Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Discussion: Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

This may or may not become a semi-regular feature here at Opinionated? Me?. Me and my darling, wonderful sister will take a moment to discuss (like we're all smart and junk) a nonfiction work. Because without our dry wit you would probably read none of them.

Title: Changing My Mind (occasional essays)

Author: Zadie Smith

Pages: 306

Received from: library


Split into five sections--"Reading", "Being", "Seeing", "Feeling", and "Remembering"--Changing My Mind finds Zadie Smith casting an accute eye over material both personal and cultural. This engaging collection of essays--some published here for the first time--reveals Smith as a passionate and presise essayist equally at home in the world of great books and bad movies, family and philosaphy, British comedians, and Italion divas. Whether writing of Katherine Hepburn, Kaftka, Anna Magnani or Zora Neale Hurston, she brings a practitioner's care to the art of critism with a style as sympathetic as it is insightful.

Erika: I had only heard of Zadie Smith through passing reference as a "mature" writer in the excellent Ellen Page/Patrick Wilson pedo-psychological thriller Hard Candy. So, one day, I walk into the library to pick up some DVDs I had on hold there--Goodbye, Lenin!, a Fish Called Wanda, and American Graffiti--and I see this hardcover near checkout, where all the new-and-approved books are, with Zadie Smith's name painted in big-ass letters on the cover, the title like an afterthought on the bottom. It's a two-week, and I'm in the middle of reading a classic book I'm in no hurry to finish, so I say, loudly, "What the fuck!", pick it up, and check it out.

First up: "Reading". The first essay, "Their Eyes Were Watching God: What Does Soulful Mean", is pretty much on the tin. It starts with Smith recounting how her mother gave her the book, and her initial reluctance to read it. I haven't read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Say, Danielle, have you?

Danielle: No. I haven't.

Erika: You just skimmed this, didn't you?

Danielle: It was really long.

Erika: Have you heard of Their Eyes Were Watching God, at least?

Danielle: Here and there, I suppose.

Erika: Fine. It's a good examination of the book, what it means for feminism and the definition of what Smith calls "blackness". It, like many book essays, will mean nothing to you if you haven't read it. Second essay: "E.M. Forster, Middle Manager". Character study of Howard's End novelist.

Danielle: This one I did read. Smith basically begins with an examination of the little-known and under-appreciated novelist E.M. Forster.

Erika: What'd I just say?

Danielle: For the record, I wasn't done. She snatched the laptop from my grasping fingers, the hoebag.

Anywho, Smith goes into detail on Forster's ideals and how he seperated himself from fellow authors of his time by neither leaner towards or away from any given subject. Mellow in his ideals, Smith goes on to question his reputation as a "Garden Variety Notable English Novelist".

Erika: It's certainly a well-researched piece.

Danielle: a beacon of words, you.

Erika: 'Tis.

Danielle: In the immortal words of Jay-Z; "On to the next one."

Erika: He was a timid man, humble, and as Smith describes, akin to "a nervous party host". It's a very good essay, if you're familiar with Forster. Again, we are not. Which kind of makes it silly, reviewing a review of a guy you've barely heard of. Which means we will be completely skipping over the essay "Middlemarch and Everybody", which is also well thought out and well-written, and going on to "Rereading Barthes and Nabokov", who me and my sister agree to have both a workable knowledge of Lolita. Care to express some sentiments, darling?

Danielle: I, sir, have read Middlemarch, and thought the essay was quite thought-provoking.

Erika: I'm glad. But we're talking about Barthes and Nabokov now. Keep up.

Danielle: *for shame*

Okay, I'm gonna get beheaded for saying this, but I kind of think Zadie Smith is rather overrated. Her essays are wordy and it seems like shes keeping a thesaurous on hand in case she doesn't sound "smart" enough. Maybe I'm just stupid, but I found myself really confused a lot of the time while reading Changing My Mind. There is nothing wrong with simplicity. Ask Bret Easten Ellis.

Erika: In what way was Bret Easton Ellis simple?

Danielle: His prose, genius.

Erika: Well, fine. Look who's the smart one, casually dropping "prose" like a fucking Harvard graduate.

Danielle: Princeton, I'll have you know.

Erika: ON to the book. What did you think of this particle article?

Danielle: It was fine.

Erika: I'm gonna call you Chatty Cathy from now on. Just to be ironic.

Chatty Cathy: Right. So, lets move on to "F. Kafka, Everyman". I thought it was more of a biography then an analysis.

Erika: The same as all the others, well researched and over thought, but overall well-written, with something bordering on God worship for the titular Kafka (but not really).

CC: Mkay.

Erika: Say something.

CC: my blog, fool.

Erika: Well, then, I'll leave.

CC: Bye.

Erika: Peace out.


CC: that was a success.


robby (once upon a book blog) said...

This sounds really great.
You two are so cute.
I think I'm going to have to read this. :]

Dannie said...

You should. Catch us next time, discussing the feminest eyre "the bust guide to the new girl order" featuring an essay by our beloved COURTNEY LOVE!

Jodie said...

E M Forster is little know in America? Really? I may cry silently now.

Greg Zimmerman said...

Zadie Smith = genius. Did you like the David Foster Wallace essay, in which she explains why he told us why fiction is like what it means to be a f$%#ing human being? That part was sweet.

Dannie said...

I DID, and that WAS frakking badass.

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