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Feel Free

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  6,024 ratings  ·  827 reviews
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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 29th 2018 by Hamish Hamilton
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Max Mulholland No, not really. I slogged through the entire collection and found it to be largely a bore.

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Though I still haven't read any of her fiction, I really feel, on the strength of these essays, that Zadie Smith is My Kind Of People. Her tone and references and outlook on life seem intimately familiar, drawn as they are, like mine, from that optimistic, multicultural jumble that was London in the 90s, when ‘multicultural’ wasn't yet a dirty word and when most things were going steadily, boringly in the right direction. Of course, her experiences of this were a little sharper than mine – she w ...more
Sean Barrs
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those that like Smith's fiction
Shelves: 4-star-reads, essays
“Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious uncertain elements: language, the world, the self.”

I love this quote and I’d gladly write my own essay with that as the starting point because it’s so completely true. I really can see this idea in Zadie Smith’s fiction.

And Smith has many other brilliant ideas across this excellent collection of essays; she is a remarkable woman with a very remarkable mind. She expresses herself so clearly and so simply; yet, with a great dea
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, recs
A five-part collection of cultural criticism, personal essays, and political writings, Feel Free showcases Zadie Smith's versatile range as a writer. Smith takes on many topics, from Brexit and the politics of public space to Justin Bieber and the influence of teen idols. The collection's eclecticism is its greatest strength and weakness; there's something in here for everyone, but few will find all the essays of interest, in spite of the fact that they're consistently well crafted and thought p ...more
The essays in this book have been published before, mostly in the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, but it is quite something to see and read them all together. One has the impression of a very talkative, precocious teenager who notices ceaselessly, has opinions on everything, and is curious what you think but wants to get her view out there first, in case you change her mind. The flexibility of her mind and her fluency is the remarkable thing.

Reviewers and other novelists will find
Roman Clodia
Dec 29, 2017 rated it liked it
A mixed collection of essays: the best are when Smith is discussing issues of politics (the closure of public libraries, the Brexit vote) where she brings a personal intimacy to national questions.

Less enticing are the 'musing' essays where Smith responds to artworks, books, or plays with ideas such as how different dancers epitomize styles of authorship. These pieces often have an interesting idea at their heart but they feel unstructured, sometimes unfinished, more like entries in a writer's
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Zadie Smith must have felt freer in writing this book. She deals with a broad range of issues. There is no single theme that runs through them. There are essays that are quite ordinary. I have expected far more intellectually stimulating stuff from her. For instance 'North West London Blues' did not speak to me at all. In reading this book, I also have the feeling that since she is so well-known, no matter what she writes, she finds readers.

However, some of the essays are brilliant. For instance
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Zadie offers up a collection of her essays here but what's interesting it that she notes in the foreword that all of them were written during the Obama presidency and therefore a product of an already bygone world. An interesting prompt for an essay I'd wish she'd written as well.

I am the poor reader that is willing to meet the author part of the way but cannot subsist on language alone. That is to say Smith scores some easy hits for me with her essays on Jay-Z, Key and Peele and I loved her ex
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read as one book it's a bit much to spend all that time in someone else's head, but enjoyed these essays. ...more
Zachary F.
"Readers who prefer their ideologies delivered straight—and straight-faced—will find [Zadie Smith] a frustrating read. To [Smith] the world is weird and various, comic and tragic. If this mixed reality can't always be fully admitted while standing on soapboxes, sitting in parliament, or marching down Whitehall, it should at least be allowed existence in novels."

In the original version of that quote Smith is describing the work of Buddha of Suburbia author Hanif Kureishi, not herself; but any
Max Urai
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
So: Zadie Smith, it seems, has replaced David Foster Wallace as my new person-to-aspire-to-be writer. Some pretty major shit going on with that right now. More as the story develops.
I just found a writer that I absolutely adore. I will read everything Smith writes from now on. I'm slightly embarrassed that I haven't read her until now.

If you read nothing else in this book of essays and reviews, you must read the one on Justin Bieber. It's brilliant. Though, there are quite a few not-to-be missed essays in this collection. Reading this author, I felt full in the same way I do when I muse or write or leisurely read Woolf. While I read the book cover-to-cover, you could do so
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2018, essays
Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two. If my writing is a psychodrama I don't think it is because I have, as the internet would have it, so many feels, but because the correct balance and weight to be given to each of these three elements is never self-evident to me. I
W.D. Clarke
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Dipping into this from time to time over the past months was almost always a pleasure, as Ms. Smith's congenial-yet-slightly-deracinated tour guidance and co-conspiratorial interpellation of this reader could manage to somehow get him interested in such a diverse range of subjects as Brexit, Anomalisa, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Dance/Writing and Justin Bieber/Martin Buber nexuses (nexi?). The section on art in the gallery was fine (but could've benefited from some reproductions at least), but in ...more
Nov 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
⭐️⭐️⭐️.5️⃣ The standout aspect of these essays is the writing is always stunning. It is not difficult to understand why Zadie Smith is hailed in all corners of the literary world. There is an essay where she is talking about Joni Mitchell’s music and the passion rising off the page made me go, search and listen to some Joni Mitchell tunes. Wow. That is the power of effective, great, and passionate reading. The one drawback to this collection is the lack of clarity about when these essays were cr ...more
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. My first Zadie Smith, but not my last. I want to be her BFF. Her mind is lively, free-ranging, compassionate, self-effacing... I just love her!
(By the way, I read this as an audiobook, which I highly recommend. The reader is great.)
Katia N
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve read two collections of Smith’s essays back to back. And that allowed me to observe a great evolution from the older to the recent collection. The first one was written as if Zadie was put into a straightjacket to write it. The writing was too rigid as if she could not relax and just follow the flow of her thoughts. She was writing in the first person, but the impression was that it was not her. The voice was coming from somewhere outside. The essay on her visit to Liberia was the least suc ...more
Zadie Smith is one of those authors I "met" in the early aughts when her fiction was really just starting to become a thing. I worked at an independent bookstore in Columbia, Missouri at the time, and we had a table in the front of the store covered with new trade paperbacks. I wasn't so much into contemporary fiction/nonfiction at the time, preferring primarily the classics. But each summer I took a trip to visit my grandparents in Wisconsin via Greyhound bus, and on those occasions I would sea ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
[3++] It is totally unfair to rate this collection only 3 stars but this rating is partially for me as a reader. Smith is the most dazzlingly brilliant essayist I've read and when her thoughts connect with my brain, it is like fireworks - opening up synapses long dormant and making me dizzy with new ideas. There are a handful of essays in this collection that I thought were amazing! She is scary smart and disconcertingly humble.

