Feel Free: Essays

Zadie Smith. Penguin, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-1-59420-625-2
In this collection of conversational essays, novelist Smith (Swing Time) brings her precise observations and distinct voice to an expansive range of topics. Smith comes across as a writer’s writer, with a love of form, function, and language—“Oh, the semicolons, the discipline!” she exclaims of Edward St. Aubyn. A self-professed “sentimental humanist,” Smith is alarmed by social media platforms such as Facebook and is smartly cutting on American race relations, discussed through pop-culture reference points that include Jay-Z lyrics and movies such as Get Out, “a compendium of black fears about white folk.” She is lacerating on the subject of British politics, blasting the ruling class’s “Londoncentric solipsism”; rather than policy changes, she advocates for nothing more—or less—than art and literature’s power to free the mind. At their most memorable, the essays are character studies, whether of a culture, such as the “limitless” Manhattan of “Find Your Beach”; a place, such as Rome’s Villa Borghese in “Love in the Gardens”; or a person, such as Billie Holliday in “Crazy They Call Me.” Smith’s explicit discomfort with any authoritative stance—“I have no real qualifications to write as I do”—feels a bit disingenuous, when this collection’s chief appeal lies in the revealing glimpses it affords into the mind and creative process of one of the most admired novelists writing in English. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/20/2017
Release date: 02/06/2018
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-525-58928-0
Compact Disc - 978-0-525-52873-9
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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