Nabokov, Meet 50 Cent: Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind

Zach Baron in The Village Voice:

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 11 15.21 Those who have been paying attention to Zadie Smith since her White Teeth debut likely already know about her affinities for E.M. Forster, Lil Wayne, George Eliot, Kafka, and Fawlty Towers. She's one of probably three working writers capable of smuggling a riff on the perils of “keeping it real” into The New York Review of Books. And who else is near versatile enough to credibly compare the oratorical tics of novelist-philosophers Tom McCarthy and Simon Critchley to those of Morrissey, circa the Smiths? Like her rhetorical comrade Barack Obama, Smith doesn't just speak for her variegated experience as a 34-year-old critic, rap fan, global citizen, comedy connoisseur, cinema dilettante, black woman, reluctant professor, and, lest we forget, virtuoso novelist—she speaks the experience itself.

The last novel Smith published, On Beauty, made explicit homage to Forster and gave a main character the name Zora, as in Neale Hurston. And so in Changing My Mind, Smith's new book of occasional essays, both writers get critical evaluations. In an appraisal of her own first novel, Smith once copped to some “inspired thieving” from Nabokov—he, too, receives extended consideration in Changing My Mind. “This book was written without my knowledge,” the author admits in the foreword, meaning it was written piecemeal, unintentionally. In a drawer somewhere still sits “a solemn, theoretical book about writing,” entitled Fail Better. The next novel, which would be Smith's fourth, remains unfinished. This is what was written instead, along the way.

More here.