Week Eight, Book Eight: Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Five years ago something compelled me, I can’t remember what, to pick up Zadie Smith’s book NW. I don’t remember why I picked it up and I can’t recall any of its content. What I do remember is struggling to understand it and grappling with self-hatred and hatred of the words themselves, as I fought to get through the first 50 pages. I never did.
But Zadie Smith is cool. She wears cool thick glasses and has great bone structure and loves Karl Ove Knausgaard. And everyone literary who knows anything seems to love her writing. And I too really wanted to love her books. Zadie Smith is the boyfriend who looks good on paper who your parents love but who you just can’t quite muster all the feels for. At least this is the way she has been for me.
This book of essays was no exception. I enjoyed approximately 1/3 of the book’s essays; those dealing with topics of a more personal nature, or rather meditations on topics that did not require any specialized knowledge or information (libraries, optimism and despair, Justin Bieber, writing etc). These essays were quite excellent, if a little anemic. The rest of the essays in the book dealt with literature, art, film, and so-called high culture. Reading them made me feel like a philistine of the first order. I pushed through and read 300-some pages (out of a total 435) in a profoundly frustrated state.
I think it’s good for the mind and good for the soul to sometimes struggle with books. We grow when we grapple. I think there can be a payoff for reading (and living) outside of our comfort zone, but I’m giving this book 3 out 5 pug tails for the simple reason that the reading experience was only intermittently pleasurable.
3 out of 5 pug tails does not reflect the book’s literary merit but rather my inability to lose myself in the reading. It’s not fair to ding Zadie Smith because of my own ignorance, but the simple fact is that I often wished for the book to be over. I guess I’m done trying to love Zadie Smith, but just like that good-on-paper-boy, I’m sure I’ll return to her again at some point, telling myself she deserves another try and that there must be something that I missed.