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(Credit: Stephen L Harlow)

Patti Smith explains the books that changed her life, made her throw up and more


Patti Smith has been detailing some of the reading material that has both shaped the her creative vision and, in some cases, produced her to a state of vomit inducing anxiety.

Smith, who has been talking literature following the eagerly anticipated release of her new memoir Year of the Monkey, a book created after what has been described as “a year of wandering” as she took 12 months away from touring to switch off.

For the award winning of Just Kids and M Train, a step back into literature is a natural one for Smiths, a musician who has dominated the alternative music and punk scene for decades. You only need to look as far as Smith’s Just Kids to find the words of Smith stating: “I was completely smitten by the book,” she recalls in the book’s opening chapters. “I longed to read them all, and the things I read of produced new yearnings.”

Now, in a new interview with The Guardian, Smith has been detailing some of the literature that has had a lasting effect on her in both a positive and negative manner. When asked which book, if any, influenced her writing the most, Smith answered: “Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal, with its mix of autobiography and poetic fiction, has given me a genre to aspire to.”

While Genet has had an inspirational impact on Smith, Mark Twain and his historical fiction novel The Prince and the Pauper had a distinctly different effect: “It gave me such anxiety that I threw up,” Smith said of the work when asked if she has ever struggled to finish reading a book. “I never finished it—and still can’t bear to.”

Elsewhere in the interview Smith said Charlotte Bronte’s Villette was the last book to bring her to tears: “After surrendering to the omnipresent atmosphere of Villette by Charlotte Bronte, I was heartbroken at the book’s end. So much so, that I wrote a small alternative ending.”

[MORE] – Patti Smith lists her 40 favourite books of all time