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He'd had the sense, moments earlier, that Caroline was on the verge of accusing him of being "depressed," and he was afraid that if the idea that he was depressed gained currency, he would forfeit his right to his opinions. He would forfeit his moral certainties; every word he spoke would become a symptom of disease; he would never win an argument.

Jonathan Franzen

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Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

I started reading Zadie Smith's first novel, White Teeth, on the train this morning, and got so wrapped up that I continued reading for another half hour after I got off the train, and came in to work a little late. I'm reading this on the recommendation of Jennifer Egan. And feeling a bit excited about how much contemporary fiction I have been reading lately -- Smith is five years my junior, where most of the authors I have read in my time are much older than I -- maybe this heralds a new day of my being more up-to-date in my literary tastes.

posted morning of September 12th, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about White Teeth

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

A couple of things about White Teeth -- God it is making me feel old! I am identifying closely, in parts, with Archie and with Samad, in all their flawed, petty weakness. From a little reading of her Wikipædia bio, Irie would seem to be the character that represents the author. I am reading the chapter that centers around her education right now, and finding it very powerful -- the description of her class reading Sonnet 127 seemed like kind of a set piece, but it moved me.

posted evening of September 14th, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about Readings

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Yesterday I finished reading White Teeth and started reading The Autograph Man. White Teeth starts out great and just keeps getting better and better as it progresses. The ending blew me away. The vast quantity of threads left loose and hanging did not bother me at all, indeed it added something. My initial reaction to The Autograph Man was, it seems really fun and well-written, sort of like a more coherent equivalent of The Fan Man, but not a Serious Novel in the same way White Teeth was. Of course this reaction prompts me to do some thinking about what would make it serious or not -- I haven't come up with much yet in that regard. For now I am treating it as an analogue of The Crying of Lot 49 and hoping it grows on me the same way that novel has.

posted morning of September 20th, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about The Autograph Man

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

I am warming up to The Autograph Man. Thinking about what I meant by saying it was not serious, probably it was that I suspected there were not going to be any layers of meaning under the playful narration -- that's probably why I compared it to The Fan Man, which I remember enjoying a lot but not seeing any meaning in its play.

But now I am seeing those layers of meaning that I thought would not be there. So. Don't judge a book by its first few chapters -- I have read through Part I now and am just starting Part II -- and it seems to me the core of Part I was a non-verbal debate among Alex-Li, Adam, Mark, and Joseph over what the experience of being Jewish is. What hipped me to this was reading a post of Teofilo's that I happened on today, which describes a take on the Jewish experience that I think is very close to Mark's. Compare Teo's post to this passage: matter what Mountjoy thought, he had not become a rabbi to please his father. In his own small way he had wanted to carry things forward. Like the continuity man on a film set. At the time, this was an analogy that had not satisfied Adam, who thought the call to the rabbinate should be entirely pure, a discussion a man has with God. But God had never spoken to Rubinfine, really. Rubinfine was simply, and honestly, a fan of the people he had come from.... This was the only way he had ever found to show it, that affection.

I am seeing now what this book has in common with White Teeth, which is that both books are about communities, the characters are seen primarily as members of their community. I liked that about White Teeth and it is coming in well here too.

posted evening of September 21st, 2006: Respond

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

I really like the pacing of The Autograph Man -- the movement can be furiously fast but at the same time you feel a kind of deliberation on the author's part, a conscious movement through the story -- the connections undergirding the text feel like the beams of a building's skeleton.

posted afternoon of September 22nd, 2006: Respond

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

I finished The Autograph Man today and found the ending very powerful. And let me just say that based on the two books I've read so far, Ms. Smith is the queen of the loose thread. There are so many bits of unresolved sub-plot as you get to the end, you cannot help but think there's no way these are all going to be wrapped up in any way approaching verisimilitude -- and feel a wave of relief at the end, when many are just left hanging. It does not feel willy-nilly either -- the threads that are left open are the ones best suited to keep the story in your consciousness a while longer, thinking about how it could move forward past the closing scenes.

posted evening of September 26th, 2006: Respond

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

🦋 Too much head, not enough heart

I liked reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty, for the fluidity of the prose and for the nicely structured narrative; but in the end I was disappointed. Her other books really spoke to me, allowed me to enter into the story in spirit; here I was just me, sitting in front of the screen watching the action but with no way of identifying with the actors.

posted afternoon of October 12th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about On Beauty

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

🦋 Speaking in Tongues

I am a comic novelist, idiot-savant of the humanities; lecturing is outside my remit.
Hendrik Hertzberg alerted me today to the publication of Zadie Smith's article "Speaking in Tongues" in the current NY Review of Books. It's adapted from a lecture she gave at the NYPL's "NYPL Live" series in December; you can download a recording of the lecture from the series page. Smith speaks very eloquently of Pygmalion and of Dreams from My Father, of Obama's "story of a genuinely many-voiced man".
We'll see if Obama's lifelong vocal flexibility will enable him to say proudly with one voice "I love my country" while saying with another voice "It is a country, like other countries." I hope so. He seems just the man to demonstrate that between those two voices there exists no contradiction and no equivocation but rather a proper and decent human harmony.

posted evening of February 11th, 2009: Respond

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

🦋 The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

I must thank Alicia Kennedy for alerting me to the existence of a BBC adaptation of White Teeth (2002), and to its availability at I watched the first episode this evening; it is just magnificently, ebulliently well done. Smith's strong narrative voice is missing, but the filmmakers (Julian Jarrold, director; Simon Burke, screenplay) have found their own distinctive, resonant approach to the story. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

posted evening of April 20th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about The Movies

Friday, December 21st, 2012

🦋 An auspicious find, this first day of the long weekend!

I'm a little out of the English-lit loop I guess -- I did not even know this was in the works. Got a signed copy from Shakespeare & Co. on Lexington!

posted afternoon of December 21st, 2012: 1 response

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