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(Why I Write)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  5,554 ratings  ·  507 reviews
The National Book Award-winning author of Year of the Monkey, Just Kids, and M Train offers a rare, intimate account of her own creative process.

A work of creative brilliance may seem like magic—its source a mystery, its impact unexpectedly stirring. How does an artist accomplish such an achievement, connecting deeply with an audience never met? In this groundbreaking
Paperback, 109 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Yale University Press (first published September 12th 2017)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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An unconventional but inspiring little book. It’s part memoir, part fiction, part travel writing. I just love Patti Smith’s writing.
David Schaafsma
Devotion by Patti Smith was the 2016 Windham-Campbell Lecture at Yale University. Smith, a singer, writer, and photographer, wrote M Train and Just Kids and several volumes of poetry. Her album Horses is widely viewed as one of the great rock albums of all time.

Where does her inspiration come from? Smith writes every day, usually in a café in Manhattan. She’s in her seventies now, having survived a husband and a long time partner, Robert Mapplethorpe, and is still writing and making music. New
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A worthwhile addition to the Patti Smith library. "Devotion" beautifully describes Patti Smith's attitude toward the creative life, as anyone who has read M Train or Just Kids can attest.

This tiny volume is divided into three parts. The first, "How the Mind Works" is not analytical but illustrative. It starts, "Somehow, in search of something else, I stumbled upon..." A film about Estonians deported to Siberian collective farms in 1941. Images from the film. The difficulty of capturing images
Julie Ehlers
As a reading experience this was unsatisfactory.

A brief book about writing and the writer's life, Devotion begins with a short section wherein Patti Smith travels to Paris to spend a week doing business with her French publisher. Her time there is fairly quiet, a lot of walks and relaxed meals in cafes. On a train trip she is suddenly inspired to write and feverishly turns out a short story in her notebook; she mentions that it contains several elements inspired by the preceding few days: a
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-wisdom
Devotion is delivered to the reader in a bouquet of immortelle with a sword hidden in the middle.

I've said it before and will continue to reiterate, Ms Smith's books are to be read slowly, methodically or you will miss the magic.

I was ecstatic when Devotion finally arrived. I skipped through my home holding it dear to my heart.
Later I read a few pages, and slept with it beside me. The connection of her work is that potent; having the book close while you sleep is safety.

"Why do we write? Because
Joseph Spuckler
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Patti Smith as the story teller. Listened to the Audible edition read by Smith. Part current life of her travels separated by a story worthy of a traveling bard. More reminiscent of her earlier work than her last two books.
While at the Harvard Book Store last week, I decided to console myself with the fact I couldn't make yet another trip in two weeks' time back to the city to see Patti Smith live, by purchasing her new book. I adore her, but in this case, I should have purchased a remainder hard cover copy of my beloved "M Train" instead of her newest. I was looking for this to be "M Train 2.0," but instead got an odd little 100-page book divided in three parts.

Part I is her recounting a trip to France; Part II
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others. Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras her muted house. Dylan Thomas his modest shed. All seeking an emptiness to imbue with words. The words that will penetrate virgin territory, crack unclaimed combinations, articulate the infinite. [...] There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lee Foust
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable little book in its own way. It's a longish short story called "Devotion" bracketed by opening and closing sections discussing the story's genesis and then some reflections on the act of creative writing, in line with the book's genesis as part of the Why I Write-themed Windham-Campbell lectures at Yale.

It's the opening and closing sections that moved me the most, as a fellow writer and Patti Smith fan--I've even met her on a couple of occasions. The story was less
While I often say that my love of Patti Smith's writing is massive and boundless, I may now have to qualify that to say that my love of Patti Smith's nonfiction is boundless. I could stand on street corners and harangue complete strangers into reading her absolutely perfect memoir Just Kids. It's a book so beautiful that it made me cry on the subway before 8am on a weekday. (Usually if I tear up under those circumstances, it has to do with a foul odor, or the knowledge that the week is far from ...more
Freesiab (Bookish Review)
It was so beautiful, delicate, passionate and lovely. It's more of a novella, so it's quite easy to finish in a day. Does she ever write a book that's not perfect? Maybe she'd adopt me?
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a lovely little book - part short story, part non-fiction/memoir. I've never read fictional prose from Smith before, but I quite enjoyed the story Devotion in this, even if it was quite strange. Her writing has a certain etherial quality that I can just get lost in. But my favourite part of this has to be her musings on writing and her own writing practice, in the cafes of Paris and New York City. The addition of her own personal photographs (including that of her notebook) really ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
It IS a bit slight... But still lovely. It's a three parter - starts non-fiction about travelling to France, which I really enjoyed, then there's a short story about an ice skater which was just ok for me, and then a short non-fiction piece at the end about going to Camus' house.

Some lovely parts in the non-fiction - coffee, books, bowls of berries etc etc and the short story wasn't awful by any means, but wasn't really expecting it.
Sarah Koppelkam
I love you Patti.

