“A warm-hearted perambulation” – A Book of Days by Patti Smith

IMG_2022-11-29-213607We’ve spoken before about our affection for Patti Smith. We’ve frankly worshipped at the altar of Just Kids and M-Train and Year of the Monkey. Her books are the books that we take from our shelves most frequently, to dip into, her writing imbued with radical hope and inspiration and just likely to perk you up more than anything else. Part of it arises from her natural enthusiasms, for other artists, for writers and books, for TV shows and for – well, plain old things. Sentimental artefacts given to her by people she has loved or been close to. Smith, you get the sense, would be a great friend to have.

A Book of Days is a little something different, at least in comparison with her last few books (although it likely won’t come as much surprise to anyone who follows her on Instagram or Substack). What we have here is a photograph a day for a whole year (Smith is a keen photographer, either with her now obsolete Polaroid Land 250 or just her phone), together with a caption – some shorter, some longer – in which she eulogises… well, writers she likes, graves she has visited, statues she has seen, musicians she idolises, sights she has visited, animals she crosses paths with (of the living and stuffed variety), family members and items of personal significance.

Some of the pictures are fresh – by which we mean to say (we presume) shot within the life of this book. Others emerge from her sorting and sifting through her own personal ephemera. Birthdays and death days offer a particular charge and people emerge from the fog of remembrance (obviously Smith has met a lot of people in her life, and a lot of those people are no longer with us, and so, on these days, in these images, they emerge from the fog of time, nod their head or tip their hat and then return to whence they came).

And let’s not forget the captions themselves.

“Reading Nerval has always inspired me to write. This is the greatest gift that an artist bequeaths to future artists, igniting the desire to produce their own work.”

And:

“Everything in my ragged garden is wild.”

And:

“In Teotihuacan, near the Avenue of the Dead, a small deity holds an orb in his two hands.”

There are hundreds of others. You’ll have your own favourites, when you get there.

Smith, we feel, is coming to be the embodiment of the right side of history (at least for us). Rooted in the earth, as she is, a person with both feet on the ground, for all her successes, you feel her bright and instinctive knowledge – here is a person you could pay attention to and learn from, if you were open to learning. And so when she recommends a writer you already like, for instance (Beckett or Bolano, say), you quietly nod and say to yourself, of course you’d like Beckett or Bolano or whoever. At the same time, because she has read widely and knows her stuff, you’ll also find books in here that you were not previously aware of, that you’ll want to add to your list in the full knowledge that, coming with a recommendation from Patti Smith, they will be books that open up your view of the world.

We galloped through A Book of Days because we’re greedy but the best way to read it, and the way we plan to read it in 2023, is to take it a page a day. And, if that proves too tantalising for you, like you’d need more, you could always read this book in parallel with both her Instagram page and her Substack page so that you exist alongside Patti Smith as she goes about her business. That’s what we try to do.

Any Cop?: A thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly warm-hearted perambulation through all things Patti Smith.

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