Staff Picks: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Cover of Just Kids Audiobook
I’d been meaning to read this memoir since it was first published and I heard her being interviewed about it on NPR. I finally got around to it this year, but then I had another decision to make—the book, or the audiobook? The book has photos of Ms. Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe and their artwork. But the audiobook—she reads it herself, and there are few things in the world so wonderful as an audibook that's read by the author. In the end I did go for the audiobook, but I supplemented it by referring occasionally to images online and in my partner's copy of the book.
I really made the right decision, in my opinion. I so loved hearing this in Ms. Smith’s own voice. In particular, hearing her echoing the loving tone in Robert Mapplethorpe’s voice when he teased her made my heart go pitter-pat for them both. And I loved hearing the emotion in her voice as she recounted how the two of them took care of each other and what their art meant to each of them and to each other.
And audiobook or not, it was fascinating to learn about her world, the New York of the 1970s—the Chelsea Hotel, Andy Warhol's circle, and all the artists and musicians, famous and not, who helped, hindered, influenced, or just were part of the fabric of their life together. It was fascinating to hear about Ms. Smith's very working-class background, how she navigated poverty and illness and her own ignorance about her partner's sexuality, and how deeply his art mattered to her, from her own point of view. (Her own art mattered to her tremendously as well—in fact that's an understatement, like saying that breathing mattered tremendously to her—it was that intrinsic to her way of looking at herself. But she recognized her partner's genius and did absolutely everything she could to nurture it, without ever counting the cost.) It was horrible to bear witness to Robert's illness and death with her—but it also felt important that I understand how that was for her, and as far as she was able to relate it, for him.    
If I’d known about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe when I was a teenager I would have idolized them. As it is, I’ve developed a tremendous affection and respect for them both. I’m so glad I finally read this.
Picked by Michelle N.