M Train
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M Train

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National Best Seller From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the prism of the cafés and haunts she has worked in around the world. It is a book Patti Smith has described as "a roadmap to my life." M Train begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, and across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations, we travel to Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico; to a meeting of an Arctic explorer's society in Berlin; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York's Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer's craft and on artistic creation. Here, too, are singular memories of Smith's life in Michigan and the irremediable loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith. Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multiplatform artists at work today. From the Hardcover edition.
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Product details

  • CD-Audio
  • 127 x 155 x 28mm | 181g
  • New York
  • English
  • Unabridged
  • Unabridged
  • 1101923008
  • 9781101923009
  • 1,030,095

Review Text

"Incantatory . . . Unlike her first memoir, the now classic, Just Kids, which was all about the thrill of 'becoming,' M Train is mostly about the challenge of enduring erosion and discovering new passions (like detective fiction and a tumbledown cottage in Rockaway Beach, Queens). Smith, of course, is a 'kid' no longer. She's suffered a lot of losses, including the deaths of artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who was her partner in crime in the Just Kids years, and her husband, musician Fred 'Sonic' Smith, who died suddenly in his 40s. 'They are all stories now,' says Smith, thinking of these and other deaths . . . Both of Smith's memoirs tell a haunting story about being sheltered and fed, in all senses, by New York City." -Maureen Corrigan, NPR (Best Books of 2015)

"Patti Smith's new book remains one of the best reading experiences I had this year . . . elliptical and fragmentary, weird and beautiful, and, at its core, a reckoning with loss. Much has been made of the book's seeming spontaneity, its diaristic drift. But as the echoes among its discrete episodes pile up, it starts to resonate like a poem. At one point, Smith writes about W.G. Sebald, and there are affinities with The Emigrants in the way M Train circles around a tragedy, or constellation of tragedies, pointing rather than naming. It is formally a riskier book than the comparatively straight-ahead Just Kids, but a worthy companion piece. And that Smith is still taking on these big artistic dares in 2015 should inspire anyone who longs to make art. In this way, and because it is partly a book about reading other books-how a life is made of volumes-it seems like a fitting way to turn the page on one year in reading, and to welcome in another." -Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions

"Rich, inventive . . . Where Just Kids charted Smith's path from childhood to celebrity, M Train does not move in a simple arc from one destination to another. It meanders between her interior life and her life in the world, connecting dreams, reflections and memories. Smith's language lures the reader down this nonformulaic path. She doesn't slap a convenient label on emotions; she dissects them. With each sip [of coffee], her ruminations deepen . . . M Train is less about achieving success than surviving it. Smith has outlived many of the companions who sustained her in her youth. She grieves for her husband and her brother; she mourns the artists with whom she had felt a connection when they were alive, including Burroughs and Bowles. And in a scene that strikes a universal chord, she mourns her mother . . . At the center of M Train is the passage of time-the way places and events can mean different things at different stages in a person's life . . . Tender, heartbreaking." -M. G. Lord, The New York Times Book Review

"Incandescent . . . moving, lovely. Patti Smith is a poet with a mindful of memories enough to fill M Train to the brim. Let's be clear: every observation is beautiful. M Train is chiefly concerned with salvaging the pieces that, together, form a life entire . . . In its barest sense, the book is a series of cups of coffee around the world, drunk between waking and sleep. But once the memoir has sunk in its claws, these rituals become a framework for more meaningful observations. What is a life, if not a pattern interrupted by occasional revelations or surprises? Where Just Kids traced the linear progression of her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and her coming of age in 1970s New York City, M Train finds its footing in shared experiences. It's the universal-not rock 'n' roll in particular-that haunts the reader most . . . Aging and loss transcend fame and geography. Smith whittles her prose down to the essentials . . . M Train's greatest reward, for a reader, is her unwillingness to bend to the dream-cowboy's recurring doubts [about] 'writing about nothing.' Even nothing has meaning-the found objects, the things remembered, the cups of coffee that mark o
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Review quote

