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From Jack Kerouac to William Blake: Patti Smith's essential reading list

One of the key writers of the post-war era is not your average bookworm. In fact, following on from her incredible memoirs Year of the Monkey and Just Kids has made punk poet Patti Smith one of the decade’s most perfect writers. Through her memoirs and her poetry, Smith has proved to be a visceral writer and it’s clear from the list below that she’s an avid reader too.

Smith has numerous literary books credited to her name, most notably the aforementioned titles. Over a supremely dominant career, in which her relationship with words has continued to fascinate, the singer and punk poet has made no secret of her exhilaration for the written word. As keen a writer and reader as the music world has to offer.

If you’ve ever picked up her memoir Just Kids, you’ll recall the early words: “I was completely smitten by the book,” she writes in the opening chapters discussing her love for the written word. “I longed to read them all, and the things I read of produced new yearnings.” 

Exploring some of the works that have helped shaped Smith’s literary vision, the artist has recommended the likes of beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac, the epic novelist Joseph Conrad, and the beguiling French poet Arthur Rimbaud among other recognisable figures in the literary world.

On top of the slightly more predictable names, however, there are also some more challenging suggestions like Roberto Bolano effort The Wild Boys, for instance. Smith describes says of the book: “Every time I read Bolaño I feel so inspired, I just want to write…He’s a genius—the expansiveness he creates, how he relates one book to another—he’s set a new template for writing.”  

Speaking about Smith’s love of Sylvia Plath, she said: “My copy of Ariel [was] given to me when I was twenty. Ariel became the book of my life then, drawing me to a poet with hair worthy of a Breck commercial and the incisive observational powers of a female surgeon cutting out her own heart. With little effort I visualised my Ariel perfectly. Slim, with faded black cloth, that I opened in my mind, noting my youthful signature on the cream endpaper. I turned the pages, revisiting the shape of each poem.”

There are also incredible reads from hugely acclaimed writers such as Hermann Hesse, William Blake, William Burroughs, Albert Camus, Oscar Wilde, J.D. Salinger and so many more. It’s a remarkably impressive list of literary heavyweights.

Now, if you’re hoping to garner some of her inspiration, a list has surfaced which Smith apparently handed out during the Melbourne International Arts Festival. In it, the list withholds some of her most treasured books.

See the full list, below.

Patti Smith’s favourite books of all time:

  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse
  • The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Billy Budd by Herman Melville
  • Songs of Innocence by William Blake
  • The Wild Boys by William Burroughs 2666 – Roberto Bolano  
  • Ariel – Sylvia Plath
  • Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  • A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud
  • Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud
  • Wittgenstein’s Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidinow
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Process by Brion Gysin
  • Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi
  • Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
  • The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde
  • The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
  • Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag
  • The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Everhardt
  • The Women of Cairo by Gérard de Nerval
  • Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  • The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
  • The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch
  • Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger
  • Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • A Night of Serious Drinking by René Daumal
  • Swann in Love by Marcel Proust
  • A Happy Death by Albert Camus
  • The First Man by Albert Camus
  • The Waves by Virginia Woolf
  • Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
  • Anything by H.P. Lovecraft
  • Anything by W.G. Sebald
  • The Thief’s Journal or anything by Jean Genet
  • The Arcades Project or anything by Walter Benjamin
  • Poet in New York by Federico García Lorca
  • The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll
  • The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
  • Ice or Anything by Anna Kavan
  • The Divine Proportion by H.E. Huntley
  • Nadja by André Breton