I receive daily desk copy requests for Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids for smaller classes, but I think it would actually be a wonderful choice for a first-year common read in colleges (especially those in New York). This is Patti Smith’s account of the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. But mostly, it is a tribute to her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe—two kids who promised to take care of each other—through their evolution as artists in a new city. I just finished the National Book Award winner and have been recommending it to everyone I know. It’s the best thing I’ve read in a very long time.
While Just Kids might seem like an out-of-the-box choice for Common Read programs, I think it would be really wonderful because it is an inspirational ode to creativity in all its forms, and a fascinating coming-of-age story regardless of students’ acquaintance with the era (though, Smith interacts with Jimi Hendrix, Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, and Sam Shepard along the way, so I’d be surprised if there was no student familiarity). I wish I had been given something like this to read in any college course, and I know that it will spark the imaginations of many college students, who will find a dreamy compatriot in Smith.