Feel Free: Essays

Feel Free: Essays

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world's preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its...

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Title:Feel Free: Essays
Author:Zadie Smith
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Edition Language:English

Feel Free: Essays Reviews

  • Max Urai

    So: Zadie Smith, it seems, has replaced David Foster Wallace as my new person-to-aspire-to-be writer. Some pretty major shit going on with that right now. More as the story develops.

  • Rod-Kelly Hines

    There's enough here for any and everybody to enjoy! Brava Queen!

  • Krista

    In thirty-one essays, divided into five loose categories, Zadie Smith's

    displays a mind of wide tastes and an enviable intellectual elasticity: Smith has diverse knowledge and a clear voice and she uses her gifts to assemble these little moments of harmony against the background noise. This is a book that asks to be read slowly, and I complied; enjoying most all of it (there are some book reviews for

    included that feel out of place; perhaps because Smith was writing for someone else, not herself.) In the end, nothing here really feels

    – Smith isn't trying to convince the reader of anything – but as someone who has always been impressed by Smith's novels, I appreciated this more intimate glimpse into the workings of her mind; the font from where her art springs.

    Because Zadie Smith is younger than I am, I described her the other day as “hip”; yet Smith will be the first to tell you that she is a throwback – a member of the last generation to grow up in a predigital age. Of those who came after her, Smith writes:

    But it's not a world Smith necessarily likes: She ended up quitting Facebook two months after joining it (in 2010) because not only did she find it completely addicting, and therefore a waste of her limited time, but she immediately recognised it as one unpopular college sophomore's idea of how a circle of friends might look and act (the “pokes”, photosharing, an emphasis on favourite movies and TV shows in a personal profile). By then referencing Jaron Lanier's

    – in which he makes the point that by “locking in” to software that imperfectly captures the human experience, just because it's the one that was available in the beginning, we have begun degrading the entire human experience – Smith links pop culture (a viewing of

    ) with Lanier's respected scholarship, and filters it all through her own lived experience (I don't blame her for quitting Facebook if it led to every online page marketing her own books to her, lol). And this high-to-low-via-self formula is used frequently: Smith writes a scene-by-scene analysis of Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animated film

    via Schopenhauer, but we never forget that Smith herself figures into the equation as viewer (with her friend, Tamsin-the-Nietzschean, whispering in her ear in the movie theatre); she writes of hating the music of Joni Mitchell when she was younger, throws in some Kierkegaard, and then describes an epiphinal moment of discovering that she

    the music of Joni Mitchell; she explores the unenviable personal life of Justin Bieber through the philosophical writings of Martin Buber (their surnames are apparently alternate spellings from the same German root) and uses Bieber's example to find her own place in Buber's

    dichotomy. There's a lot going on here. Smith writes:

    I can't imagine who these dinner companions are who nudge Smith into “existential anxiety” with their greater levels of esoteric knowledge. In

    , Smith muses thoughtfully and knowledgeably about music, from writing from Billie Holiday's point-of-view to tripping to Q-Tip and sitting down with Jay-Z; discusses movies from Jordan Peel's

    to Christian Marclay's twenty-four hour opus

    (along with much commentary on all of the movie clips featured in this film); she responds to visual art from the paintings of old masters to Sarah Sze's multimedia installation,

    ; although these pieces were written a bit too early to really capture our today of 2018, Smith writes politically about Brexit and gentrification and artists being priced out of lower Manhattan and the razing of London's libraries to throw up condos. And, in pretty much every essay, Smith ties in books – novels, poetry and non-fiction – and demonstrates how what she has read informs her responses to everything else she discovers in the world. As I sat here googling her references, I could only marvel,

    And a note on this googling-while-reading: Despite Smith sighing more than once that she wishes she could give up her iPhone, if I didn't have one I couldn't have, in real time, admired Titian's portrait of twelve year old

    alongside Smith's text about it, read William Empson's short poem “Let it Go” to see how it figured into St. Aubyn's work, watched the Nicholas Brothers performing, in

    , what Fred Astaire called “the greatest example of cinematic dance ever performed” (a routine I watched with tears in my eyes as I considered the detail that the scenes with the Nicholas Brothers used to be cut out of movies before they were shown in the South; so much beauty in their movements balanced against so much ugliness. Race makes an appearance every now and then in these essays, but it's not a main focus.) Smith even specifically asks us to google the lyrics to Justin Bieber's “Boyfriend” so she could avoid the licensing fees of reproducing them. I obliged. Despite the disparate subject matter, I think the main thesis – tying into that opening quote from the book's Introduction – comes from Smith's writing about the paintings of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, which pursue:

    Smith seems to be saying that in these essays, as in her novels, she puts the art (which is her own reaction to the world) out there, knowing that she can't control what the reader will bring to the experience; can't control how that reader will react. Want to behave as though reading involves all the same liberties and exigencies as writing?

