It’s 2018. We can like Kubrick movies as much as The Bachelorette. We can be as knowledgeable about the debt ceiling as we are about the merits of cream blush. We can have a favorite spice and a favorite Spice Girl.
Zadie Smith gets this dichotomy. In fact, it’s at the heart of her latest essay collection, Feel Free.
In her signature delightfully rambling prose, Smith covers everything from the closure of public libraries in London to that time she ate a fish sandwich with Jay-Z. She’s an expert at mixing high and lowbrow, like in “Meet Justin Bieber!” in which she discusses the Canadian pop singer in relation to the Israeli Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.
As a whole, the essays feel less intimate than Smith's fiction. Where books like Swing Time and White Teeth are teeming with passion and emotion, Feel Free is more clinical, hands-off, almost as if the writer wants us to have our own reactions without telling us how to feel.
On the flip side, the beauty of a collection like this is that there isn’t a tremendous sense of urgency to read it all in one sitting. Instead, this is a book to buy, keep on your nightstand and savor slowly.