october required reading
For A Bit Of Beauty
On Beauty is Zadie Smith’s third novel, the fourth I’ve devoured (pick up White Teeth and NW soon too please). Boy oh freakin’ boy does it deliver the goods. I’ve loved everything Zadie Smith since reading “On Optimism and Despair” last year (yes, I am late to this lit party, but not as late as Sarah who I *forced* to read Swing Time in an act of val-or, see below). The story follows a transatlantic feud between black-English-conservative-anti-affirmative-action Monty Kipps and white-liberal-cheating-fifty-seven-but-still-has-his-hair Howard Belsey, two academics who would probably prefer I said less about their shortcomings and more about their differing opinions on 17th century art.
Of course, their families also become intricately involved in this fight, one that has more to do with how we approach morality than how a couple old men approach Rembrandt. Smith manages to create a deep bench of fascinating and troubled characters in an effortless way that is both incredible and upsetting. Through these mangled families Belsey and Kipps, On Beauty explores the grey areas we dare to traverse when confronted with those most precious things just out of our reach.
What would you do to get what you desire? Would you betray your spouse? Your children? Your ethics? Certainly some enticement will test those bounds. It will appear to you in perfect light, from a distance, hiding it’s bruises as well it blinds. It may have a name like Victoria. It may rap the smoothest lines. It may hand out identity or promise to save your soul. But it will be beautiful. And you’ll have to make a choice.
Here’s your choice: READ ZADIE SMITH.
For A Little Pep In Your Step
I do not call myself dancer but I love to dance. Be it with friends at my favorite coffee-shop-turned-oldies-music-bar on Melrose, on dates to the best salsa and cumbia clubs in the city, or as a tap-dancing Priscilla Girl in my high school’s production of one of the world’s greatest musicals, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Every time I see a musical, ballet performance, or perfectly-choreographed fifties movie, I am overcome with both bitter regret and pure joy.
I am not a dancer, but I am a writer. I sometimes hesitate to define myself in this way because, so far, no one’s really paid me for the opinions I constantly record. But I have always loved words. Writing has been the best way I know how to process anything.
In “Dance Lessons for Writers,” Zadie Smith perfectly connects my obsession with dancing to my desperate need to write. I have a nagging suspicion that she and I are not alone in these feelings. So you should read it, dance it, write it, and then join our Zadie worship cult!
For An Enticing, Not-So-Teen-y Young Adult Experience
I have recently tried to read a lot of books that I felt like I should read. The Neapolitan novels, Didion’s Democracy… I even considered some of the American classics. “I should read some Steinbeck!” I thought, despite already having suffered through Of Mice and Men, of which I only remember the sad, murderous ending, and The Red Pony, of which I only remember the horrifying scene where a psychopathic young boy graphically mutilates a dead bird. What’s with all the murder, Johnny?
Enter Zadie Smith, a real adult woman who has momentarily saved me from my love of young adult fiction. While the novel is not fantastical or predictable, Swing Time still checks my boxes: quick pace, interesting plot, relatable and curious characters, and everyday dramas that do not involve unnecessary Steinbeck-esque rape or murder.
Swing Time is a coming-of-age story that doesn’t end with the age-coming. It evaluates characters across life stages and ponders the residual effects of their upbringings. Anyone can empathize with this beautifully complex narrator trapped in a simple life, wondering what more could have been. Our nameless, unheroic heroine navigates race, sex, aging, and a lot of strong personalities – a one-upping best friend, political mother, and naïve but well-meaning boss – without any of these interactions feeling forced or necessarily teaching some sort of lesson. She simply lives, and it’s exciting to live alongside her.
11/10 would recommend this book, chased by a medley of Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly, and Astaire and Rogers videos.