M Train – Patti Smith

M-Train-Patti-SmithSource: Goodreads

 

Transportive. Delectably imaginative. Easy to pick up, hard to put down. Completely immersive. Deliriously inspiring. I want to crawl inside and live here forever. Forget punctuation and plot – who needs it?

My father claimed that he never remembered his dreams, but I could easily recount mine. He also told me that seeing one’s own hands within a dream was exceedingly rare. I was sure I could if I set my mind to it, a notion that resulted in a plethora of failed experiments. My father questioned the usefulness of such a pursuit, but nevertheless invading my own dreams topped my list of impossible things one must one day accomplish.
~ p.81, M Train – Patti Smith

This passage! Smith just gets me, even though all I knew about her while reading the book were the facts in the author bio at the back of the book: her marriage and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I wondered if she only wrote poetry and took polaroids. Did she write music? Had I heard any of it? (obviously, I have, but I am notoriously bad at remembering artist and band names. Lyrics are my strong suit.)

All of the people she mentions I know by name, yet they are all strangers to me. Burroughs, Wittgenstein, Rackham, Bulgakov, Wegener, Camus, Ibsen, Plath, Genet, and many others I’m sure. As I read I wondered if getting to know these people would make me a better writer. Smith already has.

When I finished it, all I could think about was what a journey it was. I wanted to start it over immediately, and did, and was again transported to that place between dreams and reality. Much like Smith’s obsession with The Wind-Up Bird, I just wanted to dive back in. I had a copy from my local library, but I actually went out and purchased a copy of my own yesterday so I can continue to pour over its pages. The writing is phenomenal. I rarely enjoy works written in the first person, but this memoir of sorts is executed to near perfection.

I found that I didn’t even mind the strangeness of moments in the story where Smith actively mentions that she “Closed her notebook and sat in the cafe thinking about real time.” How do we know that’s what she did if she wasn’t writing down her thoughts? Obviously, her notebook was closed. Still, the fluidity of the book allows for this kind of endeavor. The ‘story’ plays out in black and white almost as if we are watching it through her polaroids. I wondered whether, if I pushed on their surface, they would grant me entry.

This is one of those books my children are going to find on my desk, dog-eared and falling to bits because it has been read and loved so much. I often had the realization while reading that I had been thinking of a dozen things, set off by a passage I had read 30 minutes ago, the book lying on my lap in quiet anticipation, perfectly happy to wait for me to come back down to reality and continue to wade through its pages.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald – Therese Anne Fowler

Source: Goodreads

Z: A Novel of Zelda Ftizgerald tells the story of Zelda Sayre, a rebellious southern belle who falls in love with army officer and soon to be famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. It chronicles their life together, the good, the bad and the downright ugly, in much the same way that Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife does for Hadley, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. In fact, Hadley makes a couple appearances in Z, as the events of their lives intertwine in more than a few ways.

I purchased this book within weeks of finishing The Paris Wife in 2014. I couldn’t wait to compare their stories and look at life in the 1920’s.  Then I became distracted by other things and a whole year went by with Z sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. When I finally picked it up I wasn’t excited anymore, but I felt that I should read it before I bought more books. The beginning of Z was rather confusing because I expected it to start with Zelda as a child or young woman and instead it began with a letter she was writing to Scott late in their marriage. In addition, I didn’t find Zelda very likable at the beginning. She came across haughty and spoiled with just a touch of naive rebelliousness. I worried that the book would be boring because I disliked her, and then I felt bad about disliking her, and it spiraled from there. I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for 6 months, at which point I finally gave in and decided to finish it because I hate leaving things undone.

As the story progresses, Zelda matures, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. Being in her mind throughout the story you can feel her growing and – thankfully – becoming for likable. As Zelda and Scott’s marriage deteriorates, Zelda gains unimaginable strength of character and becomes one of my favorite people. She is truly a Renaissance woman. She is a painter, a dancer, and a wonderful writer despite being pushed continually into using Scott’s name on her work. She single-handedly saves their family from ruin at the expense of her own sanity, and then she puts her life back together again. Zelda Fitzgerald becomes a true paragon of a strong woman, and I am thankful every day that Therese Ann Fowler chose to share this version of her with the world.

Living through the ups and downs and twists of a marriage that spans wars and depressions, fame and hospitalization, love and hatred, Zelda is the one holding together not just her own life, but Scott’s as well. Until the very end, she is his biggest supporter as well as his biggest critic, and he is only the better for it.

Probably the part that intrigued me the most was the summer everyone went to the beach because this period of time appeared in both Z and in  The Paris Wife, but from the different women’s points of view. Having read The Paris Wife, in which Zelda and Scott were very minor characters and hardly mentioned, it was fascinating to see Ernest and especially Hadley from Zelda’s point of view in Z. To Zelda, Hadley is a very important person, and someone she strives to understand and even somewhat emulate because of her strength during Ernest’s betrayal. The whole section just made me love these two women even more.

By the time I reached the conclusion of the book, I didn’t want it to be over. The beginning had been explained and I understood the point of starting at the end, since in many ways Zelda’s life came full circle. I would highly recommend Z to anyone who liked The Paris Wife, and to anyone and everyone who enjoys period pieces. In fact, I would recommend that every woman (or just every person, really) should read this book and The Paris Wife because they are just so educational and inspiring and strengthening that I think everyone could gain something from their pages.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars