bossypants and enjoy.
- The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolfe
- In a Sunburnt Country by Bill Bryson
- One for the Road by Tony Horowitz
- Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
- Riding in Cars with Boys by Beverly Donofrio
- Roads by Ted Conover
- Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt
- Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis K
- Goat Song Brad Kessler
- The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway
- The Road to Coorain by Jill Kerr
Vivid writing. Poetic, flowing phrases. And yet, when I read Meredith Hall’s 2007 memoir, Without a Map, my guts wrenched, tears formed, my breath stifled. The knot in my stomach remained days after reading. If I am to call other works mediocre, this book I must label “excellent.” How did the author grasp me, the reader, when I didn’t want to read anymore? When I didn’t want to be exposed to anymore suffering? And yet I shunned my chores, my work, and continued to read until I finished the book.
Meredith Hall writes in Without a Map:
“I study the tessrae of the mosaic design, searching for clues, a map for how a life gets lived, how it all can be contained, how the boundaries can hold against the inexpressible and unnamed.” And, “Obsessive image, a life becoming story, story becoming meanings. These are my memories…”
And this is an excellent read.