Changing My Mind Occasional Essays

So when I like something, I like it on repeat. I mean this in the broadest sense possible: with books, yes, but also movies, foods, music—which is how I once ended up in the library with a Lana Del Rey song playing on a loop over my headphones. It took about twenty minutes for someone to come over and tell me that my audio jack hadn’t been plugged in proper—and could I please turn off the sound, thank you.

Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays is one of my trustiest regular rereads. Most times I revisit different essays for different days, different moods; other times, if I really need comfort, it’s one of two: ‘E. M. Forster, Middle Manager’, and ‘That Crafty Feeling’. It’s this pair of essays in particular that do what the entire collection does—speak with you, the reader, argue with you and drunkenly babble with you—only at double the wattage, double the power.

There is something about the way Smith writes about other writers—whether she’s a fan or not—that I can only call wry yet fond. Reflecting on Forster’s anxieties, she talks of how he surrounded himself with characters who themselves were the When writing about Forster’s radio stints, Smith describes him as something of a who fears that The exasperated affection in her tone is infectious, peaking when she pokes fun at his radio habit of after each episode, Reading Smith reading Forster is like witnessing two people at a party—obviously dear friends—refer to one another as, ‘oh yeah, that idiot,’ then go teary-eyed into their glass of wine.

That potent mix of kindness and deprecation is just as liberally applied when Smith reflects on her own work. In ‘That Crafty Feeling’, an essay describing ten stages of writing a novel, Smith talks about recognising fellow micromanaging writers: that opening pile-up of a And yet, a few sentences following this side-eyed self-criticism, she’s defiantly kind to herself (and all writers, really) in describing the process of finishing a novel—producing this darling and relatable gem of an image: Smith, having just penned the last words, drinking wine from a bottle while standing in her back yard—then lying down on It was

Some might see Changing My Mind come by and dismiss it for falling too much in the writer-writing-for-writers camp. This, I would say, fully biased as I am, would be a mistake. Each essay in this collection is a seat at Smith’s dinner table; its musings, ingenious nuggets, awful jokes and truly brilliant pieces of advice that will stay with you for days, weeks. From questioning the power of the author (‘Rereading Barthes and Nabakov’), to what knowledge means when it comes solely from experience (‘Middlemarch and Everybody’), to the implied whiteness of the ‘neutral’ writer (‘Their Eyes Were Watching God: What Does Soulful Mean?’)—Smith introduces topics with the same hand as she delves deep into their history, comfortable in the knowledge that you’re keeping up. And to your surprise—you always do.


Penguin Books

A sparkling collection of Zadie Smith's nonfiction over the past decade.

Zadie Smith brings to her essays all of the curiosity, intellectual rigor, and sharp humor that have attracted so many readers to her fiction, and the result is a collection that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Split into four sections—"Reading," "Being," "Seeing," and "Feeling"—Changing My Mind inA sparkling collection of Zadie Smith's nonfiction over the past decade.

Zadie Smith brings to her essays all of the curiosity, intellectual rigor, and sharp humor that have attracted so many readers to her fiction, and the result is a collection that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Split into four sections—"Reading," "Being," "Seeing," and "Feeling"—Changing My Mind invites readers to witness the world from Zadie Smith's unique vantage. Smith casts her acute eye over material both personal and cultural, with wonderfully engaging essays-some published here for the first time-on diverse topics including literature, movies, going to the Oscars, British comedy, family, feminism, Obama, Katharine Hepburn, and Anna Magnani.

In her investigations Smith also reveals much of herself. Her literary criticism shares the wealth of her experiences as a reader and exposes the tremendous influence diverse writers—E. M. Forster, Zora Neale Hurston, George Eliot, and others—have had on her writing life and her self-understanding. Smith also speaks directly to writers as a craftsman, offering precious practical lessons on process. Here and throughout, readers will learn of the wide-ranging experiences—in novels, travel, philosophy, politics, and beyond—that have nourished Smith's rich life of the mind. Her probing analysis offers tremendous food for thought, encouraging readers to attend to the slippery questions of identity, art, love, and vocation that so often go neglected.

Changing My Mind announces Zadie Smith as one of our most important contemporary essayists, a writer with the rare ability to turn the world on its side with both fact and fiction. Changing My Mind is a gift to readers, writers, and all who want to look at life more expansively....more

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published November 12th 2009 by The Penguin Press HC

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