A New Year
The new year began, as the world fell into a state of unprecedented calm. And the farmer dropped his sickle and froze, witnessing a spectacle overwhelming in its common majesty. The sky was the brightest of blues, unblemished by cloud, the fields stretching before him were as the purest gold and without shadow. The wheat was plentiful and the hive ran with a honey rivaling the gold of the fields. Beyond, the streams were bright and clear as if poured from a crystals infinite center.
The children ceased their play and stood in baffled silence as a host of luminous balloons, wider than great ships, hovered, dipped as if in greeting, then ascended deep into that same blue.
Bowls of bread and fish and fruit materialized in the hands of the hungry. The sun drew the water from raging flood, relieving the saturated earth. The rain satiated drought and the desert flourished. Rivers teamed with fish, pink and plentiful. And the lame ran, the blind spun in a new radiance, and the sick rose refreshed.
The healing worm rose from the clay of creation and the tongue of every living thing brought forth understanding. And laughter rang out and the grieving were comforted. Bells of silver chimed and all bowed their heads, giving thanks. And rainbows circled the earth like the rings of Saturn, and all dipped their fingers into its formlessness and knew that it was good.
Patti Smith on Authors She Loves
Below is a selected reading list of the books Smith mentions in her memoir M Train (2015) — some in direct and effusive homages, others obliquely, all lovingly. What emerges is a self-portrait of a creatively voracious mind, and glimpse into her wonderful view of literature.
After Nature (public library) by W.G. Sebald
“At one time the three lengthy poems in this slim volume had such a profound effect on me that I could hardly bear to read them. Scarcely would I enter their world before I’d be transported to a myriad of other worlds. Evidences of such transports are crammed onto the endpapers as well as a declaration I once had the hubris to scrawl in a margin — I may not know what is in your mind, but I know how your mind works.
Max Sebald! … He sees, not with eyes, and yet he sees. He recognizes voices within silence, history within negative space. He conjures ancestors who are not ancestors, with such precision that the gilded threads of an embroidered sleeve are as familiar as his own dusty trousers.
What a drug this little book is; to imbibe it is to find oneself presuming his process. I read and feel that same compulsion; the desire to possess what he has written, which can only be subdued by writing something myself.”
The Thief’s Journal (public library) by Jean Genet
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (public library) by Haruki Murakami
A Wild Sheep Chase (public library) by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore (public library) by Haruki Murakami
Dance Dance Dance (public library) by Haruki Murakami
2666 (public library) by Roberto Bolaño
Amulet (public library) by Roberto Bolaño
The First Man (public library) by Albert Camus
“A photograph of Albert Camus hung next to the light switch. It was a classic shot of Camus in a heavy overcoat with a cigarette between his lips, like a young Bogart, in a clay frame made by my son, Jackson… My son, seeing him every day, got the idea that Camus was an uncle who lived far away. I would glance up at him from time to time as I was writing.”
The Divine Comedy (public library) by Dante Alighieri
The Story of Davy Crockett (public library) by Enid Meadowcroft
The Little Lame Prince (public library) by Rosemary Wells
Ariel (public library) by Sylvia Plath
“My copy of Ariel [was] given to me when I was twenty. Ariel became the book of my life then, drawing me to a poet with hair worthy of a Breck commercial and the incisive observational powers of a female surgeon cutting out her own heart. With little effort I visualized my Ariel perfectly. Slim, with faded black cloth, that I opened in my mind, noting my youthful signature on the cream endpaper. I turned the pages, revisiting the shape of each poem.”
The Master and Margarita (public library) by Mikhail Bulgakov
Winter Trees (public library) by Sylvia Plath
Four Major Plays (public library) by Henrik Ibsen
After-Dinner Declarations (public library) by Nicanor Parra
Letters from Iceland (public library) by W.H. Auden
The Petting Zoo (public library) by Jim Carroll
“Essential to anyone in search of concrete delirium”
Tractatus Logico (public library) by Ludwig Wittgenstein
A Dog of Flanders (public library) by Ouida
The Prince and the Pauper (public library) by Mark Twain
The Blue Bird (public library) by Maurice Maeterlinck
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (public library) by Margaret Sidney
Little Women (public library) by Louisa May Alcott
Through the Looking-Glass (public library) by Lewis Carroll
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (public library) by Betty Smith
The Glass Bead Game (public library) by Hermann Hesse