For Smith, anything is a potential text that she can subject to her talent for keen observation. She homes in on her subject’s most minute details, unspooling layers of meaning in a way that perhaps only a literary critic can do ... Feel Free’s chief (if unstated) concern is that the kind of intellectual rigidity that lacks interest in aesthetic detail translates easily into intolerance and disregard for human complexity ... Her call to dwell in ambiguity assumes a certain kind of individual: one with the luxury of detaching herself from the world’s flux in order to better observe its dynamics ... These essays occasionally leave one wishing she’d consider these hindrances. How do poverty, racism, misogyny, and homophobia structure our thought? How can we work around them, if at all? The point is that not all of us can, from our current vantage point, feel free. But perhaps our limitations are exactly why Feel Free is an important contribution to contemporary conversations around culture and identity ... That a black woman is insisting on casting her eye upon whatever she wants in itself represents defiance, a reckless eyeballing that was once unavailable to black people. More importantly, though, Feel Free reminds us that freedom isn’t something to be foisted upon or taken away from us by whoever happens to hold the reins of power; it is something that we can and must take on our own.
Selfhood—other people’s—is what she returns to again and again, through what else but her own shifting and brilliant subjectivity ... The subtlest joy of these essays is sensing Smith’s own personhood, a personhood inseparable from her intellectual life. The self encompasses both. After the bracing dynamics of so much thought, the essays in Feel Free leave the reader not with a succinct theory of metaphysical dialogue between a global pop phenomenon and twentieth-century philosopher, but rather an image: the endearing, enduring image of one of our finest public intellectuals bickering with her husband, in a car, as she hankers for a sausage roll.
...like a brisk day on the cross-country trails. She writes a good deal about art and gardens and travel, and about non-controversial — at least for her New York Review of Books readers — topics like libraries (good) and global warming (bad). In the best of these pieces, however, Smith presses down hard as a cultural critic, and the rewards are outsize ... For six months, Smith was a book critic for Harper’s Magazine, and the results are printed here. These reviews are a mixed bag, mostly because the titles seem random and often infra dig. She’s penetrative, however, on the Mitfords and Edward St. Aubyn and Paula Fox and the essayist Geoff Dyer.
Her new book is lively, intelligent and frequently hilarious, and proves that she's one of the brightest minds in English literature today ... Reading Feel Free is a lot like hanging out with a friend who's just as at home in a museum as she is binge-watching a sitcom. She engages artists on their own terms; she's opinionated, but not judgmental. And she manages to breathe new life into well-worn topics ... There's not an essay in Feel Free that's less than engrossing. Sure, Smith is extremely intelligent, but smart authors are a dime a dozen: More importantly, she's an elegant writer, original, big-hearted and enthusiastic.
Although complex realities—racial, cultural, national—are a constant in Smith’s work, she isn’t obsessed with issues of identity, and some of the best moments in the new collection arise from wholly unfreighted encounters. Smith pays attention to everything around her, and her very amateurishness—that is to say the sheer enthusiasm that propels these essays—makes the combinations she lands on compelling. It is easy to say that Smith is a writer concerned with hybridity—there are many writers of whom that could be said. But I can’t easily think of anyone else who would think to weave a close reading of Schopenhauer’s On the Suffering of the World into a humorous and moving review of Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion movie Anomalisa ... Famous for half her life and now in her forties, Smith has become extremely good on the subject of getting older. In the book’s penultimate essay, ‘Find Your Beach’—sparked by a Corona advert glimpsed from her window—she contrasts her English and American selves ... I could identify only one passage in this 400-page book that rang false. Smith is almost always thoughtful and unpretentious ... But everywhere else in the book Smith’s commitment to exploring what it means to feel free, through experiences we have in common as well as alone, is contagious. We don’t need to experience the world exactly as she sees it, but we need something of that commitment.
Zadie Smith handles the many subjects with grace and wields her knowledge on each subject easily; she also is transparent to the point of admitting when she may not be all that knowledgeable about a given topic ... Further, her prose is clean and sharp, and nearly every paragraph has at least one sentence which is crafted masterfully enough to draw attention to itself ... Readers of Zadie Smith who have read some of her nonfiction previously will enjoy this collection immensely, as she expands her range and offers stunning cultural commentary through the present day. Readers of Smith only as a fiction writer will appreciate the insight these essays offer into her thought and writing processes, particularly of her recent novels. Finally, for readers who have never had the pleasure of reading Zadie Smith, or maybe haven’t even heard of her, Feel Free would be an excellent place to find one of the best contemporary writers writing at her best.