"Incantatory . . . Unlike her first memoir, the now classic, Just Kids, which was all about the thrill of 'becoming, ' M Train is mostly about the challenge of enduring erosion and discovering new passions (like detective fiction and a tumbledown cottage in Rockaway Beach, Queens). Smith, of course, is a 'kid' no longer. She's suffered a lot of losses, including the deaths of artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who was her partner in crime in the Just Kids years, and her husband, musician Fred 'Sonic' Smith, who died suddenly in his 40s. 'They are all stories now, ' says Smith, thinking of these and other deaths . . . Both of Smith's memoirs tell a haunting story about being sheltered and fed, in all senses, by New York City." --Maureen Corrigan, NPR (Best Books of 2015) "Patti Smith's new book remains one of the best reading experiences I had this year . . . elliptical and fragmentary, weird and beautiful, and, at its core, a reckoning with loss. Much has been made of the book's seeming spontaneity, its diaristic drift. But as the echoes among its discrete episodes pile up, it starts to resonate like a poem. At one point, Smith writes about W.G. Sebald, and there are affinities with The Emigrants in the way M Train circles around a tragedy, or constellation of tragedies, pointing rather than naming. It is formally a riskier book than the comparatively straight-ahead Just Kids, but a worthy companion piece. And that Smith is still taking on these big artistic dares in 2015 should inspire anyone who longs to make art. In this way, and because it is partly a book about reading other books--how a life is made of volumes--it seems like a fitting way to turn the page on one year in reading, and to welcome in another." --Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions "Rich, inventive . . . Where Just Kids charted Smith's path from childhood to celebrity, M Train does not move in a simple arc from one destination to another. It meanders between her interior life and her life in the world, connecting dreams, reflections and memories. Smith's language lures the reader down this nonformulaic path. She doesn't slap a convenient label on emotions; she dissects them. With each sip [of coffee], her ruminations deepen . . . M Train is less about achieving success than surviving it. Smith has outlived many of the companions who sustained her in her youth. She grieves for her husband and her brother; she mourns the artists with whom she had felt a connection when they were alive, including Burroughs and Bowles. And in a scene that strikes a universal chord, she mourns her mother . . . At the center of M Train is the passage of time--the way places and events can mean different things at different stages in a person's life . . . Tender, heartbreaking." --M. G. Lord, The New York Times Book Review "Incandescent . . . moving, lovely. Patti Smith is a poet with a mindful of memories enough to fill M Train to the brim. Let's be clear: every observation is beautiful. M Train is chiefly concerned with salvaging the pieces that, together, form a life entire . . . In its barest sense, the book is a series of cups of coffee around the world, drunk between waking and sleep. But once the memoir has sunk in its claws, these rituals become a framework for more meaningful observations. What is a life, if not a pattern interrupted by occasional revelations or surprises? Where Just Kids traced the linear progression of her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and her coming of age in 1970s New York City, M Train finds its footing in shared experiences. It's the universal--not rock 'n' roll in particular--that haunts the reader most . . . Aging and loss transcend fame and geography. Smith whittles her prose down to the essentials . . . M Train's greatest reward, for a reader, is her unwillingness to bend to the dream-cowboy's recurring doubts [about] 'writing about nothing.' Even nothing has meaning--the found objects, the things remembered, the cups of coffee that mark our days better than clocks. Would that every tribute to a life lived sang so beautifully." --Linnie Greene, The Rumpus "It's easy to see why so many readers say that M Train changed [their] lives. It's every bit the book Just Kids is, full of the same lovely writing, resolute faith in the consolations of art, odd flashes of humor, rawness to memory and experience. It's obvious why readers find a deep, deep correspondence to their own inner lives in her work . . . The deeper memories in M Train tacitly trace the origins of a new phase of [Smith's] life, including the loss of her parents and, most crucially, of her husband. She conveys with tender restraint what it has meant to lose him, how linked their spirits were. Moments [of] remarkable power blend directness, melancholy, and memory. Smith's searching voice speaks for a generation that has realized later than most that it, too, would age. 'I want to hear my mother's voice, ' she writes. 'I want to see my children as children.' But only the artist is innocent enough, or brave enough, to try and live a second time." --Charles Finch, Chicago Tribune "Intimate and elegantly crafted . . . As a child, a woman and an acclaimed artist, Smith has long reflected on the power of invention and how it shapes a life. Her writing moves effortlessly between past and present, both Smith's and that of the scholars and makers who have inspired her and with whom she feels a kinship--the Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa, the poet Rimbaud, or Alfred Wegener, the first scientist to present the idea of continental drift. As Smith slips in and out of reverie, the effect is one of a motionless travel; throughout her journeys, real and imagined, she considers what it means to endure the hardships fed to us by time . . . For Smith, this means following her wild and associative mind, a sort of thinking that seams the unremarkable with the sublime. At the heart of M Train is the careful braid the author makes between everyday matters and her lyrical take on how art offers a form of sustenance . . . To Smith, the constellation of human experience is as valued in Jane Eyre as it is in Law & Order--at times, we are dreaming about the high plains even as we clean up after the cats, and try to figure out where we left our wallet. Her photographs appear throughout the book like ghosts, dim and unadorned, a way of seeing how Smith's imagination elevates the humble objects she cherishes. A silver thread also works its way through her stories--her memories of her late husband, the guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, whose wisdom she grieves for and celebrates. The book's final essays are a testimony to his words because they dwell deeply on how the mind's fires can light a way toward hope." --Emma Trelles, Miami Herald

