(Geoffrey O’Brien’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 10/22.)

Patti Smith has published a new book, M Train—a work whose charm has much to do with its lithe resistance to the constrictions of any particular genre—as her earlier Just Kids (2010), her memoir of her early partnership with Robert Mapplethorpe, continues to exercise a lively influence. Even before Showtime announced over the summer that it would be the basis for a TV miniseries, it was clear that Just Kids was sending down roots in the culture. For younger readers it serves as an irresistible window into the New York era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, what with a supporting cast including Janis Joplin, William S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, and Allen Ginsberg, set against such backdrops as Max’s Kansas City and the Chelsea Hotel. But I suspect that beyond adding another layer to the collective legend of that period, it will take its place as one of those durable books that people turn to for an object lesson, a demonstration of possibilities, on how to make a beginning in life.


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