Author: Zadie Smith
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: Complex, thoughtful, yet enjoyable and engaging essays.
As I’ve been nearing the end of my reading of Zadie Smith’s body of work, I was considering whether it was worth continuing when I hadn’t found a five star read. I had concluded that I was glad to have read her books regardless. They’ve all made me think and I think of her books as modern classics. They’re probably being taught in classes and if not yet, I expect they will be. I’m happy to be familiar with her work. That said, I was still holding out hope for a spectacular essay collection from Smith, since I love her topics and her prose but not her plots. This essay collection certainly delivered!
I found Smith’s first essay collection, Changing My Mind, unapproachable. It was hard work to read. This essay collection was equally thoughtful and clever, but much more enjoyable. I felt swept up in the author’s enthusiasm. It was also a well organized, cohesive collection. Each section has a specific focus (book reviews, current events, etc) and they all have in common some fascinating cultural commentary.
What really made me fall in love with this collection was how much was happening in every essay, while they still remained engaging and readable. In every essay, the author managed to bring something personal (memoir, her response to art). She also brings a lot of insight to each topic she discusses, analyzing the subject itself, but also often sharing some related history and engaging with themes and philosophical questions raised by her topic. With all of this going on, her essays still felt almost conversational. They made me think and they were a joy to read. I don’t know if Smith’s writing improved between Changing My Mind and Feel Free or if she’s simply writing for a more general, less academic audience this time around. Either way, I loved the change. I’d highly recommend this, especially to fans of Leslie Jamison or Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats.