Source: Library

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Feel Free: An Excellent Essay Collection in Review

March 18, 2020 Uncategorized 7 ★★★★★

Feel Free: An Excellent Essay Collection in ReviewTitle: Feel Free: Essays
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:five-stars

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! Read more »

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Review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

March 16, 2020 Uncategorized 3 ★★★★

Review: Swing Time by Zadie SmithTitle: Swing Time
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: One standard-issue Zadie Smith novel – lovely writing, complex themes, an engaging story, convincing characters, and a disappointing ending.

“Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent…It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.” (source) Instead of growing up to be a dancer, our unnamed narrator becomes the assistant to an incredibly famous pop star. Her work completely takes over her life, but eventually presents the opportunity to visit West Africa as part of the pop star’s charity efforts. Read more »

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Review: NW by Zadie Smith

March 11, 2020 Uncategorized 5 ★★

Review: NW by Zadie SmithTitle: NW
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:two-stars

Summary: Similar to previous books by Smith, the writing was beautiful and the themes interesting, but it was more work to read and I was less invested in the characters.

“Set in northwest London, Zadie Smith’s … novel follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood.” (source) Each of them has different opportunities and chooses to maintain different levels of connection with their old neighborhood. Their lives intersect in a variety of surprising ways, sometimes actively changing the course of one another’s lives and at other times, simply providing a glimpse of what might have been. Read more »

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True Crime Review: American Sherlock

March 9, 2020 Uncategorized 2 ★★★★

True Crime Review: American SherlockTitle: American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI
Author: Kate Winkler Dawson
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: An engaging story looking at some of the earliest use of scientific crime scene analysis in the United States.

When author Kate Winkler Dawson read an article that mentioned a man known as the “American Sherlock Holmes”, she immediately knew she’d found the subject for her next book. And when I saw that she had another book coming out, I immediately knew I was going to read it. “American Sherlock” Edward Heinrich was a forensic analyst and early pioneer of many of the techniques used to extract evidence from crime scenes today. Here, the author has used a just-organized archive of Heinrich’s belongings to tell the story of many of his most important cases. Read more »

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A Family Drama In Review: On Beauty

March 1, 2020 Uncategorized 4 ★★★★

A Family Drama In Review: On BeautyTitle: On Beauty
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: The book is full of richly drawn characters, clever writing, and nuanced explorations of race and class.

In this third book from Zadie Smith, I started to see some themes in common with her debut novel, White Teeth. This is also the story of two families who stand out in their social group because of their race. We primarily focus on the family of somewhat liberal professor and “Englishman abroad” Howard Belsey and his long-suffering wife Kiki. Their children are all struggling to find their place in the world. While youngest son Levi pretends to be from a less well off neighborhood, Zora tries to find her intellectual footing at Howard’s university and Jerome flirts with both conservative perspectives and the beautiful daughter of his father’s more conservative rival, Monty Kipps. This flirtation is the first of many surprising ways the lives of the Belsey’s and the Kipps’ intersect. Read more »

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Disappointing Sophomore Novel In Review: The Autograph Man

February 24, 2020 Uncategorized 2 ★★

Disappointing Sophomore Novel In Review: The Autograph ManTitle: The Autograph Man
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:two-stars

Summary: This lacked the depth, interesting human dynamics, and complex themes of Smith’s first book.

I’ve read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth twice and both times, I was blown away by her writing style. I was hooked from the beginning by the complicated family and friend dynamics she portrayed. The multilayered prose was as impressive as her exploration of significant themes, such as immigration and racism. In this sophomore novel about Alex-Li, a man who sells celebrity autographs, all of those strengths were missing. The plot never grabbed me. Except for a brief period in the middle of the book, nothing interesting happened. Alex-Li has a complicated romantic life and obsesses over the autograph of a minor forties actress. And that’s really all I have to say about the plot. There were still flashes of brilliance in the writing – clever metaphors or detailed descriptions that gave a scene real texture – but overall, the writing didn’t impress me much either.

Read more »

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Deep Dive Review: White Teeth

February 17, 2020 Uncategorized 5 ★★★★

Deep Dive Review: White TeethTitle: White Teeth
Author: Zadie Smith
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: This was beautifully written and very clever in its engagement with current social issues.

White Teeth is a family saga that follows two very different families as they deal with issues related to faith, immigration, and belonging. “At the center of this [story] are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal… A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith.” (source) Read more »

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Silicon Valley Memoir Review: Uncanny Valley

February 12, 2020 Uncategorized 3 ★★★★

Silicon Valley Memoir Review: Uncanny ValleyTitle: Uncanny Valley
Author: Anna Wiener
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: An interesting insider look at some big-name Silicon Valley tech companies, but not much new commentary.

The concept of this memoir from publishing assistant turned start-up employee Anna Wiener grabbed my attention immediately. I was interested in her outsider perspective on start-up culture. I also always want to hear from women in tech, although the sexism this typically reveals is sobering. Both of these aspects of the book were about as expected. When the author first arrives at a data analytics start-up, she sounds like an anthropologist studying a new culture. The way sexism was addressed felt a little odd to me. It seems like it was a pervasive part of the author’s work in Silicon Valley, but it isn’t really part of her linear narrative. Instead, she occasionally pauses to tell us about many of her experiences with sexism. It made for a jarring contrast with the rest of her experience that was quite effective. Read more »

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#NBAward Winner in Review: The Yellow House

January 8, 2020 Uncategorized 0 ★★★

#NBAward Winner in Review: The Yellow HouseTitle: The Yellow House
Author: Sarah M. Broom
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

Summary: Interesting and well written, but not as connected to larger topics or full of new things to learn as I hope a National Book Award winner will be.

This is the only National Book Award nominee from last year that I didn’t get to, because there were so many holds at my library. The fact that this book was so hard to get, followed by it winning the award, raised my expectations pretty high. This memoir by journalist Sarah Broom describes her life growing up in an aging neighborhood in New Orleans. She explores some interesting themes, contrasting her experience of the city with the way New Orleans is mythologized and viewed by tourists. She also talks about the complex relationship she has with her home city, leaving yet always feeling a pull to return. Read more »

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Nonfiction Essays Review: Make it Scream, Make it Burn

December 11, 2019 Uncategorized 3 ★★★★

Nonfiction Essays Review: Make it Scream, Make it BurnTitle: Make It Scream, Make It Burn
Author: Leslie Jamison
Source: Library
|Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: These essays are incredibly well written, combining interesting stories with clever observations about people.

I thoroughly enjoyed Leslie Jamison’s previous books, The Recovering and The Empathy Exams. This new essay collection didn’t let me down. Jamison has done a fantastic job finding interesting stories to tell and using her relationship to these stories to make more universal observations. From the story of 52 Blue, the loneliest whale in the ocean, to an exploration of the mythology of stepmothers, many of the topics she covered were fascinating. The only exception was a series of essays in the middle of the collection that focused on the relationship between journalists/photographers and their subjects. This felt both less personal and less universal than the other essays in this collection. The deep exploration of a topic that clearly fascinates the author felt a bit repetitive and dry to me.
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