Some dancers when they get frustrated and feel like they’ve lost their way return to the barre, what is constant and true. I return to Zadie Smith.
When I discovered her my last semester of my Senior year in college, I was looking for a contemporary author that ignited me. Julian Barnes almost did and is a very close second. I was working with themes of race, identity, and different generations coming together in my Honors Capstone project, so when we were assigned White Teeth, I nearly exploded. It was what I had been looking for in so many ways.
If you have not read Zadie Smith, I recommend starting with White Teeth. It is still my favorite. I really like the way she writes. It’s very matter of fact but approachable, like she’s sitting across the table in a coffeehouse telling you this story about these people she knows.
Her writing is very visual. She really directs the camera in your head. The first scene in White Teeth, you can just see the camera coming in from above to focus on the first character. It’s a scene that would open a movie, make you ask, “What happened to bring him to this?”
I picked up the audiobook version of On Beauty and am plugging through it before the shop opens. Sitting there in the quiet shop with the narrator going, his deep voice tumbling through the different voices effortlessly, I realized this is nice and I remembered the first time I read Zadie. I felt like I found a mentor. This is someone I could read and gobble up. This is what I want readers to feel when they read my work: Wow. Not because it’s amazing (that’d be nice, of course) but because they’re swept away by the story and remembering why they like reading.
The shop opens and the day is going really well. One of my last customers of the day is an English major who has been in before. It’s the first semester of her Senior year and she’s in the same literature class where I discovered Zadie Smith. I didn’t want to sway her judgement so I didn’t say anything about the reading list.
“What do you think of the class so far?” I asked while she was waiting for her tea to cool.
“It’s good,” she said. “We’re supposed to be reading Joseph Conrad, but I flipped through this book, White Teeth, and started reading that one instead.”
Funny how a book and an author can bookend your day.
Do you have a favorite author? What did you feel when you first read them?