Friday, December 16, 2011

Auntie Zadie doesn't actually live here.

Book: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

Author: Zadie Smith

Published: 2009 (Penguin)

Pages: 297

I had been saving this collection since I bought it for something ridiculous like 90% off cover price in the last gasping summer days of my hometown Borders. Why? Because It's Zadie motherfuckin' Smith, author of three of my favorite novels, the first and the best of which she got published when she was twenty-four. White Teeth at twenty-four!

And so I was saving this because if I read it right when I bought it, it'd be over with too soon. I'd have no ZS to break the monotony of dead white lit fic I have a habit of putting way too much hope in.

And so, when her essays reveal a tremendous knowledge of literary theory and intellectual cultural analysis and only the briefest, unadorned glimpses of personal life, I was reminded of Stuff I've Read on the Internet (fuck save us all) that said she's kind of a cold person. 

I really don't want her to be like that. I want her to be a sister of literature, like she talks about in her essay on Their Eyes Were Watching God. I want to feel like she'd find a funny, easy way to break her favorite subjects down for us while letting her methods reveal how her own brain works.

Maybe these essays do, and her mind just works a lot more like a straightforward scholar than I want it to. Her collection of movie reviews for The Guardian are the strongest arguments for the possibility of her being the person I want her to be; but they're her briefest and least seriously structured. And I could track various tropes in her novels in subject matters, at the very least: Golden-era Hollywood, old fathers who started second lives, mixed race and age-gap marriages, straddling cultural lines and not being quite accepted on either side.

These are solid, excellently-written essays. But I was expecting a series of those chats you have with your best friend at two in the morning outside wandering back to their car when the air is clear enough to shoot your ideas back and forth on invisible telepathic lines. What I got was a series of discussions from a really good teacher. I learned more this way, but I missed the emotional high that comes from the matching of minds.

Translated: I am shamed into thinking I should've been an English major.

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