As always, Patti's voice is unmistakable. Her love for black coffee, for visiting the graves of her muses, for simplicity and for obsession (devotion?): it's all here. As Smith says herself in the third section of this slim text ("A Dream is Not a Dream") it is a rare thing to be able to track all of the influences, images, and fascinations that make up a piece of art. But Smith does it here. In the first section, "How the Mind Works", we see the pieces coming together, and
"These streets are a poem waiting to be hatched—suddenly it’s Easter; eggs everywhere.”

Follow Patti Smith to the café, to Paris, on the train, into her dreams. You’ll emerge a different person: an artist, aware of detail, discriminating of style.

Since this is part of the “Why I Write Series,” I assumed she would tell us about why she writes. But, duh. No. She shows us. She takes us on a journey during which she conceives of a story, she gives us the story, and then reflects on the question. Thus
Beth Bonini
“Most often the alchemy that produces a poem or a work of fiction is hidden within the work itself, if not embedded in the coiling ridges of the mind. But in this case I could track a plethora of enticements, a forest of firs, Simone Weil’s haircut, white bootlace, a pouch of screws, Camus’s existential gun.”

More often than not, I reread the beginning of a book as soon as I finish it. With this book, I felt that this order of reading, or rather re-reading, was essential. I would recommend it to
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has three parts. It starts with another episode of "catching up with Patti": she is in Paris, reading, remembering, getting inspiration. I loved M train, but I have to admit that starting this book I wondered "is what I am doing now the same as watching a literature reality show?"
However the second part of the book was fiction: a story about a young ice skater and a man watching her. Although it started with many descriptions, I ended up loving this story and imagining a movie version
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Patti Smith is a gift.
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
A 95 page reminder that Patti Smith is an amazing artist and down right cool person.
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Liked the autobiographical parts, absolutely loathed thr short story/novella in the middle. I never want to read a book about a "16-year old girl" having an affair with a "man in his late thirties". Just. NO.
Smith's opening essay gives a snapshot of the weeks in her life leading up to the composition of the title story. I found the essay fascinating; beautifully written and transporting. She allowed me to feel like I was her journey's companion, sharing her coffee, experiencing the sights, sounds and feel of the places through which she was travelling (even when she was staying somewhere, absorbing its atmosphere, it felt like Patti was looking to the next place, and these memories and sensations ...more
M. Sarki

...Alain glances from his book and looks out the window. Time contracts. We are suddenly approaching Paris. Aurélien is sleeping. It occurs to me that the young look beautiful as they sleep and the old, such as myself, look dead…

Patti Smith is always brutally honest when she needs to be. I respect her and admire her very much. Do I think she is a great writer? No, I do not. But she is a great artist given her entire body of work in music, poetry, collage,
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book consists of four parts: First, Patti Smith talks about the inspiration for her short story, then there is the actual short story, then she describes a visit to the Camus family home and finally, there are facsimiles of her manuscripts. I throughly enjoyed the parts where Smith talks in her "own" voice, thus, the first and the third parts (and the manuscripts were also cool to look at!). The short story in itself had me less captivated. I actually put the book down after beginning to ...more
Patti Smith is one of my favourite humans that I don't know.
I wish I would, though, I feel like I could curl up for hours and listen to her speak on all sorts of topics, mainly art and literature - which is why I am so fond of her writing that seems like personal journal entries.
This tiny book had two of those sections and one longer tale in the middle which I thought was easy and fun to read (she does know her craft, sentences like hot buttered toast), but left me colder than her intimate
Kevin Dickson
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Patti Smith has created another sublime, immersive fever dream around the nature of creation, the vagaries of memory and age, and the ghosts that inhabit our lives, our homes and our minds. Smith’s inspired push to comprehend her need to write is a sweetly solemn paean to the artist in us all. I loved this book, especially while I was reading it, for the intelligence it offered but also for the many small, intricately detailed worlds it shared with me.
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was absolute literary beauty. Completely entranced you won't want to be free.
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful, yet slight book, written by one of my favorite artist on the planet. I should have read this in an hour, but hummingbirds & bees interrupted my reading on my porch, & Turner Classic Movies took over my night. Completely different than "Just Kids" & "M Train" but no less beautiful.
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am ambivalent about how much I like this. It does take itself awfully seriously. But then I do find that is a sensible thing to do. But I guess it’s just not entirely to my taste.
Alanna Why
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this in an hour in a car ride on vacation. Didn't really care for the introductory essay, but I really liked the short story Devotion as well as the outro essay about visiting Camus' house. A good read if you already enjoy Patti Smith's writing!
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PATTI SMITH is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Smith had her first exhibit of drawings at the Gotham Book Mart in 1973 and has been represented by the Robert Miller

Other books in the series

Why I Write (2 books)
  • Inadvertent
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“Why do we write? A chorus erupts.
Because we cannot simply live.”
“Tearing things apart (is) a powerful aspect of human nature.” 7 likes
More quotes…