"What makes riding the M Train so rewarding is the way solemn, eloquent meditations on Genet and Kahlo, William Burroughs and Sylvia Plath are offset by Patti Smith moments--like an imaginary dialogue with Nikola Tesla, 'the patron saint of alternating currents.'"--Stuart Mitchner, Princeton Town Topics

"M Train comes near to accomplishing Marcel Proust's goal to follow the workings of the human mind and the human heart. By the end of the book you know that nothing is everything, and that life is a labor of love." --Joan Juliet Buck, Harper's Bazaar

"Intimate, delicately revealing . . . M Train concentrates on a recent spell in Smith's life, one where she spent days at a local café drinking coffee, writing, and reflecting. Most of M Train revolves around the pleasure of a local café--a public place to be private--and that sentiment is at the heart of this book . . . Occasionally, Smith dips back into her relationship with Fred 'Sonic' Smith, remembering the moments when the pair took advantage of everything Michigan had to offer, from dive bars in Detroit to beaches on the upper edge of the lower peninsula . . . Perhaps the biggest surprise of M Train is Smith's deep, personal connection with detective shows." --Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Vulture.com

"Evocative . . . M Train, works [like] 'an interior hopscotch in the mind, recording time backwards and forwards' as Smith skips from moment to moment across the past forty years of her life. Reading the book feels rather like navigating a lucid dream . . . Smith's words are rhythmic, arranged according to 'the music of [her] imagination' . . . The playful tone is endearing, and buoys what is, above all, a meditation on loss--of people, yes, but also of the objects to which she has become attached . . . Time shifts in M Train One moment Smith is in a café, the next she is staring at [her husband] Fred as he crouches over a cornucopia of her most loved lost things . . . Patti Smith loves nothing lightly, and if she makes writing about [nothing] look easy, consider that it's not actually nothing she's writing about--it's everything." --Claire Lampen, Hyperallergic.com

"Satisfying . . . Cup after cup of coffee in cafes from Greenwich Village to Tangiers is downed by the Godmother of Punk as this book unfolds . . .There are many pleasures to be found here. This is a book of quiet meditation wherein a CSI: Miami marathon can inspire the same deep self-reflection as the work of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolano. Smith stares into her black coffee and whole worlds are opened up to her. M Train is her report back from those journeys." --Kristofer Collins, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "What does it mean to be a woman alone? This question lies at the heart of M Train. That, and the eternal query, Where's the best place to get a good coffee? A caffeine-fueled travelogue of first-person vignettes, M Train conjures ghosts. The book's touchstones are either cultural heroes (Jean Genet, Alfred Wegener, Akira Kurosawa) whose graves she tracks down in search of talismans, or they're lost loved ones, specifically [her husband] Fred and her brother Todd, both of whom died in 1994. Smith's muses are memories, or figures in dreams, or names in books . . . M Train begins and ends in a dream state. The line between waking and sleeping, remembering and doing, living and dying, is porous for Smith . . . Discursive, fanciful, geeky, transgressive, just plain and delightfully weird, it's a book that loses you and you get lost in, finding your own kernels of truth and resonance." --Evelyn McDonnell, Los Angeles Review of Books **** "Powerful . . . Smith shares a rush of memories, reveries, and revelations that reach a height with all the expressive power of her most rapturous '70s rock. M Train is a great meditation on solitude, independence, age, a ride-along with the last Romantic standing . . . It proceeds through cups of coffee at tables for one, on planes and in hotels across Latin America, Europe and Asia, animated by a mellowing grief for Smith's husband, who died in 1994. Yet Smith doesn't mourn so much as celebrate their love . . . Smith inventories her inspirations, and makes her house out of the life lived, out of the love spent. M Train will make this year's best-of lists." --Matt Damsker, USA Today (four stars) "Essential . . . A collection of lyrical, sometimes mystical musings, with photographs. An account of a quixotic mission to French Guiana appears among stories of a trip to photograph Frida Kahlo's bed, of buying a cottage on Rockaway Beach, of singing Buddy Holly songs with chess master Bobby Fischer. Always, Smith returns to her essentials: black coffee, a crime show on TV, a pen." --Marion Winik, Newsday