Smith is a nimble thinker, allergic to dogma. Her new book is titled Feel Free, which is just right for a set of charmingly digressive essays about politics, the arts and personal subjects ... Although the book’s first four essays are weighty — they explore what the state owes its citizens, and vice versa — Smith sets an unpretentious tone ... In her most personal essay, she reflects on our era of heightened racial consciousness. Smith and her children are biracial; she wonders how others might try to define or constrain them in these?‘us’ and ‘them’ times. 'Like it or not,' adds the part-time New Yorker, 'Americans are one people.' It may not be her most original observation, but at this moment in history, it’s worth remembering.
Eclectic in her tastes, centrifugal in her style, Smith as an essayist loves to stretch her frame. Moving from wit towards wisdom, she explores the rolling hinterland behind our fads and trends ... Her bracing pluralism mandates respect for the art of freedom that crosses borders and, fearlessly, creates all sorts of other people ... the category of 'classic English essayist' — in the vein of Hazlitt and Orwell, Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter — may well look as quaint to the digital natives she strives to understand as that of, say, 'leading Byzantine silversmith.' No matter. Beyond doubt, she has joined their company.
Feel Free, which recalls its own ideas so frequently it aroused in me the same stupid overwhelming comprehensiveness I felt when Virginia Woolf opened my eyes to it all, that it becomes a kind of argument, sometimes a desperate one ... the first of several paradoxes about Smith’s work is that this skill, a nuanced understanding of the plural, is what makes her a singular writer; surprisingly few writers possess it. And so, lately especially, she can get defensive about it, thereby rendering it less effective ... she is best at some remove, outward-facing, letting the parallels between her life and her work arise on their own. She describes the sentiment driving her writing as 'I feel this—do you?' When she drops the second half, as in her political writing, she loses the binary that encompasses her approach to binary, and she finds herself adrift, confused instead of contemplative ... Individually, her essays have a truncated effect, but read in succession, they start to take a form that makes more sense. They become something like a novel, with Zadie Smith as its most compelling character.
Feel Free is full of such gems of deep understanding. Whether the reader is a parent or an artist or an art lover or simply someone who cares about the world around her, these essays are an invitation to examine more closely how we engage with art, with artists, with finite resources, with power, with time and, ultimately, with ourselves.
As anyone who picks up Feel Free will learn, the award-winning writer is not only well informed but also refreshingly insightful on any number of topics, from Martin Buber to Justin Bieber ... Reviewing a book by her countryman Geoff Dyer, she writes that she is most struck by 'his tone. Its simplicity, its classlessness, its accessibility and yet its erudition–the combination is a trick few British writers ever pull off.' Without question, Smith is one of them.
The tone in these essays varies. Sometimes Smith sounds like an activist, sometimes just another beleaguered liberal. Her 'aw, shucks, I’m just a novelist' line makes for a useful refrain: Please don’t take me, a nonexpert, too seriously. But she occasionally adopts the tone of a seasoned pundit, a centrist punching lef ... the most moving character in Feel Free is Smith’s late father Harvey, who is glimpsed across several essays: a World War II veteran present at the liberation of Belsen; an unhappy husband twice over; and a frustrated photographer. Elsewhere, Smith is too protective of her own and her family’s privacy to bring much juice to her personal essays ... Smith’s essays — about cinema, television, music, visual art, dance — are frequently brilliant, but they fall short of inducing in the reader a conversion experience ... There’s nothing timid about the literary criticism collected in Feel Free, especially her columns for Harper’s, written over six months in 2011 and breathtakingly good.
In 2018, it can be tempting to react to Smith’s claims about the power of the novel to free us from ourselves with a cynically raised eyebrow ... But witnessing the freedom of Smith’s brilliant, erudite mind at work and at play makes its own argument. There is an immense aesthetic pleasure to be had in tagging along as she worries her way through a train of thought ... In contrast, the political essays she includes in Feel Free (they comprise four of the total 31 essays) can seem banal. They are more or less centrist liberal orthodoxy without new insight ... If Smith had to turn away from her ideas about the self and the aesthetic and how literature works in order to write sad, flat essays about why Britain should not have Brexited, it would be an enormous loss. Nowhere is that truth more evident than in Feel Free’s celebration of the freedom to care about things that are not politics — art, philosophy, aesthetics — and its simultaneous argument in favor of that freedom.
