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Overview

From Zadie Smith, one of the most beloved authors of her generation, a new collection of essays

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world's preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.

Arranged into five sections—In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free—this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network—and Facebook itself—really about? "It's a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore." Why do we love libraries? "Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay." What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? "So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we'd just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes—and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat."

Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, "Joy," and, "Find Your Beach," Feel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith's own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive—and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525528739
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

ZADIE SMITH is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time, as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind.

Hometown:

London, England

Date of Birth:

October 27, 1975

Place of Birth:

Willesden, London, England

Education:

B.A. in English, King's College at Cambridge University, 1998

Read an Excerpt

Brother from Another Mother

The wigs on Key & Peele are the hardest-working hairpieces in show business. Individually made, using pots of hair clearly labeled— “Short Black/Brown, Human,” “Long Black, Human”—they are destined for the heads of a dazzling array of characters: old white sportscasters and young Arab gym posers; rival Albanian/ Macedonian restaurateurs; a couple of trash-talking, church-going, African-American ladies; and the President of the United States, to name a few. Between them, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play all these people, and more, on their hit Comedy Central sketch show, now in its fourth season. (They are also the show’s main writers and executive producers.) They eschew the haphazard whatever’s-in-the-costume-box approach—enshrined by Monty Python and still operating on Saturday Night Live (SNL)—in favor of a sleek, cinematic style. There are no fudged lines, crimes against drag, wobbling sets, or corpsing. False mustaches do not hang limply: a strain of yak hair lends them body and shape. Editing is a three-month process, if not longer. Subjects are satirized by way of precise imitation—you laugh harder because it looks like the real thing. On one occasion, a black actress, a guest star on the show, followed Key into his trailer, convinced that his wig was his actual hair. (Key—to steal a phrase from Nabokov—is “ideally bald.”) “And she wouldn’t leave until she saw me take my hair off, because she thought that I and all the other guest stars were fucking with her,” he recalled. “She ’s, like, ‘Man, that is your hair. That’s your hair. You got it done in the back like your mama would do.’ I said, ‘I promise you this is glued to my head.’ And she was squealing with delight. She was going, ‘Oh! This is crazy! This is crazy!’ She just couldn’t believe it.” Call it method comedy.

The two men are physically incongruous. Key is tall, light brown, dashingly high-cheekboned and LA fit; Peele is shorter, darker, more rounded, cute like a teddy bear. Peele, who is thirty-five, wears a nineties slacker uniform of sneakers, hoodie and hipster specs. Key is fond of sharply cut jackets and shiny shirts—like an ad exec on casual Friday—and looks forty-three the way Will Smith looked forty-three, which is not much. Before he even gets near hair and makeup, Key can play black, Latino, South Asian, Native American, Arab, even Italian. He is biracial, the son of a white mother and a black father, as is Peele. But though Peele ’s phenotype is less obviously malleable—you might not guess that he ’s biracial at all— he is so convincing in voice and gesture that he makes you see what isn’t really there. His Obama impersonation is uncanny, and it’s the voice and hands, rather than the makeup lightening his skin, that allow you to forget that he looks nothing like the president. One of his most successful creations—a nightmarish, overly entitled young woman called Meegan—is an especially startling transformation: played in his own dark-brown skin, she somehow still reads as a white girl from the Jersey Shore.

Between chameleonic turns, the two men appear as themselves, casually introducing their sketches or riffing on them with a cozy intimacy, as if recommending a video on YouTube, where they are wildly popular. A sketch show may seem a somewhat antique format, but it turns out that its traditional pleasures—three-minute scenes, meme-like catchphrases—dovetail neatly with online tastes. Averaging 2 million on-air viewers, Key and Peele have a huge second life online, where their visually polished, byte-size, self- contained skits—easily extracted from each twenty-two-minute episode—rack up views in the many millions. Given these numbers, it’s striking how little online animus they inspire, despite their aim to make fun of everyone—men and women, all sexualities, any subculture, race or nation—in repeated acts of equal-opportunity offending. They don’t attract anything approaching the kind of critique a sitcom like Girls seems to generate just by existing. What they get, Peele conceded, as if it were a little embarrassing, is “a lot of love.” Partly, this is the license we tend to lend to (male) clowns, but it may also be a consequence of the antic freedom inherent in sketch, which, unlike sitcom, can present many different worlds simultaneously.

This creative liberty took on a physical aspect one warm LA morning in mid-November, as Key and Peele requisitioned half a suburban street in order to film two sketches in neighboring ranch houses: a domestic scene between Meegan and her lunkhead boyfriend, Andre (played by Key), and a genre spoof of the old Sidney Poitier classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. “One of our bits makes you laugh? We have you, and you will back us up,” Peele suggested, during a break in filming. “And, if something offends you, you will excuse it.” Sitting at a trestle table in the overgrown back garden of “Meegan’s Home,” he was in drag, scarfing down lunch with the cast and crew, and yet—for a man wearing a full face of makeup and false eyelashes—he seemed almost anonymous among them, speaking in a whisper and gesturing not at all. On set, Peele is notably introverted, as mild and reasonable in person as he tends toward extremity when in character. Looking down at his cleavage, he murmured, “You often hear comments, as a black man, that there ’s something emasculating about putting on a dress. It may be technically true, but I’ve found it so fun. It’s not a downgrade in any way.”

When Key sat down beside Peele, he, too, seemed an unlikely shock merchant, although for the opposite reason. Outgoing, exhaustingly personable, he engages frenetically with everyone: discussing fantasy football with a cameraman, rhapsodizing about the play An Octoroon with his PR person and ardently agreeing with his comedy partner about the curious demise of the short-lived TV show Freaks and Geeks (“ahead of its time”), the present sociohistorical triumph of nerd culture, and a core comic principle underpinning many of their sketches. (“It’s what we call ‘peas in a pod’: two characters who feel just as passionate about the same thing.”)

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Part I In the World 1

Northwest London Blues 3

Elegy for a Country's Seasons 14

Fenes: A Brexit Diary 20

On Optimism and Despair 35

Part II In the Audience 43

Generation Why? 45

The House That Hova Built 64

Brother from Another Mother 74

Some Notes on Attunement 100

Windows on the Will: Anomalisa 117

Dance Lessons for Writers 136

Part III In the Gallery 149

Killing Orson Welles at Midnight 151

Flaming June 160

"Crazy They Call Me": On Looking at Jerry Dantzic's Photos of Billie Holiday 164

Alte Frau by Balthasar Denner 173

Mark Bradford's Niagara 181

A Bird of Few Words: Narrative Mysteries in the Paintings of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye 187

The Tattered Ruins of the Map: On Sarah Sze's Centrifuge 201

Getting In and Out 212

Part IV On the Bookshelf 225

Crash by J. G. Ballard 227

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi 236

Notes on NW 248

The Harper's Columns 251

The I Who Is Not Me 333

Part V Feel Free 349

Life-Writing 351

The Bathroom 354

Man Versus Corpse 366

Meet Justin Bieber! 381

Love in the Gardens 394

The Shadow of Ideas 406

Find Your Beach 420

Joy 427

Afterword 436

Picture Credits 437

Acknowledgments 438

Index 445

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