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on 22 February 2010
A number of these essays fall into the category of literary criticism (lit. crit.) This is fine, as long as you have some familiarity with books or authors that are being "critiqued". If not, your appreciation might be less than full, although your curiosity might be piqued and you might be led to explore further. Zadie Smith's lit. crit. essays have a wide range so if,like me, you don't earn your bread from literary criticism some of the essays could be in unknown territory. However, you can pick ones on authors you know (e.g. for me, Forster, George Eliot, Kafka), and you will find Smith always offers perspicacity and instruction.
There are quite a few essays that are not in this category, or at least are only tangentially related to lit. crit. There is one brilliant essay, "Speaking in Tongues" (no. 9), which alone would justify buying the book. This essay starts from Shaw's Pygmalion, continues by way of Barack Obama, and shows the merits of being able to speak in many voices, to see things from multiple points of view. She points out that this is an ability which we cherish in artists but condemn in politicians. She holds up Shakespeare as a prime example of this quality, an author who is able to see from both sides: from black and white, male and female, king and commoner and so on.
The essays (nos. 15-18) on Zadie Smith's family are simultaneously touching and amusing. Smith's father comes across very warmly. Her account of her brother's career change into stand-up comedian shows great insight into this art. Smith's film reviews and the account of her visit to the Oscar weekend are also very entertaining.
All in all this is an excellent read, but be prepared to have your grey cells worked, and don't be afraid to pick and choose according to your tastes and reading background.
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on 10 May 2014
Oblivious to Ms Smith's literary outings, I picked this up on a whim and found myself absolutely entranced by both the range and the readability. She dons many hats: of a literary criticism professor, a film reviewer, a diarist, a travelogue writer and a lecturing writer, and manages to suffuse all the ensuing discourse with wit, erudition and generosity that frankly had me by the collar.

It's her large heartedness and passion for all things literary that I could dip readily into the deep waters of deconstructing literary doyens like Eliot, Forster, Kafka, Nabokov Foster Wallace among others. She let me peek into the rhythms of novel-creation and imagination with her tonal and thematic inspirations commencing with her misgivings for "Black" literature.

The common thread of all her essays is relevance to her development as a reader and writer, and they are all spiced-up by colloquial and emotional reactions which always engaged. With her infectious love for the written word, she takes apart the concept of what being "lettered" really means to her and with piercing intelligence articulates what multiplicity of roots and tongues mean in the larger realm of literature and modern politics, extending from Shakespeare to Obama.

When departing from literary criticism, she is humane and observant when documenting her time in Liberia, thoroughly funny as she foxily bisects the bowels of the showbiz world on her Oscar weekend trip and positively jumping off the page with glee when writing about her screen idols Hepburn and Garbo. Her movie reviews from the 2006 award season are soaked in equal parts commentary and self portraiture which lead wonderfully to the final few pieces of unabashed, disinhibited autobiographical essays on her reactions to her father's demise and brother's foray into stand-up comedy.

With not a pinch of affectation or egoism, you see her owning up to her frailties and prejudices in matters of real and created worlds, and yet managing to inform you with her analytical faculty with levity that is seldom seen in her breed. If I can end this with an indelicate confession, I found myself a little bit in love with Ms Smith.
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on 17 December 2012
Changing My Mind is a middling collection of essays. There is great range but very little depth, and although Zadie Smith's interests and enthusiasms are contagious, the prose can be affectedly colloquial at times, a touch too hip. The essays roam over the various territories of literary criticism, film punditry, public lectures, reportage, memoir, and biography, all of which Smith competently handles. But despite her unmistakable voice, there are problems, and it's mostly a question of temperament and style.

Smith measures the power or merit of a work on its ability to rouse tears, and, by doing so, she's become the world's leading lachrymose critic. Smith cries when she finishes writing one of her own novels and when one of her favourite film stars dies. She also cried ('a lot') when she first read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and 'throughout the last fifteen minutes' of the film Tsotsi. Is this really a trustworthy response? Does the reader gain anything from these teary confessions? Not really. It smacks of hyperbole, which is unfortunate, as there are some truly perceptive and enlightening pieces in this volume.

The lecture 'Rereading Barthes and Nabokov' is magnificent, as is 'Two Directions for the Novel', the seminal New York Review of Books essay which rightfully caused a stir among the literati. 'That Crafty Feeling', a lecture devoted to the compositional processes of her novels, is a an intriguing insight into her methods, while 'Accidental Hero', an article on her father's wartime travails, is both funny and moving. But there are certain misfits. To make the book's chapter titles correspond to the type of writing or emotion ('Reading', 'Being', 'Seeing', 'Feeling', and 'Remembering') seems pointless. And for those who haven't read David Foster Wallace, Smith's lengthy discussion will be no enticement whatsoever, despite its awed and hagiographic tone.