    There's so much in this book, and while some of it feels a little dated already, Smith captures something very interesting from her position at the intersection between the personal and the universal; and what she makes of it is art.

  • Khush

    Zadie Smith must have felt freer in writing this book especially in regards to the broad range her essays. There is no single theme that runs through them. There are essays that are quite ordinary, and somehow, I have expected far more intellectually stimulating stuff from her. For instance 'North West London Blues'did not speak to me at all. In reading this book, I also have the feeling that since she is so well-known, no matter what she writes, her writings will find readers.

    In a few of her es

    Zadie Smith must have felt freer in writing this book especially in regards to the broad range her essays. There is no single theme that runs through them. There are essays that are quite ordinary, and somehow, I have expected far more intellectually stimulating stuff from her. For instance 'North West London Blues'did not speak to me at all. In reading this book, I also have the feeling that since she is so well-known, no matter what she writes, her writings will find readers.

    In a few of her essays, I felt she is brilliant; but they are not too many. One in particular that I enjoyed reading is 'Love in the Gardens.' Not that I found it intellectually stimulating, I like its free and frank nature– the homely touch; it seems to me that she can write a full-length novel on that experience, I found it truly 'feel-free' sort of essay.

    For absolutely different reasons, I enjoyed reading 'Dance Lessons for Writers.' Even if one does not know about the artists, one can enjoy what she has to say about them. It is one of the best essays in the book, the only essay where I stopped and reread just to savor the moment a little longer. The only difference between the essay I mentioned earlier and this one is this; once you read the essay 'DLW' you might not want to read it again, it impresses with its clever observations and clarifies our own collective experiences of the artists discussed in the piece, but her essay 'Love in the Gardens' has that life-like quality that one can read again and again, it has moments that many of us can identify with it; it is a nice place to inhabit and celebrate 'something' with someone we value and admire; a friend, a sibling, a parent, a lover.

    Actually, I have not read these essays in any particular order, the ones that I am instinctively drawn to are the ones that are on 'writing' (unfortunately there were not many), for instance, 'Life Writing' but I was a bit disappointed as it hardly lasted more two or three pages. Some of the other essays that I liked reading are 'On Optimism and Despair', 'Generation Why,' 'The I Who Is Not Me' and 'Man versus Corpse.'

    A long time ago I read her brilliant essay ''Fail Better'' and I guess essays like that compelled me to buy her book. However, I must add that there are essays which do require some sort of background knowledge or just sincere interest and a lot of patience to admire them in the section titled 'The Gallery.' I skipped those ones.

    There is a lot in the book that is ordinary since she sells the publishers can put anything in the compilation to bring out a fat book. Having said this, there are essays I found brilliant, they are so good that one understands why she 'felt free' to put the mediocre ones in the book.

  • Andre

    ⭐⭐⭐.5 The standout aspect of these essays is the writing is always stunning. It is not difficult to understand why Zadie Smith is hailed in all corners of the literary world. There is an essay where she is talking about Joni Mitchell’s music and the passion rising off the page made me go, search and listen to some Joni Mitchell tunes. Wow. That is the power of effective, great, and passionate reading. The one drawback to this collection is the lack of clarity about when these essays were crafted

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5️⃣ The standout aspect of these essays is the writing is always stunning. It is not difficult to understand why Zadie Smith is hailed in all corners of the literary world. There is an essay where she is talking about Joni Mitchell’s music and the passion rising off the page made me go, search and listen to some Joni Mitchell tunes. Wow. That is the power of effective, great, and passionate reading. The one drawback to this collection is the lack of clarity about when these essays were crafted. The lack of dates attached to the pieces is frustrating, although at times the content will be the clue to the time period. Reading through the essays you get the impression that Zadie Smith is a very sharp intelligent woman. Someone that you would love to engage in conversation. She is highly engaged when discussing art, writers, and culture even though some references will feel obscure.

