cover image Feel Free: Essays

Feel Free: Essays

Zadie Smith, read by Nikki Amuka-Bird. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 14 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-525-52873-9

British actress Amuka-Bird channels both the public persona and literary essence of novelist and essayist Smith in giving voice to this sprawling collection of nonfiction works. The essays vary in topic and include criticism of visual and literary arts, musings on pop culture, and incisive takes on current politics on both sides of the Atlantic; Amuka-Bird handles the sometimes swift transitions gracefully. She adds an especially evocative touch in her reading of Smith’s works that tackle racial and cultural identity. For Smith’s experimental piece on the tortured life of music legend Billie Holiday, which is written from the first-person perspective of Holiday, Amuka-Bird provides a chilling rendition of the singer’s bluesy, conversational cadence. When Smith recounts recent interviews with entertainers such as rapper Jay-Z and comedian and director Jordan Peele, Amuka-Bird doesn’t shy away from adding biting edges to their voices. Not every piece of this stylistically wide-ranging collection translates easily into the audio format, but Amuka-Bird’s talent cannot be denied. A Penguin hardcover. (Feb.)