But, despite the ephemeral film criticism, whose inclusion gives the volume a rather flabby feel, the overall tenor of the work is okay. Smith may have done her growing up in public, but it has been a pleasant trajectory to watch, as the shift from conventional novelist to modernist experimenter has dismayed some while undeniably tempting others. This book, then, may have a few unwarranted inclusions, but the work of Zadie Smith the memoirist and literary critic goes a long way to redeeming it.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 February 2015
I really enjoyed this book. Zadie Smith is a cool, clear articulate and supremely intelligent writer. I’ve only read one of her novels so far, but the rest are on my list. This collection of essays is interestingly revealing about a number of writers – E M Forster, George Eliot, Barthes and Nabakov, and the inimitable Kafka. Her report from Liberia is a shocking account of a country abandoned to the exploitation of Firestone rubber productions as the majority of it’s people are viciously exposed to the rigours of big business, regardless of the struggle most inhabitants have to merely feed themselves and their children.

I've never read Zorah Neale Hurston, but the essay about her made me want to.

There are lighter issues touched on too – Katherine Hepburn’s screen career, and a number of very enlightening reviews of films – some of which are amusing and others more serious.

In the last essay on the writings of David Foster Wallace, I was educated with a mixture of serious criticism and revealing and sympathetic revelation about some of the features of his writing. Recursion, for example and its place in his ouvre, which was delightfully explanatory, giving me hope that I could penetrate some of the complexities of his work. For this alone, it’s worth getting this book. Smith is a supreme enabler and this is a most enjoyable book.
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on 11 June 2011
I'm not your typical Zadie Smith reader I don't think, but bought this book (with some trepidation) because I wanted to broaden the range of books I typically read.

Having said that I have to admit I really enjoyed it. I can honestly say that this is the first time I've just sat read an entire book from beginning to end in one sitting. It's not that I don't read either, I typically read 25 to 50 books a year.

The book itself isn't written in long form prose, rather it's articles, speaches, and opinion pieces(?) she's written over the years. These focus on a variety of different areas, like book reviews, cinema, political oratory, and family history.

The order of the stories is somewhat weird (though you can change that by just dibbing in and reading a chapter you fancy), and I'm not sure I'd've started with a review of "Their Eyes Were Turned To God" for example, but having read it I can see why she did, as it gives you a feel for what the author was like growing up.
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on 27 May 2014
I originally bought this book to find an essay written by Smith about her writing styles and techniques. I found what I was looking for and more -- as usual, witty, funny, and honest.
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on 30 May 2013
Beautiful book, very well written as usual, very interesting essay on David Foster Wallace. I recommend it, you will only want to read more books !!
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on 31 March 2010
Not a collection to sit down and read from cover to cover, but one to dip into (and maybe skip the essays that don't appeal.) I'm the last person to read lit crit and sometimes Zadie Smith is heavy-handed with academic jargon. But I shall certainly seek out Zora Neale Hurston having read the first essay in this book, and she has also inspired me to re-read Middlemarch. Does it matter if you haven't read the books she's writing about? Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't; I didn't take anything from her writing about David Foster Wallace except that I wouldn't want to read him, ever. She has convinced me, not that I needed convincing, that Netherland would bore me rigid.
She's good - of course, she would be - on EM Forster. And I enjoyed her take on films, when it didn't seem to matter that I hadn't seen all of them. As another reviewer has mentioned, the essay Speaking in Tongues - about the many voices of Shakespeare, Obama, and Zadie Smith herself - is quite fascinating.
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on 3 December 2009
As always, Smith writes not just with brain and spine, as her hero Nabokov urged, but with stomach too and heart and funny bone. Divided into five sections entitled "Reading," "Being," "Seeing," "Feeling," and "Remembering", the collection is eclectic, including travel journalism, family histories and movie reviews, which range from blow-your-mind brilliant to, in one or two cases, a little flat. But - and this is not a sentence you get to write too often - it's the lit crit that really sparkles. The essays about consuming and producing literature are what will earn this book a place on the shelf of every serious creative reader and writer. I loved, and learned from and yes, had my mind changed by, their forensic effervescence.

From The Creative Intelligence Blog by Orna Ross, author Lovers' Hollow &A Dance in Time
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on 13 January 2015
Excellent Zadie Smith
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