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Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  5,538 ratings  ·  675 reviews
A sparkling collection of Zadie Smith's nonfiction over the past decade.

Zadie Smith brings to her essays all of the curiosity, intellectual rigor, and sharp humor that have attracted so many readers to her fiction, and the result is a collection that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Split into four sections—"Reading," "Being," "Seeing," and "Feeling"—Changing My Mind in
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 12th 2009 by The Penguin Press HC
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Violet wells
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
I've sometimes thought it would be great fun to chat with Zadie Smith about books and films. I'm not sure I any longer feel that. In these essays Zadie Smith proves how erudite she is but my feeling often was that this was her principle insecure aim. To show us how erudite she is.

The first few essays are her takes on various writers - including Forster, George Eliot and Nabokov, writers I know reasonably well. However, not once did she provide an exciting eloquent insight on any of them. Woolf
Before I settled down to read The God of small things, I read a collection of Arundhati Roy's essays listening to Grasshoppers, I was well prepared then when I came to the fiction for its earnestness and political nature.

I hoped that this trick might serve me well with Zadie Smith as well that this collection of articles for newspapers and magazines could be a springboard into her fiction. Except now I feel at a greater remove from her than I did before - which might of course prove that this is
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm going pop off this quick little salvo and then move on to other things. Zadie Smith never calls the novel dead in this book. She also never tries to bury the lyrically realistic novel, one gets the feeling that she enjoys the more experimental side of literature but she seems more to want both sides to be able to live, breathe and grow together. She never calls the novelistic form she works in antiquated. I don't think there was a poor reading done of her, I think there was a willful misread ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"There may be truths on the side of life."
- Saul Bellow, quoted in Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind


I love Zadie Smith. But not in any of the Greek formal ways. I love her in multiple ways, spilling over each other. I love her brain. I love her prose. I love how closely she reads. I love how different her perspectives are to mine and how similar AT THE SAME TIME. She reminds me why I love writing, movies, Nabokov, DFW, family and why I need to love all these things and more -- better. She began the
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Since Mr. David Giltinan has already said everything I wanted to say about this book, plus a lot of other stuff I didn’t want to say but can certainly live with, please turn to his review now:

For my money—and that’s Canadian money, so beware: it’ll fuck up your gumball machine—Changing My Mind is notable for three pieces: "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men", a tribute to David Foster Wallace that’s so astute and generous that it’d almost be worth dying if
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
So there it is: Zadie Smith ties the brooding Karl Ove Knausgaard for Biggest Literary Obsession of 2013.
Why I have waited this long before getting to her work is a little baffling to me but she has been a force in my intellectual and imaginary landscape for some weeks now, never relenting, never weakening, only gaining in speed and strength, like a hurricane.
And obsessed I shall remain, especially after reading these essays which are as varied and wide-ranging as can be, crackling with wit an
Peter Boyle
Jun 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book contains a collection of essays from the supremely talented Zadie Smith. In a wide-ranging assortment, she expounds upon subjects such as literature, movies and family, all with razor-sharp insight and typical eloquence.

I have to say I liked the literary criticism least of all. I found the pieces on E.M. Forster and Kafka hard to get through. Maybe I don't know enough about these authors to begin with, but too often it felt like Smith was just trying to show off the contents of her adm
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
[4+] I think Zadie Smith is a brilliant essayist. I particularly loved the essays "Rereading Barthes and Nabokov" which made me realize that literary criticism can actually be worthwhile and "That Crafty Feeling" about her writing process.

The essays collected here are kind of a hodgepodge - many are about literature, TV and film. The essays that didn't resonate with me were because of my unfamiliarity with the particular topic - but I assume they were brilliant also. She also writes beautifully
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
As nearly every single review of Changing My Mind goes out of its way to emphasize, Zadie Smith is a smart person. A smart, smart, smart person. And in this collection of essays—which span from literature to cinema to autobiography and many places between—intelligence is on full display. But what makes Smith stand out from the vast majority of intelligent people who write today is that she has a knack for taking intricate theoretical issues and making them comprehensible for, well, if not exactl ...more
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have been inside Zadie Smith’s crafty, clever head for many hours and pages this past week. I have digressed from the essay collection itself a number of times, only to go down various Google holes to read interviews with Zadie, articles by or about her. There is so much food for thought in this collection (and in the stuff I found at the end of the Google holes) that I’m still reeling from it, still digesting it all.