It is exquisitely pleasurable to observe Smith thinking on the page, not least because we have no idea where she’s headed ... How to characterize Smith’s sensibility? Above all, she’s allergic to dishonesty, hypocrisy, sanctimony, cant ... Smith is an appreciator of art, a connoisseur, rather than a stern critic. It’s rare that she writes about anything she dislikes. Indeed, if the book has a subtheme, it is joy, a feeling not often discussed outside of New Age circles. It’s an emotion brought about by giving birth, falling in love, taking drugs — those almost unbearably exquisite experiences that the final essay, 'Joy,' recounts — but also by art.
...a generous volume that shares the breadth and depth of this thoughtful writer’s curiosity ... Smith is not only a penetrating and candid writer, she is also embracing. Reading these pieces can feel like a pleasant dinner conversation with a smart, open-minded friend ... Identity is Smith’s watchword, in both her fiction and in essays. Taken as a whole, Feel Free is about identity, played out through the complicated mess we call culture, art and life.
Most of these essays have been published previously; and most, but not all, are worth reading ... essays, like 'Generation Why?,' a 2010 review of The Social Network joined with a rant against the 'only connect' ethos of Facebook, feel outdated ... Smith's exquisite essay on Joni Mitchell, 'Some Notes on Attunement,' belongs alongside other essays on art by the likes of Matthew Arnold and Susan Sontag ... It's a rare piece of critical writing that can contemplate a great work of art and deepen our understanding of it, without 'solving' its mysteries. This essay and some of the others in Feel Free have that open-ended power. When Zadie Smith is writing at her best, she, like Joni Mitchell, is free, unfettered and alive.
Feel Free, like Ms. Smith’s 2009 debut essay collection, Changing My Mind, is polyamorous in its objects of fascination...may be taken as an exhortation to wander, follow our own curiosities, pluck essays out of different sections and skim or skip others ... Most but not all have been published previously, in outlets like the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Guardian and Harper’s. And most, but not all, are worth reading ... It’s a rare piece of critical writing that can contemplate a mystery and deepen our understanding of it without 'solving' it. This is criticism with the open-ended power, yet also the ambiguity, of the creative genius from whom it is derived. There is too much in this collection that doesn’t deserve renewed scrutiny; but when Ms. Smith is writing at her best, she is free, unfettered and alive.
Smith is critiquing everything we don’t want to talk about: complicity and naïveté, what we take for granted and how we are positioned, our good feelings about ourselves. It’s a territory to which she returns throughout Feel Free ... What makes Feel Free so resonant is this refusal to let anyone, herself included, off the hook. At the same time, she is compassionate and understanding of our failings — although understanding alone, Smith knows, is not enough. More to the point, her purpose is inquiry, the essayist’s natural state of asking as opposed to answering: precarious uncertainty again ... Her concerns move inexorably from the cultural to the existential — or maybe the two are increasingly the same.
Upon opening Feel Free, Zadie Smith's new essay collection, you'll be surprised to learn that she doubts her literary talent, her critical acumen. I suppose that many literary writers are skeptical or anxious about their chosen profession ... Smith's continuous stream of productivity, her topical range, the accolades laureling her books, her prodigious artistic abilities, should be evidence enough to assuage her fears about credibility ... When she writes that each of Dyer's essays 'is an attempt to respond in kind, to be equal to the artwork, in some way to meld with it, like a love object,' Smith could be describing her own approach. Pastiche melds the critic to the love object and creates intimate, meaning-driven analysis ... There's so much at play in Feel Free that a reader might feel anxious about how to gain purchase on all of Smith's ideas ... My hunch about this book is this: While paying attention to Smith's doubts might get you into these essays, getting out may require some improvised dance moves.
Smith’s cultural commentary encompasses every medium. Sometimes she stumbles — for instance when she looks to philosopher Martin Buber to shed some light on pop singer Justin Bieber. And sometimes, especially in her essays on visual art, things get tangled or muddy. But in everything to do with books, language and family experiences, she’s funny, intuitive, spry and sharp ... Long may Smith’s delectable uncertainties reign.
