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It's high time we had a thread for her.  We didn't, so I'll start one now with these:

 

(Amazon links to White Teeth (2000), The Autograph Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (2009) and NW (2012).)

 

Interview with Christopher Bollen:

... But I just read this book called Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. He put it in the context of Christianity because it was the joy that made him a Christian. But this feeling of joy that came over him—Emerson had it, too—it's completely different from happiness. Happiness is, "I won some money," or, "You got the bird you wanted." This is an inexplicable feeling of gratitude. It comes over you sometimes. And particularly if you are unreligious, you don't know what to do with it. You suddenly get this wave of something beyond pleasure. And I think the novel has been a bit shy of describing that because it blends itself so easily to sentimentality. But I've had that feeling from time to time ever since I can remember. Nick always says this about me, and it's true, I have to do everything I can to not be a Christian. I have to put all my energy into not being religious. It's a daily effort. But I think we often pretend this feeling doesn't exist-that it's deceitful ...

 

Also, I was enchanted enough by this video to finally seek out her books -

 

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I Read White Teeth for my Contemporary British Lit class in grad school. Plowing through almost 500 pages in a week isn't the best approach, but I did enjoy the book. It was one of the minority of books in that class that felt more like an author telling a story than a critic pushing an argument.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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  • 4 months later...

Of her books, I've only read "On Beauty," which I found to be a fascinating look into marriage and our unwillingness to live without beauty. 

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

--T.S. Eliot--
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I have read White Teeth, On Beauty, and have recently finished NW.  I find that Zadie Smith offers a human and intriguing view of how people interact in multicultural societies.  She sees her characters as complex people whose identities are often colored by their surroundings, yet each possessing an innate spark, sometimes humorous, sometimes distant, but each reacting to their changing surroundings and societies and forging their lives in a way where their humanity is not bound simply to class and economic structures.  I enjoy her writing in that it helps show the way forward in dealing in a world where old divisions of race and class are changing.

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Note: I value our film threads here at A&F.  I even imagine our slowly setting for ourselves and moving into higher standards for them than we sometimes do (without meaning any offense).  Many of these threads are now more than a decade old.  Maybe they will last much longer than that, existing as examples of substantive and invigorating discussion of films that any browsing reader can find edifying.  This thought has been leading me to temper my comments on our threads over the years, trying to be more careful with what I have to say or contribute.  This is because I believe our film threads offer discussion that is different from other online forums, where everyone posts comments that are not grounded in any sort of standard at all.

It may be that some A&F participants, some of whom have invested more work and time here than I have, may not want this (and if that’s so, that’s alright).  But another ideal that I imagine and think worth striving for is the idea that any A&F film thread on any film here can and will slowly collect at least links or references to the very best writing that has been done on that particular film.  Occasionally I will read some very good writing on a film.  Wouldn’t it be nice if our film threads could refer their readers to that writing?  To this end, whenever I read a book by a good writer who writes something thoughtful, compelling or worthwhile on a particular film, I will being to try to excerpt some of it with a citation to that author’s work.  And now, after reading Zadie Smith’s enjoyable essay collection, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, I have just done this with her writing on a few films, including Good Night and Good Luck, Grizzly Man, Memoirs of a Geisha, Munich, Shopgirl and Walk the Line.  I may add a few more later.

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I like what you're doing, Jeremy. Admittedly, it gets a bit tedious to go through new posts to various threads, only to find that each new post is excerpting the same essay collection. But so what? Even if I didn't care for what Smith had to say, that barrage of posts would pass within a day or two, replaced by other new posts. The fact that I do like what Smith has to say in that collection, based on your excerpts, makes the various samplings edifying, even exhilarating.

 

I just wish the two library systems I use had an eaudio version of the collection you've been excerpting. One of them has the book on CD, which would've been fine until a couple of weeks ago, when my car's CD player went on the blink. 

 

I suppose there's always the paper-and-ink or ebook editions, but my two-hours-per-day round-trip work commute provides a closed environment where I can listen to audiobooks, and that works out better than when I'm at home, where I have too many other options and, even though I enjoy reading, usually choose not to do so most days. 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Thanks Christian.  When Zadie Smith discusses films, I appreciate how she is willing to distinguish between her own sensibilities (literary as they may be) and other criteria which includes the moral sphere.  Whenever writing about a story, Smith as a way of getting to the heart of what is wrong or right with it.  And she expresses her thoughts clearly without taking them to extremes when they border on controversial subjects.  I am still in the process of reading through her books, but I am enjoying them enough to place her towards the top of my list of young authors to watch (along with John Jeremiah Sullivan, Kevin Powers, Kyle Minor, Samantha Harvey and Paul Harding).  Everything she writes is careful and appears to have been invested with more time and thought than many other essays you can find.  I intend to try to collect this sort of thing on our film threads with other authors besides Smith.

