Patti Smith’s latest book, “A Book of Days,” rests in your hand like a box of high-end chocolates — pleasingly weighty, promising elegance and class alongside a touch of the bittersweet. Somehow it’s not surprising that, after a casual shot of the author herself, the first picture in Smith’s collection is of her own palm, fingers at attention, as if waving hello.
Welcome to 366 glimpses into the world of the iconic musician and writer, who shares an image and caption for each day of the year, including leap day. Think of it as a tear-off daily calendar, minus the stress of keeping up with page disposal; in fact, with her homages to bygone moments, Smith seems more concerned with reflection and preservation than she is with the rote ticking away of time.
“I wanted to do a book that, even though it acknowledges certain political things, just gave people a respite,” she said in a phone interview. “We can’t ignore what’s happening in the world — we have to be aware and engaged — but we also need time for thinking of other things or using our imagination.”
The project was inspired by Smith’s Instagram, @thisispattismith, where she might post a deathbed portrait of John Keats one month and a snapshot of her cat, Cairo, the next — with palm trees, stone lions and reminders to vote in between. She joined with the encouragement of her daughter in 2018, having never had much use for social media. Now, Smith said, “It has its positive use, and it has its fun use. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to show your new dress you think you look nice in.” But, she cautioned, “What’s dangerous is developing a concept of self through social media’s opinion. Young musicians, young artists, that is not the best way to develop a sense of self. Develop a sense of self by the work you do, by building your own confidence, by listening to your own voice. The more we use it to share, to be aware, whether it’s climate change or social injustice, or sharing happy moments, then it has its good use.”
As for “A Book of Days” — a tangible, IRL object — Smith hopes it will give readers an excuse to celebrate little moments and pause to recognize big ones. That’s why she chose an epigraph from Christina Rossetti, a poet she’s admired since childhood: “A hundred thousand birds salute the day.” Another contender for front-of-book placement was a quote from Jimi Hendrix: “Hooray, I wake from yesterday!” As Smith said, “These phrases give us a sense of gratitude.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”