The subject matter of Zadie Smith’s newest collection of essays, “Feel Free,” ranges wide. She addresses world issues from the perspective of Britain, her home, including climate change, Brexit and multiculturalism. She discusses the origin and use of Facebook. Within the fields of the arts, she presents book reviews she wrote for Harper’s and musings on film, dance, music and television (she’s a big fan of Key & Peele).
She speaks about her own writing in a lecture on the use of the first person, which highlights the groundbreaking work of Philip Roth with “Portnoy’s Complaint.” And she contemplates her family in a series of pieces including one, “The Bathroom,” reminiscing about the choices that her parents made as they achieved stability for their children and in the process jettisoned some of their own dreams.
The joy of this collection is Smith’s straightforward phrasing, often summing up her thesis with a single thoughtful sentence. Her words are not overwritten; they do not distract from her purpose, nor are they a barrier to her argument; they are welcoming. I found myself re-reading the brightest of these sentences over and again, marveling at her humor and her brevity. Here is one of my favorites:
On climate change: “It’s hard to keep apocalypse consistently in mind, especially if you want to get out of bed in the morning.”
This collection fulfills many of our needs with its culture-spanning subject matter, and I for one was not left feeling despair. With rare exception (I’m not enamored of book reviews for books I don’t intend to read), Smith’s essays left me feeling free to ponder her thoughts and her concerns, her passions and her cares. Jonathan Elderfield, AP