Book Diary: M Train (Patti Smith)

My mum is a big letter-writer.  She is a living embodiment of: ‘if you see something, say something’.  All our lives she has written letters to all the world: politicians, celebrities, long lost friends, new friends, strangers, to my sister and I wherever we found ourselves in the world, and when the rest of the world was using more modern methods.  She even feels guilty that she may have caused the death of Michael Jackson, as she wrote to him to say that he should come and tour in the UK, as there were so many people here that loved him.  Not long after, he announced his European tour, and then swiftly died.  Another of my favourites is when she wrote to the Prince Of Wales, a known environmentalist, sending him a copy of the little known book Humanure which advocates the use of human waste as a compost.

I have always admired this quality in her and also envied her excitement at getting a reply (which she did, often).  However, for some mysterious reason deep in my psyche, or perhaps just laziness, I have never done the same.  Only once have I written to someone I admire, the results of which were very exciting.  That remained a kind of one-hit wonder though… until a few days ago!

I read Just Kids by Patti Smith the year before last and loved it.  For Christmas this year my sister’s boyfriend bought me her M Train, which I am currently reading and similarly loving.  I got all the way to page 94 until I was stopped dead and compelled to write to her immediately.  Here is why, and here is the letter:

Dear Patti,

My name is Jayne. It is nice to meet you! I actually only recently met you and your work, but you have become very dear to me.

Just Kids came into my life in an unexpected way, like can often happen with the most affecting works of art. I have a friend who lives in Brooklyn (I live in Madrid, although I am British) and her ex-boyfriend bought her Just Kids as an impulsive gift. At that time, she didn’t know your work either, but events from there went a bit like this: she read it, loved it, gave it to her boyfriend to read, he loved it too, she then posted it to me in the UK. However, I was immersed in Murakami’s IQ84 (more on him later!) at the time, so my then boyfriend picked it up and read it first. He loved it and told me I had to read it as soon as I had recovered from Murakami, which I did and I equally LOVED it. I then gave it to my Mum, who gave it to my Dad, who gave it to my sister – they all loved it. This a group of very disparate readers, with very different tastes, but it united us all in its atmosphere, in its dream-like magic. Finally, I talked about it with my sister’s (new, Venezuelan) boyfriend, and he read it, and was perhaps the most affected of us all. He finished it whilst on a flight on the way back to Madrid to be reunited with my sister and cried, alone on the plane, so moved was he. As soon as he landed he called me and we really bonded over it. Because of this collective experience he and I had, he bought me M Train for Christmas and I can see that history is going to repeat itself, as I am currently similarly immersed, imbued, enchanted.

However, I have stopped reading momentarily, at page 94, to write this letter. On page 94 of my copy you talk about the effect Murakami had on you (him, and a line of other writers). Last summer my sister and I started a project called Como Ser which aims to help people live better and more flourishing lives through the mediums of art, culture, philosophy and psychology. My sister and I are compulsive readers, so have always had a special place in our hearts for the healing and consoling effect of literature. To this end, we decided to write a small dictionary as an off-shoot to the project about the “feelings that books make”. The conversation that started it all went like this. My sister, Amy, was at the beach and I was in my apartment in Madrid, but we were both (as usual) united in reading. She wrote to me:

I wonder if the Spanish have a word for the special kind of excited you get when you know you are going to love a book from start to finish? If not … it just became our job to invent one.

That was it, we were obsessed by the project over the months to follow and when we finally holed-up in a hotel in Madrid last summer to write it (dipping in and out of our favourite novels, our most treasured novels), we tried as best we could to fix those beautiful, intangible feelings so as to own them and better examine them. By the end of the weekend we were emotionally exhausted, and had over 50 definitions, but we could have gone on and on seemingly infinitely.

To this end, when I read the following in your book:

In the weeks to come I would sit at my corner table reading nothing but Murakami. I’d come up for air just long enough to go to the bathroom or order another coffee. Dance Dance Dance and Kafka on the Shore swiftly followed Sheep Chase. And then, fatally, I began The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. That was the one that did me in, setting in motion an unstoppable trajectory, like a meteor hurtling toward a barren and entirely innocent sector of the earth.

I wanted to send you a copy immediately. I know this feeling, I have lived this feeling, and so I’m thinking that you will know and will have lived some of the feelings described in this small book too.

I hope you enjoy it and I thank you sincerely for all the beautiful art you have released in to the world.

With love and warmth,

Jayne

I hope she replies, of course, but if she doesn’t I am already happy, happy to have reached out, happy to be like my Mum.

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