"Engaging . . . poetic and unconventional." --Details

"After winning the National Book Award, Smith returns with M Train, [which] pulls through 19 stations along her latest stretch of track . . . Smith lets us into her head in an extraordinarily intimate way. It's a rare gift indeed . . . M Train can be measured out in cups of black coffee, slices of brown toast, and dreams. These are not the typical elements of a page-turner, and yet, nearing the book's conclusion, I felt my fingers flipping faster and faster. Perhaps Smith's triumph here comes down to her ability to gradually reveal how the mundane actually matters a great deal. It's a read that ultimately rewards and touches . . . Her sense of loss is so palpable that it leaps from the page . . . The personal photographs of her and Fred and her home after the hurricane were devastating . . . Even after completing M Train, many readers may still wonder what exactly they've just experienced, but I'd urge them to consider Smith's questions again. Are we familiar with her now, and are we glad for it? Both questions deserve a resounding affirmation." --Matt Melis and Megan Ritt, Consequence of Sound "A locomotive that runs on plenty of good, strong coffee and abundant poetic reflection. The coffee--a real character in the book, repeatedly and lovingly portrayed as a soothing companion--is the map, not the road, however. M Train is in fact a loving paean to the author's late husband and, as these sparse but gorgeously written pages attest, the love of her life . . . The narratives [of M Train] are loosely connected, but attain coherence and continuity through the grace of Smith's prose, a language that can raise the profane toward the sacred with only a few economic sentences. The dialogue here is an interior one, as Smith speaks to few corporeal beings, save the baristas who pour her java. . . Smith has a sense of humor, and even her most ruminative thoughts indulge levity, thereby avoiding heavy-handedness. But M Train is a prayer, to be sure. This is Romanticism of the highest order, but Smith avoids anything resembling maudlin. For her, life is no less beautiful for the suffering endemic to its living. The irony and snark-fueled aloof stance that form the defensive crust for many in the modern age are not for her. Both would only diminish the wonder of it all." --Jeff Miers, Buffalo News "A beautiful book. Smith's prose has a crystalline precision . . . M Train is, to borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot, a memoir measured in coffee spoons. The effect of reading it is something like sitting across a coffee shop table from Patti Smith as she stares dreamily out at the street, pausing occasionally to tell you something she's just remembered about [her late husband] Fred, to muse over the Haruki Murakami novel she's reading, and to push one of her Polaroids across to you. M Train is a book of tributes to [her] masters; a meditation; a series of associative leaps that interrupt the ordinariness of Smith's days . . . There are moments of breathless emotional force." --Kelsey Ronan, St. Louis Dispatch

"Wholly enchanting . . . bewitching. A most unusual and breathtaking book: part memoir, part dreamscape, part elegy for the departed and for time itself. Transcendent transience is what beloved musician, artist, and poet Smith explores in M Train . . . The point that each loss evokes all losses [is] delivered with extraordinary elegance of prose and sincerity of spirit. What emerges is a strange and wonderful consolation for our inconsolable longing for permanency amid a universe driven by perpetual change . . . The book is, above all, a reminder that love and loss always hang in such a balance . . . This, indeed, is the book's greatest gift: The sublime assurance that although everything we love--people, places, possessions--can and likely will eventually be taken from us, the radiant vestiges those loves leave in the soul are permanently ours." --Maria Popova, Brain Pickings "Wonderful . . . M Train is about being lost and found. It weaves poetry, dreams, art, literature, and conversational fragments into a phantasmagoric, atmospheric, and transportive whole . . . Smith's journeys take her across decades, continents, and the vistas of her own mind. She is a generous, charming, and brilliant guide. In her loneliness, her cherished possessions take on talismanic significance. . . She has no self-consciousness about the art she loves, and the truths they afford her are honest and hard won. By the end of the book, she has purchased a bungalow, drunk innumerable cups of black coffee, and come to some resolutions about her life, none of them easy or pat." --Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Globe "In the span of M Train, Smith distills ineffable, tragic human existence into a collection of experiences, meditating on the intangible permanence of loss over a lifetime. Through freely associated vignettes and artful snapshots of her life, the artist creates an elegy for objects, people and muses she's left behind. Smith's M Train demonstrates, once again, her ability to turn a phrase or an image on its head. Whether she writes of a dream or a lost coat, she connects threads of memory, pain and the absurdity of human experience. Smith is as captivating narrating a meal as she is illustrating the nature of masterpiece . . . M Train floats languorously from past to present, from dream to waking moment. Smith's work embodies a constant yearning, and the effect of her amalgamated experiences is a picture of life that becomes about accepting loss. There's a conceit carried through the book about writing when there's nothing to say; in Smith's moments of nothing, though, she says everything." --Heather Scott Partington, Las Vegas Weekly "Charming and non-pretentious--full of genuine delight. Smith slips beguilingly between present and past. Once a muse, now she muses. Once an icon of alternative culture, she now loves to sit in anonymity at her favorite Greenwich Village coffeehouse. Thanks to M Train, we can see Smith clearly: a woman who doesn't speak in our era's languages of snark, irony, and one-upmanship. While she's a veteran of punk rock, she doesn't appear to have a reservoir of anger or bitterness. She's hardly forgotten the losses in her life. But she moves forward, ever delighted to see what's now and what's next: 'We seek to stay present, even as the ghosts draw us away.'" --Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor "Smith's lyrical prose is potent . . . insightful. She clearly knows herself. She is a survivor in every sense of the word. Her grappling with loss pours out of the book. The title begs the question: Where does the M Train go? Nowhere. And, everywhere. Perhaps I naively believed that Patti Smith had all the answers. She doesn't. Like all of us, she harbors confusions, gets grumpy without coffee, and holds fascinations with certain people and things. She probes the peculiar depths of human listlessness. It's worth settling down with this book and a cup of joe." --Paula Mejia, Newsweek