The collection is divided into five sections named: Reading, Being, Seeing, F
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
Of the fifteen essays in this collection, there is only one out-and-out dud (Zadie reports on the Oscar weekend). The rest range from good to amazing. Even the superficially unpromising pieces have something to offer. The final essay, an appreciation of David Foster Wallace, is altogether terrific. Her remarks about DFW's deliberate choice to make his writing difficult for the reader are smarter than almost anything else I've read on the subject. She obviously loves his work, but not to the poin ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Smith treats a plethora of subjects in this collection; praising Forster and George Eliot, arguing for the demystification of Kafka, illuminating the Black cultural idea of soulfulness, detailing and analysing her visits to Liberia and to LA for the Oscars; recalling episodes from her father's life, and passionately advocating an appreciation of David Foster Wallace.

I feel affection and empathy for Smith throughout this book, admiring her eloquence and sharing her literary and political sensibil
Dec 12, 2010 rated it liked it
I gave Zadie Smith's book of essays three stars, instead of four, because it's clear she's still in the process of formation. There are two paths laid out before her, and two personae she adopts in these essays: the Public Intellectual/Star Academic/Writer, and the Reader/Writer.

The two roles are easily discernible as distinct entities in her writing, even as it's clear that they may not be so separate in her own mind. In her first role as Public Intellectual, she has pen, will travel, then writ
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
Zadie Smith writes really well but this isn't a book for the consumption of the general public. It is heavy on the literary critique and theory and, if you're not knowledgeable in the field and particularly if you haven't read the books mentioned, it gets dull. I was still able to draw some interesting thoughts from the first part but had to give up altogether in the last section: a lengthy critique of David Forster Wallace's work, which I'm not familiar with.

Thankfully in the middle, there wa

Here Smith often uses that Victorian-style omniscient, generalising narrative voice (as in her fiction) which makes her seem wonderfully wise when I agree with her, and pompous and annoying when I don't.
When younger contemporary authors persist in this style (dead people and pensioners I give a pass to), it makes me want to tell them to go and do a several-months long counselling skills course and have to learn "speaking from the 'I' position" - I would love to know how it would affect their th
Michael Cabus
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In my 20s I studied computer science in graduate school, my first graduate degree (one more would come later, in my quest to surpass my father, that sort of inheritance of failure I felt I needed to escape). I took the train from work to class, then back home, and on one such night I was reading White teeth, Zadie Smith's debut novel on the train. I heard a woman's voice, which I was surprised to discover was directed at me.

"Are you reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith?", she asked.

Given the cover
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of Ms. Smith's projects in this rather sprawling collection is an assembly of the disparate. That sounds Foucauldian and I think I am wide of the mark with my designation, but only just. Such strange pieces are collected between these soft covers and I remain on the margins of my wits to discern the "what for." It speaks of my amateur treatment of essays that I regard the value of such in its ability to persuade me to the author's perspective. By my metric the early essays were failures. I d ...more
MJ Nicholls
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing

I love Zadie Smith. Her essays are so fluid and learned and passionate, so intimate and insightful and intelligent, how could I not love her? Among the pieces collected here include the moving "Dead Man Laughing" about her father (Smith comes from an atypical family background), a horrifying report on Liberian aid workers, and the dissertation "The Difficult Gifts of David Foster Wallace."

Essential fodder for the passionate modern reader.

Let it be known that I have horrendous taste in film. Every smidge of desire for exploration in the realms of literature is countered by an equal or greater absence of such when it comes to movies, to the point that I'll happily rewatch the likes of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' trilogy in the midst of rereading The Tale of Genji. As such, when I pick up a book of essays about bookish things, that's exactly what I expect. Bookish things. Throw in comedy and personal history if you must, bu
Jen Padgett Bohle
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I've been daydreaming about Zadie Smith being both my professor and my best friend. We'd go for a sandwich in Camden discussing Jean Rhys or George Eliot and then recount the details of the latest Jud Apatow film and the handsome stranger over by the drinks...