Do you use Audible?  Once you sign up, they let you download one book a month for free.

Changing My Mind also has some good literary criticism, travel writing, writing on the act of writing and a very enjoyable essay on David Foster Wallace.

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I think I just downloaded it from the library, but I'm at work and don't have Adobe Digital Editions installed here. I think the title should be sitting in my Overdrive account, and that I can transfer it to my e-reader tonight from home. Fingers crossed!

 

Now, will I actually read it once it's on my e-reader? That is the question.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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During my just completed vacation, I knocked out the "Reading" section -- 100 pages in my ebook edition. I had been tempted to skip ahead to the "Seeing" section, focused on film, but I was so impressed by her insights into authors and works I've not read that I figure there's no rush. I don't want to miss what she has to say in other areas of the collection.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I'm glad you've been able to take the time to read her, Christian.  Her thoughts on literature and writing are enjoyable, careful and provocative (and the last essay in the book is a real treat too).

 

If more modern literary criticism was like Smith's, I'd read far more of it.  She almost breathes new life into it - applying present day concerns and sensibilities to how we can still find writers like E.M. Forster or Zora Neale Hurston rewarding, no matter what culture or political persuasion we're from.  The word is that she has been working on a book about writing and literary criticism for years now, but there's no word on when it may be finished.

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I have read White Teeth, On Beauty, and have recently finished NW.  I find that Zadie Smith offers a human and intriguing view of how people interact in multicultural societies.  She sees her characters as complex people whose identities are often colored by their surroundings, yet each possessing an innate spark, sometimes humorous, sometimes distant, but each reacting to their changing surroundings and societies and forging their lives in a way where their humanity is not bound simply to class and economic structures.  I enjoy her writing in that it helps show the way forward in dealing in a world where old divisions of race and class are changing.

Just curious if you read these via audiobook.

 

Today at the library, looking for a new audiobook, I stumbled across On Beauty, then grabbed the audio of NW. I'm leaning toward trying On Beauty first, but if you or anyone else has specific recommendations re: Smith audiobooks, please let me know.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Smith's White Teeth and NW make the Best Books of the 21st Century So Far list discussed here.

 

I'm diving in to the audio version of On Beauty, which I was under the impression was Smith's best novel. And I was thinking NW was a runner-up. Maybe I got things backward.

 

Oh, and the CD player in my new car stereo, purchased because the CD player in my previous car stereo started skipping constantly, is now skipping. I've called the installers and am waiting to hear back, although I'm thinking I'll just need to switch to iPod playback of all audiobooks.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've finished On Beauty, which is highly recommended as an audiobook. As a novel, however, it faded down the stretch. Smith's book -- this is the only fiction I've read by her so far -- reminds me of what I love about Stephen Carter: the illumination of upper-class black lives. Carter's books always start strong as he sketches his characters, then fade as the mystery elements take hold (it's not a genre I care for). Smith isn't dealing with mystery tropes, but the resolution of this particular story struck me as rather absurd -- a one in a million revelation that ties everything together. 

 

I enjoyed the book a great deal, the climax aside, and am looking forward to trying NW next.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've finished On Beauty, which is highly recommended as an audiobook. As a novel, however, it faded down the stretch. Smith's book -- this is the only fiction I've read by her so far -- reminds me of what I love about Stephen Carter: the illumination of upper-class black lives. Carter's books always start strong as he sketches his characters, then fade as the mystery elements take hold (it's not a genre I care for). Smith isn't dealing with mystery tropes, but the resolution of this particular story struck me as rather absurd -- a one in a million revelation that ties everything together. 

 

I enjoyed the book a great deal, the climax aside, and am looking forward to trying NW next.

Have you read Howards End, the 1910 novel by E.M.Forster that Zadie Smith uses as a sort of skeleton on which to drape her story? You might find it interesting to read them both in proximity. I found Howards End a revelation when I read it as a young teenager, but revisiting it last year I thought it somewhat less impressive: it strains a little too hard for its effects, and lays out its juxtapositions a little too crudely. Still worth reading, however.

 

Personally I've never really 'got' Zadie Smith - she's one of the hip young writers who exemplify much that I find problematic in the contemporary novel. I'm pretty sure she has talent, I'm just not a fan of what she does with it.

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Have you read Howards End, the 1910 novel by E.M.Forster that Zadie Smith uses as a sort of skeleton on which to drape her story? 

Interesting. I think I'd read of that connection here or somewhere else, then had forgotten about it. I saw the Merchant/Ivory film in high school and recall liking it much more than other Merchant/Ivory stuff at the time, but I can't remember much at all about the story. 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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