NBA. (Not basketball)

Just Kids by Patti Smith
I wouldn’t’ve picked up this book if it hadn’t’ve won the National Book Award for nonfiction. But I wouldn’t’ve kept reading it unless I liked it.*
This is the kind of book that’s difficult to put down, and I’m still trying to figure out why that is.
Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe met when they were young and impoverished in New York, and they remained a couple, in their own way, for as long as they both lived. And yes, he was gay, and yes, she married another man. But, in a very real way, this book is about the way they each were the other’s person.
This book is a love letter to Mapplethorpe from his old friend, and it’s a memoir of a very unconventional life. Make that: two very unconventional lives.
It’s the sort of book that is true, yet seems like it must be make-believe. There are famous 70s counterculture figures popping up on every page, and they’re the minor characters in this story, which has Smith and Mapplethorpe planted firmly and fascinatingly at its center.
And this, from a reader who, before reading the book, would have failed any test that asked me to write one sentence describing their work.
In addition to describing a weird and wonderful (and true!) journey, the book is a pleasure to read. Smith’s writing is sheer loveliness; her sentences draw pictures.
Je ne sais quoi—it’s all over this thing.
* I also checked out the National Book Award for fiction, and made it about 5 pages before moving right along…

6 thoughts on “NBA. (Not basketball)

  1. I've seen and heard great things about this one, but yours might be the review that makes me want to give this a try. Like you, I don't think I could tell you a sentence about either Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe ("I know their names" would be about the best I could do). But the fact that you found this so compelling without knowing much about them makes me more intrigued about this one. Hmm ….

  2. My friend has this book! He's a big fan of Patti Smith; he and his wife went to her concert when she played South Korea in 2009. They said she still rocks hard. I've got plans to borrow the book.

  3. Ash

    I read this book before it was given the National Book Award and I really enjoyed it. That being said, I was a little surprised it won the award.

  4. Ash,
    It does seem a surprising choice for the award — usually it seems the award is given for a more "serious" book (about social issues or historical horribleness). But I'm well satisified that it won!

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