    Why Feel Free as a title? As she writes in the forward, “I have no real qualifications to write as I do. Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist. I’m employed in an MFA programme, but have no MFA myself, and no PhD. My evidence – such as it is – is almost always intimate. I feel this – do you? I’m struck by this thought – are you? Essays about one person’s affective experience have, by their very nature, not a leg to stand on. All they have is their freedom. And the reader is likewise unusually free, because I have absolutely nothing over her, no authority. She can reject my feelings at every point, she can say: ‘No, I have never felt that’ or ‘Dear Lord, the thought never crossed my mind!’“ I have been enriched and informed by these essays and I'm confident most readers will come away with a similar conclusion.Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Books for an advanced ebook. Book will hit shelves February 18, 2018.

  • paulie

    eclectic material like christian marclay's 24 hr movie,

    ; mark bradford's video homage to marylin monroe's walk in

    ; sarah sze's "centrifuge" art installation; brexit/english politics and policies; the film

    (wonderful film, frustrating essay - zadie,

    eclectic material like christian marclay's 24 hr movie,

    ; mark bradford's video homage to marylin monroe's walk in

    ; sarah sze's "centrifuge" art installation; brexit/english politics and policies; the film

    (wonderful film, frustrating essay - zadie,

    you are familiar with schopenhauer; must you find annnnnnny and evvvvvvvvery excuse to stuff his name into the crust that is this essay?!? it seemed like there were fourteen mentions too many past the point where i said if i see that name once more i'll [depends on mood]), a rather fun key & peele interview, a number of book reviews, and personal stories/tidbits throughout.

    what i thought would take four to five days to complete took close to two months, and i must admit i did skip some of the essays (either they were just too brutally unexciting a few pages in or the subject matter seemed the aforementioned without sampling any). for me, collecting all these essays together made for an extremely dense read. i'll accept all the weight, but ms. smith is just too academically elevated compared to myself; if the language didn't feel like it was going over my head naturally it felt like she was indeed trying too hard. again, it's not that i didn't enjoy learning new material, but with so many lengthy, linguistically labyrinthian lines after line after line (

    ) it made the reading experience a chore - the retained, absorbed information too little a consolation prize.

  • Roman Clodia

    A mixed collection of essays: the best are when Smith is discussing issues of politics (the closure of public libraries, the Brexit vote) where she brings a personal intimacy to national questions.

    Less enticing are the 'musing' essays where Smith responds to artworks, books, or plays with ideas such as how different dancers epitomize styles of authorship. These pieces often have an interesting idea at their heart but they feel unstructured, sometimes unfinished, more like entries in a writer's

    A mixed collection of essays: the best are when Smith is discussing issues of politics (the closure of public libraries, the Brexit vote) where she brings a personal intimacy to national questions.

    Less enticing are the 'musing' essays where Smith responds to artworks, books, or plays with ideas such as how different dancers epitomize styles of authorship. These pieces often have an interesting idea at their heart but they feel unstructured, sometimes unfinished, more like entries in a writer's diary than a polished essay. They also feel too long: shortened and sharper would have held my interest more and made the piece more impactful.

    So not for me a book to be read cover to cover, but good for something stimulating and thoughtful to dip into while commuting. Thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley.

  • David Yoon

    Zadie offers up a collection of her essays here but what's interesting it that she notes in the foreword that all of them were written during the Obama presidency and therefore a product of an already bygone world. An interesting prompt for an essay I'd wish she'd written as well.

    I am the poor reader that is willing to meet the author part of the way but cannot subsist on language alone. That is to say Smith scores some easy hits for me with her essays on Jay-Z, Key and Peele and I loved her ex

    Zadie offers up a collection of her essays here but what's interesting it that she notes in the foreword that all of them were written during the Obama presidency and therefore a product of an already bygone world. An interesting prompt for an essay I'd wish she'd written as well.

    I am the poor reader that is willing to meet the author part of the way but cannot subsist on language alone. That is to say Smith scores some easy hits for me with her essays on Jay-Z, Key and Peele and I loved her examination between writers and dancers and she convinced me that I need to read more art criticism, especially if it's done as well as her.

    On the other hand her Harpers Magazine review of books I had no desire to read. While they are perfectly tuned to the specific style expected of the magazine they otherwise left me nodding off. Like any collection it's uneven. It's also a doorstopper of a read. But what shines is the warmth in which she speaks to the reader, perhaps a Zadie from a pre-Brexit, pre-Trump world.

  • Christy Childers

    My most anticipated 2018 book!

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