What can’t this woman do? And with such charm and perspicacity! She was analyzing postcolonial literature and Zora Neale Hurston when I was still stuck on Sweet Valley High as a 12 year old. She really knows her literary shit. But I really
Oct 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
3.5 stars. I wish I could have given it more stars but there were just some essays I, personally, didn't care about. My favorite parts were BEING and FEELING in their entirety, as well as, most essays from the READING section. I didn't care much for the section on movies and old Hollywood stars (even though her feelings for Katherine Hepburn accurately describe how I feel about Beyoncé haha) and the last 50 pages of REMEMBERING weren't able to capture my attention for long. I still recommend it ...more
Mar 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This collection of essays—covering a wide range of topics from literature to film to biography—is an excellent showcase for Smith's intelligence and skill. The ones which I enjoyed most were some of those in which she engages with literary topics, ones which unsurprisingly seem to engage her most—Middlemarch, Their Eyes Were Watching God, E.M. Forster, Barthes and Nabokov (through whose writing Smith explores a lot of the tension in modern authorship and readership and helped me reach a greater ...more
Elli (The Bibliophile)
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays, 2015
As with other collections, whether they be short-stories or essays, Changing My Mind contained selections that I loved, as well as sections I did not find as interesting. Despite this, I have to say this was a very good collection of essays! The essays that I liked, I really loved, and I didn't really dislike any of the essays in particular, I just didn't connect to the topics. Some of my favourite essays from this collection include
"Rereading Barthes and Nabokov," "That Crafty Feeling," Zadie
 Ariadne Oliver
I picked this one up because of a review in the 50books_poc community and I'm glad I did. I enjoyed it a lot.

The essays cover a broad range from George Eliot and E. M. Forster over writing and Liberia to movie reviews and personal life. I found the author's voice to be pleasant and original. A lot of the book made me think or smile or both. My favorites were the essays about literature, I'd read a whole book just about that.
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A disparate and wide ranging series of essays, mixing criticism of books and films, family history and travelogue. Smith is never less than engaging and thought provoking, whatever she writes about. The sections about her father are particularly moving, as is the account of the devastation she found on a trip to Liberia, the film criticism is very funny in places and the literary criticism clever and perceptive, though the final section on David Foster Wallace is hard work.
Hannah Garden
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Oh, Zadie Smith. I wish this were a novel. But proofs of collections of essays are good for reading on the train when your home fiction book is a fat old heavy hardcover. And I see that you will be talking about DFW in the end! So . . . good.

Oh man! This was comPLETEly great. Zadie Smith is clever as a devil. And her memoriam to David Foster Wallace is beeaauuutiful.

Except some creepy asshole was trying to crush me into the dumpster with his giant behind while I was finishing the last page. Whi
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
This book made me laugh out loud several times, and tear up just as often. Something special about reading the words of someone you admire when they are talking about things you love (Katherine Hepburn! Phillip Seymour Hoffman! Fawlty Towers! Buffy the Vampire Slayer! DFW!).
Picked up while browsing the Portland (Maine) public library, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays is, maybe somewhat strangely, my first introduction to Zadie Smith, whose fiction I have always heard all manner of raves about. But I was looking for something in a non-fiction narrative vein--seems to be the mood I am in right now--and a number of the essays in this collection seemed intriguing. I may not read the whole collection, but given the variety of subject matter that she covers, I think I ...more
Lauren Matakas
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Before anything else is written, Chapter Seven "That Crafty Feeling", is perhaps one of the best essays regarding writing that I've ever read. "One Week in Liberia" gave me chills and the need to learn more about what kinds of progress are actually happening in Liberia. "What Does Soulful Mean?" is the love letter to an author I wish I could write. This collection was the bits and pieces of the world I hadn't thought about in too long, and it was perfect in that way.

In many of the reviews of th
Carrie Lorig
Dec 17, 2009 rated it liked it
it's not imperative to read this book. but zadie smith is so wonderful. i want all of her super powers. it's such a pleasure to admire her. she's as humble as she is intelligent and able to engage in literature from many angles because of it. (she writes about kafka as effectively as she writes about tom mccarthy and joseph o'neill.) she's every bit the kind of dynamic woman she argues kat. hepburn was. plus, everything she says about 50 cent's movie is fucking weird and straight out of the blog ...more
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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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