Changing My Mind, the occasional essays of Zadie Smith and published by Penguin, won't actually be in the bookshops until November 26th and time to confess that until now I have failed miserably with Zadie Smith's fiction, but I plan a revisit because have all the time in the world for her essays.
I managed to desert my post as chief decision-maker about rubbish...throw it...throw it...throw it... and get some precious time with this book and it was the cover that first caught my eye, bit of Bermuda Blue in there but also it felt like those doodles we used to do on the covers of our school books when triple geography lessons took off into something about the Rio Tinto Zinc corporation (why have I never forgotten that?)
From where I sit, this side of fifty, I think of thirty-four year old Zadie Smith as one of the bright young things, that breed of new generation young university thinkers who never stop learning and developing those skills, applying them to a broad range of subjects and thus becoming, before our eyes, writers with a fierce and penetrating intellect, preparing themselves to nip at the heels of the 'old school'. Ready and waiting to take up the mantle of observers and commentators who keep the rest of us on our toes.
Thirty-four seems young to be doing that and in her introduction Zadie Smith says as much,
'When you are first published at a young age, your writing grows with you - and in public. Changing My Mind seemed an apt, confessional title to describe this process. Reading through these pieces though, I'm forced to recognize that ideological consistency is, for me, practically an article of faith.'
I certainly don't mean to sound patronising but if from
where I sit I think I might have been watching Zadie Smith serve an
apprenticeship as I have followed her non-fiction writerly progress, then to my
mind she's now out the other end and with flying colours. Her writing
here feels mature and replete with insight, and she seems completely at home in the medium, right in there using
the essay as 'a space in which to think freely', so much so that I
called a halt on all mess-clearance to read more.
As I sat down and flicked through the various sections Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling and Remembering I could feel that frisson of excitement I get about a book that is really going to give me something back for the time and effort I will invest in reading it...I know it's sad, I should get out more.
Changing My Mind will make me think, will doubtless make me change my mind because the range is vast, from British comedians to pondering how George Eliot's love life affected her prose, to Kafka, then onto good old Barthes' killing of the Author but does Nabakov revive him , the Oscars and what not to wear, to what makes a bad movie.
For obvious Tinker-like and seasonal reasons I focused on a slow read of a very gratifying piece about Zadie Smith's father, Harvey Smith (yes, I thought the show jumper too but no sight nor sound of a horse thus far.) Zadie had talked to him about his involvement in the Normandy landings for a newspaper piece. Eventually, and after unsuccessfully trying to direct Harvey's story to fit her own purpose, Zadie reached the very moving conclusion that,
'He didn't lose himself in horror. Which is a special way of being brave, of being courageous, and a quality my father shares with millions of ordinary men and women who fought that miserable war.'It won't be a book to rush, it will be full of scribbles and I will be back and forth to it on here a great deal in the weeks to come I'm sure.
Meanwhile I think it looks quite nice on the grown-up sofa and please note that thing called a window sill, now seeing daylight for the first time in years.