I am so glad that I left Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays until the very end of the Summer Reading Adventure–Smith writes so passionately about so many books that I haven’t read that if this had been the first work I’d read ten weeks ago, I would never have been able to stick to the books I’d already committed to. As it is, I have my next work cut out for me. Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland is about the only book Smith writes about that I’ve read–and now I absolutely have to read it again.
Smith divides the book into five parts: Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, and Remembering. She writes with breathtaking authority and incisive intellect–not for nothing is she a fellow of Cambridge in addition to being a novelist herself. She knows her way around literature, and I feel as if I’ve had a tiny seminar on the novel from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Her essay on David Foster Wallace is not to be missed, regardless of whether one likes his writing or not–the reverence she shows towards a fellow writer so engaged with trying to reach some kind of truth is inspiring and humbling.
The book also includes her movie reviews–again, another area I’m not completely conversant with, but it is incredibly apparent how much fun she is having with these reviews and also with her piece on Hollywood and attending the Oscars. Hers is a trenchant eye and a wit that resonates even beyond the page.
Smith writes movingly about her family–her father, so much older he could have been her grandfather, her brother who is breaking into comedy, the difficulty of growing up in a family divided by divorce: “But we do sense the more difficult truth: that Family represents the reality of which Christmas is the dream. It is, of course, Family (messy, complex, miserable, happy, so many gradations of those last two words) that is the real gift, beneath the wrapping. Family is the daily miracle, and Christmas is the enforcement of ideals that, in truth, do not matter.”
This is an excellent book, well worth the reading, and a good bridge into many other writers, thinkers, directors, and ideas about culture, both contemporary and past, high and low. And now I must get back to reading the writers she so highly praises–there is no end!
Thank you all for these ten weeks of reading adventure, and thank you to Alison for putting the effort into keeping this site up and running and for all of your amazing reviews! On to a fall adventure??
Oh, and I should mention this book, Changing My Mind, cost me one penny at a used book store–probably the best book bargain of my life in terms of what it has given me in thinking about books and philosophy and movies and families and culture. Proof that a great book is worth well more than its actual cost….but it’s great to save some cash these days!