Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Crit: A Book of Days by Patti Smith

A friend gave me this for my birthday, and I was excited to see it. I remain excited, merely to possess it. It's really good; as a bonus it's a book one can return to briefly or at length, forever.

What is it?

Well. It's a book of days, innit? There is (with a couple exceptions) one page per day of the year (including Feb 29) and on each page there is a fairly small photo and under that is a line or two of text written by Patti Smith. It's a kind of an almanac, but of the day to day minutiae of the life of Patti Smith. It happens that Patti Smith has lived a startlingly interesting life, but I don't that actually matters. Anyone could do this, and if they did it well (a large "if") it would prove equally interesting. At least close.

The details vary from day to day. Often it's just some little still life that someone, presumably Smith, put together and photographed. There may or may not be any real connection to the day, although often there is. It's someone's birth or death day, and there's a snapshot of so-and-so, or a snapshot of their grave, or the cover of a book they wrote, or a book which is about them. Occasionally there is a salient event. Often there is only a musing on something seasonal, or perhaps not even seasonal.

There might be a little still life containing a pocket knife, and underneath something written about Sam Shepherd, the fact that this was his knife, and perhaps a birthday wish for Sam (departed some years now, but a good friend, sometime lover, and long time collaborator of Smith's.) There might be a still life with a stick and a coffee cup, and a remark about the value of friendship. Perhaps it's a snapshot of Smith with some people, the text merely describes who those people are and what they meant to her.

I love it because it is essentially humble. Yes, Smith knew everyone who was anyone and has a snapshot of most of them, but we're not supposed to be sighing at how well she knew Mapplethorpe, we're supposed to see Mapplethorpe as just a guy who hung around with this chick who had a band and sometimes made a lot of noise at CBGB when it was cool to do that, and even when it wasn't any more. The photos are often just snaps, and even the best of them are well made still lifes of a certain ordinary sort. Just a desk with an artful clutter, or whatever.

The text is never overwrought. Wistful, funny, to the point, factual, a little philosophical in very small doses, and so on. Never too long or particularly complicated. Just a note. A sequence of little bits and pieces, laid out with some care by someone who's pretty good at this sort of thing. She didn't know all these people, she only met Jim Morrison once. She's fond of his work, and of the poems of this guy and the paintings of so-and-so, and so on. It's a sort of patchwork quilt of crap Smith thought was worth putting into a patchwork quilt.

I read it front to back, but having done that now it's a book I can turn to today's date and spend 2 or 5 seconds reading and looking at it, and that's all it asks of me for today. I can turn forward or backward from today, and spend 10 minutes, if I like.

I have the hardcover, there might be a paperback I suppose, but I don't know. It's a small, fat, book, well made, easy to hold and read. Highly recommended!


  1. Yours is an excellent description. I checked this book out of the library a week ago and I'm treating it just as you describe. Fun and thoughtful. Of course, I won't have a whole year or forever to review it.

  2. I want to make A Book of Days! [stone seal]