Feel Free : Essays
by Zadie Smith


Overview - From Zadie Smith, one of the most beloved authors of her generation, a new collection of essays

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world's preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist.  Read more...


 
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More About Feel Free by Zadie Smith
 
 
 
Overview
From Zadie Smith, one of the most beloved authors of her generation, a new collection of essays

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world's preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.

Arranged into five sections--In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free--this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network--and Facebook itself--really about? "It's a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore." Why do we love libraries? "Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay." What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? "So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we'd just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes--and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat."

Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, "Joy," and, "Find Your Beach," Feel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith's own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive--and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781594206252
  • ISBN-10: 1594206252
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Publish Date: February 2018
  • Page Count: 464
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.45 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Literary Collections > Essays
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Literary Criticism > General

 
BookPage Reviews

Well Read: Write what you know

Fans of Zadie Smith’s novels may be less familiar with her forays into nonfiction, which often take the form of essays for The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. Feel Free collects some of these recent essays, along with book reviews and lectures, into a generous volume that shares the breadth and depth of this thoughtful writer’s curiosity. The title is a playful pun: Smith is expressing the freedom that essay writing grants a writer, but she is also granting the reader his or her own freedom. Feel free to disagree with anything or everything I say, Smith suggests. That’s the whole point of writing and reading.

Like-minded readers will find little to excoriate here, though. Smith is not only a penetrating and candid writer, she is also embracing. Reading these pieces can feel like a pleasant dinner conversation with a smart, open-minded friend. That is not to say that Smith is never a provocateur. On the contrary, she doesn’t always toe the narrow line or adhere to what one might assume would be the views of a Cambridge-educated, liberal woman who grew up on the margins of London poverty with a black, immigrant mother and white, working-class father. It is the very complexity of her background, in fact, that allows Smith to imbue her writing with its prismatic combination of intellect and emotion.

A sharply honed piece such as “Some Notes on Attunement,” wherein Smith ponders her journey from being a pitiable Joni Mitchell-hater to worshipping at the altar of that pop genius, displays the full measure of her talents. In it, she takes detours into Wordsworth’s poetry and the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, combined with fleeting glimpses into her childhood and marriage. In a mere 16 pages, Smith manages to express not only the process by which we find our own path through the cultural landscape but also what she calls “the inconsistency of identity, of personality.”

This inconsistency, and the need to make sense of it, fuels much of Smith’s writing. Her subjects are catholic. Despite protests that she is merely a layman, she writes expertly when commenting on contemporary art as well as when she’s pondering pop culture (the comedy duo Key and Peele are a favorite subject, and she even ventures into the world of Justin Bieber’s celebrity). She lends her critical eye to Facebook and to photographs of Billie Holiday, then surveys the political landscape, considering the root causes of Brexit and the everyday realities of climate change.

“Taken as a whole, Feel Free is about identity.”

Smith admits to feeling most comfortable in her knowledge of the novel, and expectedly, some of the most perceptive writing concerns both her own fiction and the work of others. “I think to appreciate fiction fully it helps to conceive of a space that allows for the writer’s experience and the reader’s simultaneously,” she writes in an essay on Philip Roth that, like many of the essays in this book, offers subtle insight into her own work. “That sounds like an impossible identity, but literature, for me, is precisely the ambivalent space in which impossible identities are made possible, both for authors and their characters.”

Identity is Smith’s watchword, in both her fiction and in essays. Taken as a whole, Feel Free is about identity, played out through the complicated mess we call culture, art and life.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
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