58 posts tagged zadie smith
We’d like to wish Zadie Smith good luck at the National Book Critics Circle Awards tonight! We’ll keep our fingers crossed for NW.
The NBCC blog interviewed Ms. Smith about her latest novel:
Ben Janse: Do you think authors owe it to their readers to be socially conscious in their novels and attempt to address the social issues of the day?
Zadie Smith: No. I don’t think authors owe their readers anything, or vice versa - it’s not that kind of relationship. That said, I personally enjoy writing that attends to the present. I can see that the historical past comes with its own gravitas and weight, and that many writers rely on that as ballast. And to many readers, too, the present feels weightless, ‘trendy,’ un-literary. I find I like that problem. I like taking on the challenge of a reader’s contempt for his own times.
BJ: What was the hardest thing to write in NW?
ZS: All of it. It was a difficult book to write. It was difficult fighting my own tendency towards smoothness. Smoothness can be a great advantage in a novel, a great asset to keep things bobbing along at a certain pace; but it can also be a way of being glib, of passing over what should be more closely examined. I wanted to create a different quality of attention in my reader.
Practically speaking, too, it was just a long process. Seven years is a long time and I had other obligations. It’s different writing with children and without, different writing at my age as compared to when I was 22. But despite the difficulties I found it to be by far the most rewarding writing experience of my life so far.
With the National Book Critics Circle Awards coming up next week, we’re curious: which novel gets your vote? Take our Facebook Poll to see if your pick beats the competition (in our highly, highly unscientific study).
The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its 2012 Awards this morning. A big congratulations to all of the authors! (Especially Zadie Smith and Steve Coll.)
- Laurent Binet, HHhH. tr. by Sam Taylor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ecco
- Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son. Random House
- Lydia Millet, Magnificence. W. W. Norton
- Zadie Smith, NW. The Penguin Press
- Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random House
- Steve Coll, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The Penguin Press
- Jim Holt, Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story. A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton
- David Quammen, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. W.W. Norton
- Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Scribner
- Reyna Grande, The Distance Between Us. Atria Books
- Maureen N. McLane, My Poets. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies. Blue Rider Press
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, In the House of the Interpreter. Pantheon
- Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Alfred A. Knopf
- Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton
- Lisa Jarnot, Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography. University of California Press
- Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. Crown Publishers
- Paul Elie, Reinventing Bach. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture. New York Review Books
- Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey. Wave Books
- Marina Warner, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. Belknap Press: Harvard University Press
- Kevin Young, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness. Graywolf Press
- David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. University of Chicago Press
- Lucia Perillo, On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths. Copper Canyon Press
- Allan Peterson, Fragile Acts. McSweeney’s Books
- D. A. Powell, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys. Graywolf Press
- A. E. Stallings, Olives. Triquarterly: Northwestern University Press
You’re so used to this kind of smoothness in writing, this feeling that you, the reader, or you, the writer, are this great empathic, wondrous soul. I would love to be that, but of course when we see the way we behave in the world really to other people, we’re confronted with a different version of who we are. Not just this wonderful, tolerant, broad person who sees humanity and everything, but someone a little more narrow, self-defended, sometimes cruel, sometimes selfish. I wanted to try and show that. And also, someone who—people who live in a city, who are able to switch off these famous values of empathy and tolerance and love quite suddenly when you need to. Or if you need to. I wanted to be honest about that experience, but it’s not something you want reflected back at you perhaps, it’s not a pleasure. But reading can be many things: sometimes it can be a pleasure, sometimes it’s a bit tougher. It’s a broad church that way.
Penguin Press - Best Articles of 2012
We’re highlighting our favorite articles and stories from the past twelve months or so. Enjoy:
by Zadie Smith
Last time I was in Willesden Green I took my daughter to visit my mother. The sun was out. We wandered down Brondesbury Park towards the high road. The “French Market” was on, which is a slightly improbable market of French things sold in the concrete space between the pretty turreted remnants of Willesden Library (1894) and the brutal red brick beached cruise ship known as Willesden Green Library Centre (1989), a substantial local landmark that racks up nearly five hundred thousand visits a year. We walked in the sun down the urban street to the concrete space—to market. This wasn’t like walking a shady country lane in a quaint market town ending up in a perfectly preserved eighteenth-century square. It was not even like going to one of these Farmer’s Markets that have sprung up all over London at the crossroads where personal wealth meets a strong interest in artisanal cheeses.
But it was still very nice. Willesden French Market sells cheap bags. It sells CDs of old time jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. It sells umbrellas and artificial flowers. It sells ornaments and knick-knacks and doo dahs, which are not always obviously French in theme or nature. It sells water pistols. It sells French breads and pastries for not much more than you’d pay for the baked goods in Gregg’s down Kilburn High Road. It sells cheese, but of the decently priced and easily recognizable kind—brie, goat’s, blue—as if the market has traveled unchanged across the channel from some run-down urban suburb of Paris. Which it may have done for all I know.
The key thing about Willesden’s French Market is that it accentuates and celebrates this concrete space in front of Willesden Green Library Centre, which is at all times a meeting place, though never quite so much as it is on market day. Everybody’s just standing around, talking, buying or not buying cheese, as the mood takes them. It’s really pleasant. You could almost forget Willesden High Road was ten yards away. This matters. When you’re standing in the market you’re not going to work, you’re not going to school, you’re not waiting for a bus. You’re not heading for the tube or shopping for necessities. You’re not on the high road where all these activities take place. You’re just a little bit off it, hanging out, in an open air urban area, which is what these urban high streets have specifically evolved to stop people doing.
Everybody knows that if people hang around for any length of time in an urban area without purpose they are likely to become “anti-social.” And indeed there were four homeless drunks sitting on one of the library’s strange architectural protrusions, drinking Special Brew. Perhaps in a village they would be sitting under a tree, or have already been driven from the area by a farmer with a pitchfork. I do not claim to know what happens in villages. But here in Willesden they were sat on their ledge and the rest of us were congregating for no useful purpose in the unlovely concrete space, simply standing around in the sunshine, like some kind of community. From this vantage point we could look ahead to the turrets, or left to the Victorian police station (1865), or right to the half-ghostly façade of the Spotted Dog (1893).
We could have a minimal sense of continuity with what came before. Not so much as the people of Hampstead must have, to be sure, or the folk who live in pretty market towns all over the country, but here and there in Willesden the past lingers on. We’re glad that it does. Which is not to say that we are overly nostalgic about architecture (look at the library!) but we find it pleasant to remember that we have as much right to a local history as anyone, even if many of us arrived here only recently and from every corner of the globe.
“In my own reading life, I’ve been pulled first in one direction, then in the other. Reading has always been my passion, my pleasure, and I am constitutionally drawn to any thesis that gives power to readers, increasing their freedom of movement. But when I became a writer, writing became my discipline, my practice, and I felt the need to believe in it as an intentional, directional act, an expression of an individual consciousness.”
-Zadie Smith, “Rereading Barthes and Nabokov,” from Changing My Mind
Penguin Press - Best Articles of 2012
We’re highlighting our favorite articles and stories from the past twelve months or so. Enjoy.
Here’s Zadie Smith’s tour of Kilburn, using her novel NW. You can also watch her tour of Willesden Lane, Camden Lock, and 37 Ridley Ave.
And of course you can read a bit of NW itself, here.