Feel Free, Zadie Smith’s second collection of essays, reflects a time that feels both familiar and remote, before our political divisions caused so many to recede deeper into tribes and prejudices ... These essays, reviews, and columns bristle with Smith’s probing desire to understand the world and share her own obsessions with humor and insight. One gravitates to her words, as you would if she were holding court with a group of really astute friends ... Smith writes with such clarity, it’s a reminder of how beautiful unfussy writing can be. She trusts herself enough to let her thoughts breathe ... It’s either a breezy psychedelic throwback summoning the wide-open possibilities of decades past or it’s a bull’s-eye disguised in bright colors so we don’t realize we’re in the crosshairs. With Smith, it may well be both.
Zadie Smith is definitely a hitchhiker. Her heart is in novel-writing. Thankfully, her intellect compensates. Feel Free, her new collection of essays, is filled with the sights and sounds of a highly intelligent writer thinking things through on the fly ... Like Smith’s previous collection, 2009’s Changing My Mind, her new book is a mix of memoir, criticism, and journalism-for-hire ... The voice in the various parts of Feel Free is inevitably sharp and vibrant, but also self-deprecating, even embarrassed, as if always on the verge of an apology ... It’s this endless questioning and comfort with ambiguity that unites Zadie Smith the occasional essayist with Zadie Smith the committed novelist. It’s also what makes Feel Free so satisfying: it’s a joy to watch her stick out her thumb again and again, knowing that each new destination will be rendered with the same mix of urbane wit and restless intelligence.
This is a writer who will tell you how her initial disdain for Joni Mitchell turned into something like worship. All from a once-ballyhooed multi-cultural woman who, in the course of doing it, name checks Seneca, Picasso and Kierkegaard … For years, [Smith] has been one of the most important literary journalists we have. This is why.
Zadie Smith’s book of newly collected essays, Feel Free, will appeal to both cullers and surrenderers alike. You can read through or skip around. The structure of the collection lends itself to this idea … While most of this collection is topical, she still is able to incorporate her own interests and influences in an organic way … Whether you’d like to read about Get Out, Brexit, or global warming, you can trust that Feel Free will bring pleasure, contention, or some combination of the two. Why cull when Zadie Smith offers the perfect opportunity to surrender?
The strongest essays showcase Smith's skills as an art, literary and cultural critic … One of the pleasures of reading Feel Free is in savoring Smith's joy when she writes about formative cultural experiences … ‘I'm a sentimental humanist,’ Smith writes. ‘I believe art is here to help, even if the help is painful.’ These pieces may not be particularly sentimental, but Smith's nuanced belief in the ultimate goodness of art is so clearly in evidence that even a dabbler couldn't miss it.
Several of the pieces in Feel Free are avowedly close to home: they describe her childhood and adolescence in north London, her sense in middle age of coming adrift from the screen-bound culture around her, the displacements involved in being a mixed-race English writer living in New York. Much of Smith’s personal is quite political, even when most shut-in or seemingly nostalgic … The least interesting essays in Feel Free are those in which Smith’s human subjects are skillfully but rather too clearly delineated, leaving little room for inherent contradictions … Perhaps it’s not surprising that the best of Feel Free comes in Smith’s extended book reviews, written for Harper’s, where the constraint of subject seems also a license to build and inhabit the contrary sort of character she wants in her novels.
What binds the collection is Smith’s voice: frank, urgent, self-ironic. Dipping into these pieces (in any order) is like setting out on a walk with a vibrant, curious, gracefully articulate friend ... Because Smith was reared in England but lives part time in New York, we benefit from her two-way cultural vision; place (ergo, sensibility) is always on her mind, and the results are bracing ... This kind of companionability makes Feel Free’s parts — if occasionally uneven — form a pleasurable whole. Its subtitle could well be 'dispatches from a life in progress.'”
The subject matter of Zadie Smith's newest collection of essays, Feel Free, ranges wide. She addresses world issues from the perspective of Britain, her home, including climate change, Brexit and multiculturalism. She discusses the origin and use of Facebook ... The joy of this collection is Smith's straightforward phrasing, often summing up her thesis with a single thoughtful sentence. Her words are not overwritten; they do not distract from her purpose, nor are they a barrier to her argument; they are welcoming ... This collection fulfills many of our needs with its culture-spanning subject matter, and I for one was not left feeling despair. With rare exception (I'm not enamored of book reviews for books I don't intend to read), Smith's essays left me feeling free to ponder her thoughts and her concerns, her passions and her cares.
Smith writes gracefully and incisively about the range of topics but she seems most engrossed by shapeshifters, boundary-breakers, the ambivalent and the irreverent ... Smith’s ambivalent vision of freedom is attractive because it is generous, aesthetic, and joyfully irresponsible toward a politics of purity. It insists on the primacy of the individual.