Yet in this collection, I ended up skimming several of the essays a
Michael Livingston
3.5 probably. There are some cracking essays in here, and Smith is always thoughtful and engaging as a writer. I felt like the collection could have been edited down a bit - it felt like a compendium of every essay she'd written in a five year period. The section on books was probably my favourite overall, but I thought the essay on dance/writing was just brilliant. Definitely worth your time. ...more
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
I did a fifth of this collection of essays on audio and came up against the same brick wall that makes me deeply dislike her fiction: she is so stuck up in her head that I don’t feel a god damn thing when I read her. I’m glad Zadie Smith exists in the world, but she is not a writer for me.
Just gonna say, Some Notes on Attunement is one of the best essays about music I've ever read. I know 100% nothing about Joni Mitchell. I'm sure I've heard something of hers at some point, but I have no idea what, and I've always sort of put her in this camp with U2 and the Beatles and Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton (aka artists that a lot of people really, really love and who are generally considered some of music's greats, but whom I have absolutely no interest in). This essay made me want ...more
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is an absolute joy and a pure pleasure to read Zadie Smith. With her wit, charm, and beautiful prose in this collection, she more than makes up for Swing Time. I love the essay and I love Zadie Smith and this collection is both of those at their very best. I've read all of Smith's fiction and have loved most of it, but this is everything I love about her--her playful writing, astute observations, and wisdom distilled. I don't even care that half of the essays are about stuff I've never heard ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, us, uk
I loved the first volume of her reviews, articles and essays, this one - not so much. I think as we both got older, our sensibilities and interests moved apart.
Peter Tillman
I picked this up mostly to read her semi-famous essay on how she came to love Joni Mitchell's music, "Some Notes on Attunement" (New Yorker, 17 Dec 2012). Which is interesting and wide-ranging: from her parents' LPs through Kierkegaard, Tintern Abbey and other topics -- including Joni Mitchell's music (she likes "Blue"). And ends with a quote from Joni's (upcoming?) autobiography. First line: "I was the only black man at the party."

Hmm. So, not what I was expecting, but a quick look into Zadie S
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems there are two kinds of readers when it comes to Zadie Smith: those who love and admire her writing and those who dislike and are annoyed by it. I typically fall into the former camp: her gift with prose is deft, her intellect fierce, and I get a kick out of the characters she creates in her fiction. Curiously, I'm smack in the middle with this collection of essays. Her keen intelligence glimmers on every page, no doubt, and when she's musing on a relevant topic--social media, Italy, Jor ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of essays spans a diverse range of topics: current events, music, art, books and movies, to name a few of the observations, covering both ends of the cultural spectrum. As an ex-librarian, I especially appreciated the piece on public libraries (‘the only thing left on the high street that doesn't want either your soul or your wallet’) and also the section on other writers. Her review of the work of Magnus Mills (one of my favourite authors) is particularly enlightening.
Some of t
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Has a couple brand new essays that are better and fresher than ever. Most are collected from her book and art reviews from nyrb ( the best overall of her mature writing) New Yorker ( what? Do they stamp out New Yorker writing in a factory or something, it’s always glib, smart, a bit not as deep as it seems...) and other New York pubs. The short guardian book reviews are very fun and informative to get to nub of a book. She didn’t do that long though as she had a baby at same time and just couldn ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I had read articles, listened to Zadie Smith’s interviews, but I had not read a novel or a collection from her until now. An American Exception, published in The New Yorker, a few months back, is the last article I had read from her. In it she writes “Death comes to all—but in America it has long been considered reasonable to offer the best chance of delay to the highest bidder.”

Thinkers like Smith pull the reader like a magnet because they provoke one’s own thinking. I wanted to start with her
Laura Sackton
The range of subjects Smith explores is this collection is truly dizzying: from the personal to the political, the philosophical to the physical, Brexit to Justin Bieber, Phillip Roth to Karl Ove Knausgard. Here are essays about her neighborhood library, traveling through Italy with her father, social media, music from rap to Billie Holiday to Joni Mitchell, and films of all persuasions, from arthouse to mainstream. She writes about art that has mattered to her at various times in her life, from ...more
Feb 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Average of 2.5. Some essays were a 1 for me (no!); others, a 5 (yes!).

Nicely bookended with what turned out to be my favourite essays, "Northwest London Blues" and "Joy" (my absolute favourite of the bunch), the majority of the rest of them - though it absolutely pains me to say it - in my opinion, were just very...meh. I know, I know, I'm cringing at myself just for typing that. Again, let me stress that this is just my personal opinion.

Such is the challenge of books of essays - to the reader,
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Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time, as well as two collections of essays, Changing My Mind and Feel Free. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Ta ...more

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