In her acceptance speech for the National Book Award for 2010’s Just Kids, punk poet Patti Smith had a special message for publishers: “There is nothing more beautiful than the book – the paper, the font, the cloth. Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”

Books have been a lifelong love for Smith, who immersed herself in New York’s art and literary scene when she first moved to Manhattan in 1967. She met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe while working at a bookstore, and the pair’s intense relationship while struggling as starving artists is at the beating, breaking heart of Just Kids.

I immersed myself in books and rock ‘n’ roll, the adolescent salvation…

Smith began writing rock journalism pieces, performing poetry at spoken word nights, and befriended a number of literary heavyweights: Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepard and William S. Burroughs, to name a few. Literature often played a part in her music, with the B-side of her first single, “Hey Joe / Piss Factory” featuring an ode to Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations.



Reminiscent of Joan Didion’s thoughts on the restraint female writers often fall prey to, Smith has said: “Most women writers don’t interest me because they’re hung up with being a woman, they’re hung up with being Jewish, they’re hung up with being somebody or other. Rather than just going, just spurting, just creating. These women get so caught up with their heritage that they can never really spiral out.”

And spiraling out is what Smith does so beautifully. Her unhinged brand of feminism has inspired countless creatives, and her freedom of spirit shines in both her memoirs – 2010’s Just Kids and 2015’s M Train. Read on for a list of the books that inspired her, and complement with The Books Bob Dylan Digs.


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (also rec’d by Gloria SteinemJohn Lennon & Maya Angelou)

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira

Anthology by Artaud

Letters from Iceland by W.H. Auden

The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin

Songs of Innocence by William Blake

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

“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.” -PS

Amulet by Roberto Bolaño

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Nadja by André Breton

The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (also rec’d by Ernest HemingwayJoan Didion)

The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (also rec’d by David Bowie & Salman Rushdie)

The Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs



A Happy Death by Albert Camus

The First Man by Albert Camus

The Petting Zoo by Jim Carroll

“Essential to anyone in search of concrete delirium.” -PS

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (also rec’d by Hayao MiyazakiJohn Lennon & Rose McGowan)

Orphée by Jean Cocteau

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The Divine Comedy by Dante (also rec’d by Susan Sontag)

A Night of Serious Drinking by René Daumal

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Wittgenstein’s Poker by David Edmonds & John Eidinow

The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt

The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet

Howl  by Allen Ginsberg (also rec’d by Bob Dylan & John Lennon)



Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

The Process by Brion Gysin

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

The Divine Proportion by H.E. Huntley

Four Major Plays by Henrik Ibsen

A Scarcity of Love by Anna Kavan

“Now, I can tell you about some women writers who truly are fantastic. One is Anna Kavan. She writes stories like I approach Land of a Thousand Dances: she’s caught in a haze and then a light, a little teeny light, come through. It could be a leopard, that light, or it could be a spot of blood. It could be anything. But she hooks onto that and spirals out. And she does it within the accessible rhythms of plot, and that’s really exciting. She’s not hung up with being a woman, she just keeps extending herself, keeps telescoping language and plot.” -PS

Ice by Anna Kavan

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac

Poet in New York by Federico García Lorca

The Complete Fiction by H.P. Lovecraft

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck

The Story of Davy Crockett by Enid Meadowcroft

Billy Budd by Herman Melville

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (also rec’d by Bob DylanBruce SpringsteenSteve Jobs & Tilda Swinton)

Black Spring by Henry Miller

The Beach Café by Mohammed Mrabet

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (also rec’d by David Bowie and Kim Gordon)

Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings by Vladimir Nabokov

The Women of Cairo by Gérard de Nerval

A Dog of Flanders by Ouida

After-Dinner Declarations by Nicanor Parra

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

“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 visualized 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.” -PS

Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath

Swann in Love by Marcel Proust

A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud

Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger

After Nature and by W.G. Sebald

“At one time the three lengthy poems in this slim volume had such a profound effect on me that I could hardly bear to read them. Scarcely would I enter their world before I’d be transported to a myriad of other worlds.” -PS

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Hawk Moon by Sam Shepard



Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag (also rec’d by Carrie Brownstein)

Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

The Little Lame Prince by Rosemary Wells

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

Tractatus Logico by Ludwig Wittgenstein

The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera by Bertram David Wolfe

The Waves by Virginia Woolf (also rec’d by Carrie Brownstein)

(via Brain Pickings and Open Culture)

Categories: Artists Musicians

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