Review of Zadie Smith’s new book of essays

Sam Sacks in Open Letters Monthly:

Lb_ChangingMyMind_5074I suspect that Zadie Smith is more alive than anybody to the ironic fact that her first collection of nonfiction was supposed to be called Fail Better, except that it fell through, and what she has published instead is titledChanging My Mind. Fail Better seems to have been pretty far along. It had been heralded by a rousing two-part manifesto (titled “Fail Better” and “Read Better”) in London’s Guardian. Smith discussed it in interviews in definite tenses. It even had one of those grandly didactic subtitles that publishing houses so adore: “The Morality of Fiction.”

The presentation of Changing My Mind, in comparison, is marked by chastened self-effacement. In her Foreward, Smith makes the unpromising remark that she didn’t even know she had the material for a book until someone pointed it out to her. The subtitle is simply “Occasional Essays.”

Such an evolution wouldn’t be worth noting if Changing My Mind were unremarkable. But in a short time Smith has made herself one of the most interesting and individual book reviewers to be found. There is enough great criticism in this book to belie the humble premise that what’s collected is only an ad hoc assortment of paid pieces.

More here.