The New Essay by Zadie Smith

1 03 2018

Zadie Smith’s brilliance is on display in ‘Feel Free’

Upon opening “Feel Free,” Zadie Smith’s new essay collection, you’ll be surprised to learn that she doubts her literary talent, her critical acumen. I suppose that many literary writers are skeptical or anxious about their chosen profession. I know I am: though some invisible force compels us to create, we writers sometimes feel ourselves fraudulent intellectually, not knowing enough about anything to represent human experience or critique the arts successfully. Smith ought not be one of those writers though. Since 2000, Smith — London born and bred, now a New Yorker — has published six substantial, exceptional works of fiction (including the 2012 novel “NW,” a tour de force formally and stylistically) and an excellent work of nonfiction, “Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays” (2009).

Across her eighth book’s five parts — “In the World,” “In the Audience,” “In the Gallery,” “On the Bookshelf,” “Feel Free” — Smith has distributed a slew of essays, reviews (including a folio of “Harper’s” columns) and lectures written from 2009-17. Over the course of 435 pages, she covers Brexit and the waning British state; climate change; David Fincher, Facebook and internet 2.0; Billie Holiday; Joni Mitchell; Key & Peele; Schopenhauer, Charlie Kaufman and stop-motion animation; black beauty, black sorrow, oil painting and a horror movie about white liberals; the vagaries of lower-middle-class British life in the 1980s and ’90s; literary fiction and the discontinuous self; Justin Bieber, Jay-Z and joy.

Smith’s continuous stream of productivity, her topical range, the accolades laureling her books, her prodigious artistic abilities, should be evidence enough to assuage her fears about credibility. And yet, as Smith explains in the new collection’s foreword, her anxiety arises from believing she has “no real qualifications” to write as she does. “Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist,” Smith thinks that her essays rest shakily on evidence that is “almost always intimate. I feel this — do you? I’m struck by this thought — are you?” She worries that her writing has “not a leg to stand on” because it’s born from “affective experience” and not argument. “All [the essays] have is their freedom. And the reader is likewise unusually free, because I have absolutely nothing over her, no authority.”

Read further @ LA Times

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Why Salter Writes

29 11 2017

JAMES SALTER: WHY I WRITE

AN AMERICAN MASTER ON THE ORIGINS OF HIS CRAFT

“To write! What a marvelous thing!” When he was old and forgotten, living in a rundown house in the dreary suburbs of Paris, Léautaud wrote these lines. He was unmarried, childless, alone. The world of the theater in which he had worked as a critic for years was now dark for him, but from the ruins of his life these words rose. To write!

One thinks of many writers who might have said this, Anne Sexton, even though she committed suicide, or Hemingway or Virginia Woolf, who both did also, or Faulkner, scorned in his rural town, or the wreckage that was Fitzgerald in the end. The thing that is marvelous is literature, which is like the sea, and the exaltation of being near it, whether you are a powerful swimmer or wading by the shore. The act of writing, though often tedious, can still provide extraordinary pleasure. For me that comes line by line at the tip of a pen, which is what I like to write with, and the page on which the lines are written, the pages, can be the most valuable thing I will ever own.

Read further @ Literary Hub





Reflections on the Rich Language of Fantasy

29 10 2017

ON THE 13 WORDS THAT MADE ME A WRITER
SOFIA SAMATAR REFLECTS ON THE RICH LANGUAGE OF FANTASY

There was a library and it is ashes. Let its long length assemble.

These words made me a writer.

When I was in middle school, my mother brought home a used paperback copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. “I thought this looked like something you might like,” she said.

At the time, I was an avid fantasy fan, but also an increasingly tired and gloomy reader. Driven by an early love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, I had exhausted the fantasy shelves at my school and downtown libraries in just a few years, and my only remaining source of new books, in those pre-Internet days, was Waldenbooks at the local mall. There I wandered every Saturday with my allowance in my pocket. One weekend I was lucky enough to discover Labrador by Kathryn Davis, which was shelved among the commercial fantasies either by mistake or through some audacious genre-busting among the staff. Most of the time, though, I read disappointing books looking for something good. I had been to Mirkwood Forest, so I read books full of watered-down Mirkwoods, wondering why the feeling was not the same. I had heard the terrifying words uttered among the Tombs of Atuan: She is eaten. And so I paged through paint-by-numbers landscapes and twee rhyming prophecies, searching in vain for the feeling I called fantasy.

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How Murakami began writing

5 06 2017

HARUKI MURAKAMI: THE MOMENT I BECAME A NOVELIST

One bright April afternoon in 1978, I attended a baseball game at Jingu Stadium, not far from where I lived and worked. It was the Central League season opener, first pitch at one o’clock, the Yakult Swallows against the Hiroshima Carp. I was already a Swallows fan in those days, so I sometimes popped in to catch a game—a substitute, as it were, for taking a walk.

Back then, the Swallows were a perennially weak team (you might guess as much from their name) with little money and no flashy big-name players. Naturally, they weren’t very popular. Season opener it may have been, but only a few fans were sitting beyond the outfield fence. I stretched out with a beer to watch the game. At the time there were no bleacher seats out there, just a grassy slope. The sky was a sparkling blue, the draft beer as cold as could be, and the ball strikingly white against the green field, the first green I had seen in a long while. The Swallows first batter was Dave Hilton, a skinny newcomer from the States and a complete unknown. He batted in the leadoff position. The cleanup hitter was Charlie Manuel, who later became famous as the manager of the Cleveland Indians and the Philadelphia Phillies. Then, though, he was a real stud, a slugger the Japanese fans had dubbed “the Red Demon.”

I think Hiroshima’s starting pitcher that day was Yoshiro Sotokoba. Yakult countered with Takeshi Yasuda. In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba’s first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.

I can still recall the exact sensation. It felt as if something had come fluttering down from the sky, and I had caught it cleanly in my hands. I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Whatever the reason, it had taken place. It was like a revelation. Or maybe epiphany is the closest word. All I can say is that my life was drastically and permanently altered in that instant—when Dave Hilton belted that beautiful, ringing double at Jingu Stadium.

After the game (Yakult won as I recall), I took the train to Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of writing paper and a fountain pen. Word processors and computers weren’t around back then, which meant we had to write everything by hand, one character at a time. The sensation of writing felt very fresh. I remember how thrilled I was. It had been such a long time since I had put fountain pen to paper.

Read the whole article @ Literary Hub