Congratulations to Patti Smith for the National Book Award that she received the other night for her memoir Just Kids. In her acceptance speech, Smith made a plea on behalf of the book — the actual, physical book — as a form: “I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf. “Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”
Here’s a sample from Just Kids, an evocation of the Chelsea Hotel back in the day:
The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were slightly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Virgil Thompson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the successful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums.
I loved this place, its shappy elegance, and the history it held so possessively. There were rumors of Oscar Wilde’s trunks languishing int he hull of the oft-flooded basement. Here Dylan Thomas, submerged in poetry and alcohol, spent hist last hours. Thomas Wolfe plowed through hundreds of pages of manuscript that formed You Can’t Go Home Again. Bob Dylan composed “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” on our floor, and a speeding Edie Sedgwick was said to have set her room on fire while gluing on her thick false eyelashes by candlelight.