Steal this book: How Patti Smith made me cry this morning.
As an American man, I seldom cry. That is if you discount movies, some TV shows, the occasional commercial, certain pictures, some songs, and this brief essay by Patti Smith on book thievery.
Visit the Miami Book Fair International website to see the gaudy author list (Roseanne Cash! Jeffrey Eugenides! Nicole Kraus! Michael Ondaajte! Hundreds more! Literally!). This year’s fair runs Nov. 13-20. More details to come. Watch this space!
I hesitate to ruin the Patti Smith essay for you by saying too much about it, aside from announcing that it appears in the upcoming issue of The New Yorker, and describes an incident from her childhood in working-class New Jersey, circa 1957, when she stole a book from the local grocery store.
Let’s see, what else can I safely discuss? She was 10 years old. The nature of the book will surprise and charm you. Smith’s use of the verb “covet” elevates the entire piece. Clearly, she’s a writer who knows the power of a well-chosen verb. She brings into sharp focus a time and place that seem at one and the same time ancient and recent, alien and familiar.
Her deft portraits of the people in the essay — her mother, a store employee — are nuanced and vivid — I know these people!
I’m a decade younger than Smith, but I lusted for books, too. Once I pitched such a fit in a department store, pouting and wheedling for hours, that my parents finally forked over the $2.19 for a remaindered copy of a Three Investigators book, a mystery series I was rabid for around the third grade.
Back in the car, where my parents made a surprise presentation of the book to me, I felt only a little guilt for the complete lack of character that had gotten it into my hands, the embarrassing public display of bratitude, a mere tinge of remorse for my resolution, taken but moments before, to hate my Mom and Dad forever.
Looking at the book — a hardcover! –hiccuping down the sobs I had worked up to make my parents feel bad on the ride home, I felt like Sydney Grenstreet getting his hands on the Maltese Falcon: Possession of this thing justified any means to get it.
I can’t recall behaving this poorly at any other point in my childhood. I really wanted that book, I guess.
Okay, okay, let me assure you that Smith’s story of juvenile book lust and larceny is much more dignified and uplifting than mine. And to my chagrin, let me add: She does not cry once. But you might.