Tuesday, February 28, 2012

They

From the mouth of Patti Smith, as she told anecdotes in between reading from her memoir Woolgathering, yesterday evening in the rare book room at the Strand:

They didn't have a lot of money.

The nominative plural here refers to her parents, and the pronoun stood out because just about everybody, when talking about growing up, says "we." We didn't have a lot of money. We had a lot of money.

Such a distinction made all the sense in the world coming from a woman who, after answering a man's question, said, "I don't know if I answered your question, but that's my answer." (And of course she had abundantly answered his question.)

The Strand people filmed the reading with a camera, but sitting in that big room with all those books, many of them inscribed--there's really no way to pull the whole thing into a moving picture. The air was close (despite two ceiling fans running), half the people were standing.

While waiting in line outside, I looked at an old kitchen and dining rooms book until my part of the line was allowed upstairs. After the reading, while waiting to see what the artist's signature would look like in my copy of Woolgathering, I pulled various books from the shelves--Claire Messud, Anais Nin, Cynthia Ozick, Christina Stead, Paul Theroux, Wodehouse.

If people talk about the Patti Smith reading at the Strand, they might say, "I heard she led everyone singing 'Happy Birthday' to Ralph Nader" or "I heard that her advice for artists is to take care of themselves and their teeth and drink plenty of water and feel the honor of being touched by the Muse" or "She likes New Directions" or "When she read 'rapt in child's play', I wonder how many people heard 'wrapped in child's play'."

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