04 August 2011

Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

In 1966, Patti Smith moved to New York City carrying only her dreams of becoming an artist. On that very first day, a chance meeting with a sweet boy named Robert Mapplethorpe would be one of the most significant and pivotal points of her life.

Sharing an aesthetic sense, the two would be spiritually and sometimes physically bonded until Mapplethorpe's death in 1986. Patti Smith's award-winning Just Kids takes an unflinching look at the couple's life in the city during the heady and dangerous years of late 1960s into the 1970s.

Smith holds nothing back when she recalls what was required to survive: from sleeping in the park to cruising restaurants for handouts. When Smith scored a job in the Scribner's bookstore, they were able to afford a room, and Mapplethorpe supplemented their income with odd jobs and hustling, when necessary. The two supported each other emotionally and financially, never losing focus on their art--poetry, music, photography, drawing, painting, installations, and performing.

Whether in Brooklyn or Manhattan, on Delancy Street or MacDougal, crashing on a sofa or in the Chelsea Hotel, Smith and Mapplethorpe often found themselves in just the right place at just the right time to cross paths with some of the greatest artists of their time, including Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. Just Kids, however, is not a vehicle for Smith to name-drop; she unhesitatingly admits her lack of self-assurance and never resorts to exaggerating the depth of her relationships with these icons during her formative years.

The perspective is Smith's personal experiences, recollections, and reactions, but the focus is solidly on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Through Just Kids, Smith fulfills her promise to her soul mate to write their story. A surprisingly tender and moving memoir of a generation and of two kids determined to see their dreams come true.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Harper Audio) read by Patti Smith; my review of that edition will be published by AudioFile magazine (in print and/or on their website).

Just Kids is a National Book Award Winner and was an Indie Next pick for February 2010. Smith recently won the prestigious 2011 Polar Music Prize for "demonstrat[ing] how much rock 'n' roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock 'n' roll."

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

Just Kids at Powell's
Just Kids at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780060936228
YTD: 73
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Beth Kephart 8/4/11, 7:36 AM  

one of my favorite books of last year.

caite 8/4/11, 8:13 AM  

wow, sweet is not a word I would have thought described Mapplethorpe. who knew...

Anonymous,  8/4/11, 9:39 AM  

I have wanted to read this book since it came out. The era and the lifestyle would be fun to read about.

Care 8/4/11, 11:13 AM  

I've purchased this book but have yet to read it. I think it will be fascinating; how could it not?

Veens 8/4/11, 12:26 PM  

Sounds like an interesting read.

bermudaonion 8/4/11, 1:33 PM  

What a fascinating story! This sounds right up my alley.

Col (Col Reads) 8/4/11, 1:55 PM  

Wow, New York was a far grittier place in the 1970s. I am eager to read this one.

Heidenkind 8/4/11, 3:29 PM  

I don't usually read memoirs--AT ALL--but this one intrigues me.

Jenners 8/4/11, 4:36 PM  

I did not know that Patti Smith and Mapplethorpe were "an item." I'm sure this book is fascinating … just the times and the people would make it so.

Julie P. 8/4/11, 8:13 PM  

I bought this one right after it won the award and I've never gotten around to reading it! Sounds terrific!

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) 8/5/11, 7:53 AM  

wow, not a big bio fan but this actually looks like something I'd love to read. Thanks for spotlighting it!

Dorte H 8/5/11, 2:40 PM  

This one sounds different, but interesting.

Robin M 8/5/11, 7:36 PM  

I don't read memoirs but this one sounds interesting.

Care 10/14/11, 11:46 AM  

I just finished this one and agree it is sweet and surprising. I really did not know anything about Patti Smith and my expectations/misconceptions have been blown out of the water.

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