At our last book group we had a great conversation about Inferno by Eileen Myles (O/R Books, 2010)—what did you think about the structure? Her language? The vagina chapter? Her description of Kathy Acker and peeing in Dante’s yard, Rosie her dog and Rose her first love? (Rose arrived on the scene first. Go figure)—and since this book is as much about becoming a lesbian (“I became a lesbian in New York. It became my first or second career.”) as it is about becoming a poet, there was a lot to discuss and I highly recommend it, even more so if you’re interested in the East Village/LES art/poetry/punk rock scene of the 70s/80s Hell, Myles even made me want to go to a poetry reading. And that’s saying a lot.
And even though Myles walks out of Patti Smith’s reading at St. Mark’s in Inferno, the mention of Smith and Pyramid Club and the Hotel Chelsea got me totally in the right zone to read Smith’s National Book Award-winning memoir of her early years with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids (Ecco, 2010). Read this book. I can’t believe I waited so long. Like Inferno, it’s a candid and raw look inside the mind of someone wholly committed to becoming an artist no matter what. Smith is a poet like Myles so the language and descriptions are stunning yet Smith’s book is much less stylized and much more heartrending. Just Kids is an intimate portrait of a friendship, and you end it wondering if either Smith or Mapplethorpe would have become the artists they did if it wasn’t for their friendship. And it so easily never could have happened….
In a New York state of mind, I read a few pieces from Up in the Old Hotel by Mitchell (Vintage, 1993), some of the best writing about New York City and the people who gave it life hands down, full stop. So, after that plunge into the belly of the NYC beast (McSorley’s, Fulton Fishmarket, the Bowry), I was very much ready to read another book that has been teetering on the top of my bedside table for a few months now: Blood, Bones, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House, 2011). I love food memoirs, and Hamilton is smart, bold, and blunt in her writing and her thoughts on food, running a restaurant, and creating a family (though I still don’t get it. She seems mostly into women but is married to an Italian man, seemingly because he is Italian with an amazing mother and villa in Puglia, and doesn’t seem particularly suited or happy with him. It’s Italy she loves. And who can argue? But still.) You may have read an excerpt of her book in the New Yorker several months back about a spring lamb roast her father threw every year when she was a child and the book only gets better from there. Here’s another excerpt from the NYT. I can’t wait to get myself to Prune.
Next up—We the Animals by Justin Torres (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), a book I’ve been hearing raves about since BEA. And then, of course, another look at Valencia by Michelle Tea (Seal, 2000) for book club. Amazing how much I can read now that I’ve left Westeros!