By August 21, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

Discussing Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”

Last week my book group discussed Patti Smith’s National Book award-winning memoir, Just Kids. I asked them if they had ever heard of Patti Smith before reading this memoir and most of them had not. From there we launched into our conversation about the book.

Just Kids is about Patti Smith’s early years in New York City in the 1960s and 70s as a starving artist and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. We talked about how little Smith provides about her and Robert’s childhood, although small details emerge throughout about their families and how those relationships shaped who they were. One reader said she was surprised that Smith did not, for instance, share that she had been raised Jehovah’s Witness; this was but one example of how the memoir hews to a particular time and relationship.

Then we started talking about the relationship between Patti and Robert. One reader became emotional when she talked about the love that Smith describes, the kind of love that is so deep that you let the other person go in order to allow them to be themselves. Robert’s hustling and homosexuality did not diminish Patti’s love for and acceptance of him. I didn’t bring it up, but I was reminded of Gary’s group’s question about a lack of feminist perspective; my group characterized this abnegation of self as a naivete or something she overlooked due to her devotion. But while some readers found her naivete about his sexuality and sex in general baffling, everyone felt drawn into the intense and abiding strength of the bond that Patti and Robert shared.

One reader said that she enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy because it took her to worlds you can’t inhabit in real life; she said that Just Kids gave her a similar kind of reading experience in that Smith made choices and lived in a world that she wouldn’t have and was unfamiliar to her.

I love Just Kids so much that it was a relief to find that the group appreciated the book, too. One group member said she was supposed to have a day off work, but changed her schedule so she could work a half day in order to come to the discussion. She thanked me for introducing her to Smith’s writing and said she would read whatever she wrote next. I did wonder if anyone with dissenting views kept it to themselves. And yet I was pleased to discover just how much there is to discuss in Just Kids.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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