Join in on this week’s book club discussion around sections one and two of Patti Smith’s book M Train.
Patti Smith’s latest tome, M Train, is not your typical memoir. And for that I am thankful. As someone with a penchant towards non-fiction and the occasional glimpse into the lives of others (hello, human condition!), I’ve read personal story after personal story, memoir after memoir, and very nearly burnt myself out on them. But Smith’s writing is different. There’s a casualness about the way she observes the world and reports back, one you might not expect from someone who has lived a life such as hers, with such notoriety. M Train isn’t a day by day recount of her life; rather, it ebbs and flows with her thoughts, a conversational tide.
In section one, we’re introduced to Cafe ‘Ino, Smith’s home away from home, where a lone table is “hers” and she enjoys the kind of solitude and comfortable routine of someone who has seen much of what life has to offer and lived to tell about it. It’s here where Smith muses on the café that she once dreamed about, and it’s here where the reader is transported to Saint-Laurent-Du- Maroni in French Guiana. In the age of the Internet, where far-off locales can be accessed at the click of a button and answers found just as easily, Smith’s sojourn to this far-off land to pay respect to a writer she admires seems almost quaint. A practice still indulged in but rarely recounted in anything more than an Instagram image. In French Guiana, Smith’s café dream truly springs to life, just as the reader drifts back to present time with the author. We all have these cafés in our lives, the places we dwell in, where we muse and dream. Could be cafés, could be beaches… park benches. That place or thing that is holy in some way for our individual selves, where we can allow ourselves to relax and our thoughts to wander.
Section 1 discussion questions:
– Do you have a “Café ‘Ino” in your life? What form does it take? Why, do you think, you feel most comfortable inhabiting that particular type of space?
– Have you ever made a meaningful journey for the sole purpose of paying homage to a writer/actor/musician/etc. who you respect? Where did you go and for whom? How did you choose to memorialize the experience?
In section two we find the author at home. Observing the items in her life. Quietly celebrating the New Year holiday in her own way. Unpologetically. Unironically divulging her preference for crime dramas (my thoughts: she likes The Killing! Me too. Me, too…). She greets her belongings, studies them, exists in the same space with them. She allows the reader a glimpse into the decidedly unglamourous side of existance, an existance filled with thought and poetry. This particular chapter felt especially poignant after reading September’s pick, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Smith’s practice of reveling in her life and the items that exist therein, in the act of patting her coffee maker “on the head” feel KonMari-approved. Her satisfaction with what surrounds her, with her father’s desk, the antique creche, palpable through the pages.
Section 2 discussion questions:
– Do you have a specific ritual when it comes to observing certain holidays/ how do you stray from the beaten path?
– What items in your life hold the most meaning? Are there pieces of ephemera you keep with you, like Smith’s father’s desk?
+ Sound off on the questions above in the comments!