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Feel Free: Essays

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,685 ratings  ·  444 reviews
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 ...more
Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Penguin Press
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3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,685 ratings  ·  444 reviews

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Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 deal
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

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 in
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
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

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
Rod-Kelly Hines
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
There's enough here for any and everybody to enjoy! Brava Queen!
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction, 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
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
Max Urai
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
David Yoon
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Nov 19, 2017 rated it liked it
⭐⭐⭐.5 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 crafted ...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.)
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 to ...more
Shawn Mooney
Nov 06, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
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.
Vivek Tejuja
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My association with the works of Zadie Smith started somewhere in 2003, with White Teeth. It was one of those books that are actually unputdownable (I have always been of the opinion that terms such as these are nothing but marketing gimmicks). Since then, Smith has been one of my favourite writers and with good reason. Her prose is like biting into a plum – tart and sweet and almost awakens you from your stupor. It makes you stand up and take notice of how the world works and perhaps what it al ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Molly Ferguson
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an advance reading copy graciously lent to me.

What is truly amazing about Zadie Smith is her ability to go from "low" culture to high art in one sentence - she'll be musing on Key and Peele or Jay-Z and suddenly launch into a deep discussion of Schoepenhauer, Berger, or Buber. She tackles climate change, Brexit, Facebook, race, the boring parts of parenting, how pleasure is better than joy. Some of the essays in this book were so sparkling and luminescent, they are instant classics. Tho
Jul 27, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aoc, nonfiction
My most anticipated 2018 book!
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love her essays more than her fiction, and always jump to read a new one -- so I'd read about half of these before. And I'd read them again. She's brilliant, she writes beautifully, and has a charmingly open enthusiastic curiosity for so many different things -- art, politics, dance, books, movies, other people.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Alanna Why
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Even though I skipped a quarter of these essays, this collection contains the line "The boat was full of young British writers, many of them drunk, and a few had begun hurling a stack of cheap conference chairs over the hull into the water," thereby automatically gaining 4-star status.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Zadie Smith's mind.
Mina De Caro (Mina's Bookshelf)
Read more on Mina's Bookshelf

" can't fight for a freedom you've forgotten how to identify. To the reader still curious about freedom I offer these essays--to be used, changed, dismantled, destroyed or ignored as necessary!"—Zadie Smith

I enjoyed this collection of essays: Smith weaves all kinds of themes into its fabric (from the wry and yet poignant portrait of a generation, Generation Why?, lost in the hedonistic values of the social network to the
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,
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week:
Zadie Smith reads from her latest essay collection where she offers sharp, and often funny, insights and observations on high culture, pop culture, social change, political debate and the personal.

Episode 1 of 5
Today, she reflects on growing up in multicultural London in the 1980s.

Episode 2 of 5
Today, some lessons on the connection between writing and dancing.

Episode 3 of 5
Today's essay is the talk Zadie gave in Berlin on 10th November, 2016 on receiving the
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
Erin Attenborough
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Is there anything Zadie Smith can’t do? Following her last novel (‘Swing Time’ – nominated for the Man Booker Prize, no less) ‘Feel Free’ is a collection of essays, ranging from the intimately personal to the critically topical. She opens with a nostalgic reminiscence of her favourite bookshops and libraries, while only two essays later is despairing over the implications of Brexit. Smith looks in at herself and out on the world, writing with both clarity and nuance across each of her essays. Sh ...more
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Reading Women: 10) An Essay Collection 10 79 May 29, 2018 06:30AM  
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  • The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness
  • Known and Strange Things: Essays
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America
  • What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World
  • Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
  • The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays
  • The Face: Strangers on a Pier
  • This Is Running for Your Life: Essays
  • Tonight I'm Someone Else: Essays
  • Essayism
  • The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New
  • The Girls in My Town: Essays
Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and NW, as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. Swing Time is her fifth novel.

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“I am seized by two contradictory feelings: there is so much beauty in the world it is incredible that we are ever miserable for a moment; there is so much shit in the world that it is incredible we are ever happy for a moment.” 20 likes
“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.” 17 likes
More quotes…