“It’s not so easy writing about nothing" (3).
So begins M Train.
Spoken by a mysterious cowpoke that frequents Smith’s dreams, his opening remark alludes to the very nature of her book- a first person narrative voyaging in and out of present time, space, and reality. Untethered to a specific time or place, Smith’s memoir roots itself in daily rituals and repetitions that readers will pleasure and identify in: a standing order of coffee, brown bread, and olive oil at Café ‘Ino, the requisite electric lady t shirts packed for travel, binge watching true crime TV series. M Train is the ‘road map’ to Smith’s life: frequenting café’s, writing, travel, lost objects, books, and her late husband Fred Sonic Smith. M Train is about nothing, but the nothingness that comprises our everyday lives. Here, Smith channels powerful feelings of loss, remembrance, nostalgia, and love by guiding readers to and fro memories tied to objects, places visited, Beat poets, homes made and lived in, and life with Fred.
Smith’s ruminations on memory, time, and present reality form the heart of M Train, presenting readers with an opportunity to give pause and reflect on the interior nothingness of their own lives – of café booths sat in, of lost jackets that we loved, of mourning a small stone we took without permission from the side of a mountain, of losing someone that we love. But we cannot stay long, - the present moves ever onward, tugging at our shirt sleeves as we are pulled from our reverie, “We seek to stay present, even as the ghosts attempt to draw us away,” (248).
Winner of the 2015 National Book Award, M Train is hardly Smith’s first or only highly praised work. Just Kids also received the National Book Award in 2010, and five years earlier, Smith received the Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres award– the highest honor given to an artist by the French Republic from the French Ministry of Culture. Her influence and presence in Rock n Roll goes without saying; Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Inspired as I was from reading her memoir, I was equally inspired by what drives Smith. Check out a truncated reading list from name-dropped books in M Train:
Patti’s Reading List
- The Thief’s Journal – Jean Genet
- Amulet – Robert Bolaño
- The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
- After Dinner Declarations – Nicanor Parra
- Letters from Iceland – W. H. Auden
- The Petting Zoo – Jim Carroll
- After Nature – W.G. Sebald
- The Little Lame Prince – Maria Dinah Mulock Craik
- A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Marakami
- Anthology – Artaud
- The Confusions of Young Törless – Robert Musil
Also by Patti Smith
- Just Kids
- Auguries of Innocence
- Collected Lyrics
- The Coral Sea
- Early Work
- Seventh Heaven