Category Archives: Zadie Smith

Read 2 of 2023. Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

Intimations - Six Essays by Zadie SmithTitle: Intimations: Six Pieces
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0593297612
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 97
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

For the longest time, I avoided “pandemic” literature. I did not want to read about the lockdown, about the Corona virus, about Covid-19, about lack of vaccines, of how people had to migrate, what difficulties we faced as a community, and what did the pandemic signify for decades to come. I just did not want to read about it, till I did when I read some fantastic books last year such as “How High We Go in the Dark” and “Sea of Tranquility”, each of them just telling me more about the human connection, and how we can only survive through empathy.

Zadie Smith’s most profound and striking piece of writing is this collection of six essays about how we live – then and now, if we change as humans, if we have learned anything at all from the situation that was, and what it is now – only of course she speaks of 2020 through these essays that are about people she knows, people she doesn’t know all that much, of life as a writer before and during the pandemic, of how we all learned to live, and some had to learn to survive.

The art of the essay is a unique one – to separate the personal from the public and political, and to merge them when you want to suffuse intimacy with tenderness, which she does most marvellously through these short six pieces. My most favourite piece has to be, “Contempt as a Virus” where she speaks of race, of class, and how there is nothing different between it and the fast-spreading virus.

“Intimations” is a collection of non-combative, meditative, and hits you directly from the author’s subconscious and what we all experienced – that collective experience is not only recognisable or relatable, but also brings to fore a lot of empathy, as the pages turn.

Books and Authors mentioned in Intimations: 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Ottessa Moshfegh
Kafka
Toni Cade Bambara
Yukio Mishima
Édouard Levé
Berger
Tanizaki
The Road
Fran Lebowitz
Sontag
James Baldwin
Lorraine Hansberry
Zora Neale Hurston
Virginia Woolf
Lives of the Artists by Vasari
Milton
Keats
Twelfth Night
Oscar Wilde
Vita Sackville-West
George Eliot

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Feel Free - Essays by Zadie Smith Title: Feel Free: Essays
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241146897
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

My association with the works of Zadie Smith started somewhere in 2003, with White Teeth. It was one of those books that are actually unputdownable (I have always been of the opinion that terms such as these are nothing but marketing gimmicks). Since then, Smith has been one of my favourite writers and with good reason. Her prose is like biting into a plum – tart and sweet and almost awakens you from your stupor. It makes you stand up and take notice of how the world works and perhaps what it always was. Smith doesn’t mince her words. Her characters are everyday people who speak their mind and this is also reflective in her new collection of essays, aptly or ironically (given the world we live in) titled, “Feel Free”.

“Feel Free” to me is one of the books of our times. The kind of book that doesn’t preach but makes so many relevant points that you want to see the world and put it so eloquently as Smith does. It is the collection of essays which are spread over five sections – In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf and Feel Free. These sections pose questions that we recognize and perhaps want answers to: What is the Social Network? What is joy and what is the tolerance of it, if there is something like it? How many kinds of boredom make up life? Who owns the narrative of black America? There are many such questions over a diverse range of topics and that’s what makes Zadie’s essays stand out.

Feel Free speaks of pop culture, culture, social change, political debate, the ever-changing fabric of society and what it really means to be human in the 21st century. Some of these essays have appeared before and some are new. At the same time, all of them are relevant and essential to most areas of our lives.

Smith’s essays are sometimes written with the perspective of an insider, but mostly she is an outsider looking in. It isn’t difficult to understand Smith and to me that was the most brilliant aspect of this collection. For instance, when she writes about a book, you want to get up and go read it. When she speaks of Joni Mitchell, you just want to listen to “River” and “Circle Game” on loop. To me, that is the power of great writing.

Essays are often tough to read and since they are so personal in nature, it becomes even more difficult to gauge the place they are coming from. This does not happen when you are reading “Feel Free”. Zadie’s essays are personal and yet appeal to all. The universal quality of her words is too strong to not be understood and related to. “Feel Free” is the collection of essays that needs to be savoured and pondered on. The one that you will not forget easily.