Feel Free: Essays

Penguin Pr. Feb. 2018. 464p. photos. ISBN 9781594206252. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780698178885. LIT
Smith, primarily known as a fiction writer (Swing Time, NW, etc.), has added a dazzling second collection (after Changing My Mind) of nonfiction to her already impressive accomplishments. Beginning with essays on the value of public libraries in the digital age, Smith offers penetrating commentary on such subjects as Brexit, Facebook, and climate change, in pieces drawn mainly from those previously published in The New Yorker and New York Review of Books. Venturing into pop culture, she explores the dance styles of Michael Jackson and Madonna alongside those of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly—a bold but intriguing comparison. Smith's most compelling essays feature art and literary criticism. In an extensive analysis of British-Ghanaian painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, the author compares the painter's ability to provoke a narrative to that of the novelist. Works of writers, such as J.G. Ballard and Hanif Kureishi, are treated as refreshing departures from the traditional canon.
VERDICT While Smith's personal approach to essay writing may not please everyone, it successfully analyses art and life through the prospective of the novelist. Fans of Smith's writing, as well as readers of thoughtful nonfiction, will enjoy this book. [See Prepub Alert, 8/14/17.]
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