Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, I was excited. When I saw a review in Time (on the Top 10 Non-fiction books of 2009, incidentally) that compared her gifts as an essayist to those of my FAVORITE writer David Foster Wallace, I was ecstatic. And when the book arrived and I discovered that the last of the 17 essays is a 40-page tribute to DFW, I damn near lost my mind. For me, this is like the Coen Brothers making a movie about Marquette basketball — a near-perfect combination of Greg-obsessions!
The book itself is very, very good — Smith's incomparably charming voice and "astonishing intellect" are on full display here. The essays are split into five subject-based sections and range from literary criticism to movie reviews to an essay on humor. Frankly, not every essay will be interesting to every reader — there were a few here I struggled to get through (about an obscure Italian film, about Middlemarch, about Kafka). But on the whole, it's a wonderful collection.
As shocking as this may be, my favorite piece is the DFW essay — her talent screams to the surface here, not just eulogizing HER favorite writer (she actually began the essay when he was still alive, and finished after he'd died) but also explaining his literary philosophy, and how and why she thought a genius like DFW wrote fiction. One of my favorite DFW quotes of all time is "Fiction's about what it means to be f@#$ing human," and the highlight of the essay for me is Smith unpacking this quote to explain why DFW thought fiction in general and language specifically allowed us to empathize with our fellow humans and escape solipsism. The essay is difficult at times, but very well worth the effort; just like DFW's stories, you have to invest the time and work to truly reap the benefits.
Other highlights of the collection include a lecture to Columbia University writing students about her writing process titled "That Crafty Feeling." This is highly recommended reading for any aspiring writer. Another is an essay about a trip to Liberia — Smith carefully records the destitution and poverty with terrifying vividness. Finally, as sharp and witty as her literary criticism is, her film review is just as good. One of the best essays is a collection of several reviews of 2006 films — they're funny, honest and just a blast to read, and a very concrete example of Smith's range as an essayist!
I have an extra copy of the book and want to get it in the hands of someone who will enjoy Smith's talent as much as I do. So, here are the rules, which I'll try to keep simple. You'll collect a number of "entries" based on the criteria below. Please comment and tell me which of the following applies for you (just be honest, and don't forget your email address so I can get a hold of you if you win.):
+1 for a new follower.
+2 for an existing follower.
+2 for posting a link to this review/giveaway on your blog. (Please include the link in your comment.)
+5 for identifying your favorite Zadie Smith novel, and writing a short paragraph explaining why it's your favorite.
The deadline for entry is Monday, Feb. 15. The winner will be chosen via a random drawing.