This sense of prelapsarian history does not necessarily hobble Smith’s compendious musings – a brick of an essay collection like this one is the acknowledgment of a certain status in a novelist, something like a 'major retrospective' for a painter – but it does make several of them read like lively period pieces ... There is next to nothing in these pages that could be classed as 'reporting' in the sense of going out into a less friendly corner of the messy walkable world and testing what you think you know against what you find. Smith is not an essayist in the mode of a Joan Didion, someone who likes to pitch up in a place and try to make sense of it. Instead she uses the format to engage in sort of cultural thought experiments from her desk ...her writing is just about sharp enough to have you stick with her through a deconstruction of the self-involvement of Justin Bieber as seen through the lens of the philosopher Martin Buber, but you may not be convinced of the point.
['Getting Out and In' is] the kind of essay that sheds light on a whole career, and it would justify this collection even if Feel Free didn’t include a handful of more perfectly crafted pieces of prose ... This rhetorical pattern of intimacy and withholding characterizes much of Smith’s best essay writing, and though it can be frustrating, it creates a hypnotic rhythm that is undeniably effective ... the reflections on motherhood and death that cloud even the lightest essays in Feel Free move me to tears.
Feel Free, Zadie Smith’s second collection of essays, brims with a wide-ranging enthusiasm — she’s stoked by everything from highbrow art to TV sketch comedy. But her excitement is tempered by a concern over what politics have done to the cultural landscape ... The stakes are high for cultural consumers, she argues, especially if what we value in culture is diversity. She’s comfortable diving into the occasional controversy to make that point... But at heart she’s more a booster than a warrior, inclined to praise her chosen subjects, among them Jay-Z, Joni Mitchell, Key & Peele, J.G. Ballard, Hanif Kureishi and Philip Roth ... That open-mindedness gives the whole of Feel Free a lively, game-for-anything spirit ... She craves those rare moments when joy emerges, and falls hard for any work of art that can mimic it. Feel Free is an enchanting manifestation of how deep her craving runs.
As suggested by the new collection’s title, the essays of Feel Free are deliciously unhampered and far-reaching ... Blending the so-called high and low, Smith renders lofty subjects accessible and elevates pop culture to the divine. She is equally comfortable employing personal narrative, literary and artistic criticism, thoughtful interrogations on race and class, and, very often, real laugh-aloud humor.
If the erudition on display in Smith's essay collection Feel Free is the work of a dilettante, then we should all be such dabblers ... That's the sort of insight that appears throughout this collection, in which Smith covers a range of cultural and political subjects, from Jay-Z to Billie Holiday, from contemporary artists Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Sarah Sze to Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli, from Wittgenstein to, of all people, Justin Bieber... The strongest essays showcase Smith's skills as an art, literary and cultural critic ... And, yes, Smith shines when writing about her supposedly narrow arena of expertise, with thoughtful essays on authors she admires... One of the pleasures of reading Feel Free is in savoring Smith's joy when she writes about formative cultural experiences ... But a collection of essays that doesn't prompt disagreements would be a dull book, and Feel Free is anything but dull.
In her latest book release, titled Feel Free, Smith presents a collection of essays, a few published previously and many that are new, that cover a number of topics ranging from politics to philosophy, Justin Bieber to ballet, and everything in-between ... No matter what the subject matter may be, however, one thing is for sure: Smith’s accounts will resonate deeply with you and ask you to look inward to discover the many layers of your own self ... In many ways, Feel Free acts as a mirror; it demands that you meditate on your reflection and search deeper within ...a book you can read cover-to-cover or an essay at a time. It will inspire you to create, to connect, and to look at life with fresh eyes.
The author complements her celebrated fiction with an equally compelling collection of essays ... The author is honest, often impassioned, always sober. Though she disclaims any advanced academic degrees or formal journalistic training, she produces sharp analyses of contemporary issues that are no less substantial for being personalized ... Judiciously political, Smith wears her liberalism gracefully, though with qualifications. She is never less than a formidable intellect, with an imposing command of literary and artistic canons.
[Smith] brings her precise observations and distinct voice to an expansive range of topics. Smith comes across as a writer’s writer, with a love of form, function, and language ... Smith’s explicit discomfort with any authoritative stance—'I have no real qualifications to write as I do'—feels a bit disingenuous, when this collection’s chief appeal lies in the revealing glimpses it affords into the mind and creative process of one of the most admired novelists writing in English.