Will The Real Zadie Smith Please Stand Up?
There's always more gossip than content going around the Internet about author Zadie Smith, whether it's Vogue mis-identifying someone else as her in a photo (the insulting inaccuracy was ridiculed via Maud and the Old Hag) or the Rake raking up her rap preferences. Smith has something that stands above the gossip, though - one of the best writing talents in generations, and now another book to prove it.
For the uninitiated (as if!), Smith wrote White Teeth, which was a huge success - the multicultural, multi-stylistic London novel of great literary exuberance that it seemed the world had been dreaming about. She followed it up with The Autograph Man, which sold well but was critically raked over the coals by James Wood and others. However, if the negative reviews helped in some part spawn the spirit of the Believer, we think it was worth it. And now she's written On Beauty, perhaps her best novel yet, which is in its second week on the NY Times bestseller list. On Beauty is nominated but not favored for the Booker Prize, and the critics seem to have forgiven her for being original this time around.
We saw her read at 826 LA on Sunday, having breathlessly finished the book that morning. Smith personalized every book, and politely answered lots of banal questions, including ours. (Why did you tell Ian McEwan you weren't going to write sex scenes? I didn't want to, but needed to show Kiki's sexuality and appeal with Howard.) And we have to say it - to combat rumors like these - she was gracious and kind to all of her admirers, not to mention a dryly witty reader of the Mozart chapter. As for On Beauty, if you still need to know why it's good, read this article. But good it is. Very good. One of the best ever.