"Packed with thoughtful prose and keen observations . . . The prose of M Train floats. Patti Smith paints solitude as beguiling and essential. M Train doesn't glorify sadness or loneliness, nor does it suggest that Smith walks this present-day Earth through a tunnel of malaise. Rather, she travels around the world, finding solace in specific cafes in every city. She keeps her own company, and her sense of humor remains intact. Smith has always been a poet first and foremost--before she was ever a performer. Here, she has created a book that so many of us wish to write, one that parses what it all means. Smith doesn't sound like she has it all figured out, but she does have stories that serve as markers in her journey as an artist." --Kathy Iandoli, Pitchfork "This gorgeously written book--sprinkled with richly detailed memoires of Fred Smith and often dreamlike in structure--is likely to prove revelatory even to longtime fans." --Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press " Thrilling . . . Like Patti Smith's life, M Train feels guided simultaneously by determination and serendipity . . . Each chapter is set in motion by a Proustian moment that provokes an unpredictable chain of memory and observation, one thing talking to another. To the degree that we're led to imagine the life of the book's author, that life feels familiar, even ordinary, the life of a woman who was once a dreamy girl in New Jersey. But simultaneously, the life feels exotic, extraordinary, the life of a woman who has visited places and seen things that, without her having written about them, we would never imagine . . . S mith the writer is well-known as both a musician and a visual artist, but writing has always lain at the center of her achievement. But it's one thing to write a great rock-and-roll lyric and another thing to write a book like M Train . . . The punk chanteuse has become the irresistible siren of middle age, and she has done so not by surviving but by refusing to settle for the glamour of past accomplishment. Except for what she will do next, M Train is the most beautiful thing she's ever made." --James Longenbach, The Nation "A remarkably intimate look at Smith's life in New York City. Throughout she bounces between home and her favorite Greenwich Village café, where she writes in her notebook and ponders the past. Memories of her childhood, her extensive travels and her marriage to Fred 'Sonic' Smith provide points of departure for the narrative. At once poetic and direct, M Train reflects Smiths inquisitive, exploratory spirit . . . Like her trademark attire--boots, cap, coat--her narratives have a plainspoken beauty that transcends the times. An American original and a magical writer, Smith makes the reader believe in the redemptive power of art." --Julie Hale, BookPage
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About Patti Smith

PATTI SMITH is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone. Smith had her first exhibit of drawings at the Gotham Book Mart in 1973 and has been represented by the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. Her books include Just Kids, winner of the National Book Award in 2010, Wītt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence. In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor given to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Smith married the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit in 1980. They had a son, Jackson, and a daughter, Jesse. Smith resides in New York City. From the Hardcover edition.
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Rating details

24,773 ratings
3.98 out of 5 stars
5 38% (9,300)
4 35% (8,690)
3 19% (4,589)
2 6% (1,377)
1 3% (817)
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