Feel Free: Favorite Quotes from Zadie Smith

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I've never read any of Zadie Smith's novels, but I suppose it's time to start. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her recently released collection of essays. Here are my favorite quotes:

On Libraries: "Libraries are not failing 'because they are libraries'. Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them. Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay".

On Climate Change: ". . . the apocalyptic scenario does not help . . . the terrible truth is that we have a profound, historical attraction to the apocalypse. In the end, the only thing that can create the necessary traction in our minds is the intimate loss of things we love. Then, we will turn our minds from what have we done? to the practical what can we do?

On Brexit: ". . . ordered a drink, and pronounced Brexit, melodramatically, 'a total disaster'. Hemon sighed, smiled sadly, and said: 'no. Just a disaster. War is a total disaster'. Living through Yugoslavia's bloody sovereign implosion gives a man a sense of proportion".

On the movie The Social Network and Facebook in General: "The Social Network is not a cruel portrait of any particular real world person called Mark Zuckerberg. It's a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore".

On Record Stores: "I wandered through the shop, as I always do in record shops, depressed by my ignorance and drawn towards the familiar. After fifteen shiftless minutes, I picked up a hip-hop magazine and considered a Billie Holiday album that could not possible contain any track I already did not own. I was preparing to leave when I spotted an album with a wonderful title: More Songs About Buildings and Food. You will probably already know who it was by- I didn't. Talking Heads. . . is it too late to get into the Talking Heads? Do I have the time?"

On Understanding/Not Understanding Art: "Kierkegarrd's (who attempted to understand Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son) simple man makes a simple mistake: he wants to translate the mystery of the biblical story into terms we can comprehend. His failure has something to teach us. Sometimes, it is when we stop trying to understand or interrogate apparently 'absurd' phenomena- like the category of the 'new' in art- that we become more open to them. Put simply: you need to lower your defenses".

On Keeping a Diary: "It felt like homework".

On Class and Social Mobility: "It's not what happens to the lower middle class, exactly, that makes them relatively content, but rather what doesn't happen. When each bill hitting the mat no longer represents an existential threat you are freed from an inhibiting and oppressive form of daily fear. Nor are you touched by the self-contempt that tends to stalk the solidly middle and upper class, and you are perfectly ignorant of that sense of enervation too often found in the highest born. The lower middle class child, has, as the football managers to say, everything to play for. It's not that you don't hope to redeem your parents' own thwarted ambitions- particularly in the arena of education- you do, but you also understand that if you happen to fail it's no longer the end of the world. And, as you motor onwards through your life, whenever you pause to check behind you in the rear-view mirror you see a vista quite unlike that of a child of the longer term unemployed or the working poor or the recently migrated. You see that your parents have established a small but stable space for themselves in this world, one that does not-vitally- completely depend on you. And so there's a little space for your dreams, too. You don't have to become a doctor. In fact as long as you don't expect your dreams to be financed in any way whatsoever you are pretty much free to dream your little head off. My parents' reaction to the news that they had, among their children, one aspiring writer and two aspiring rappers, was, basically: knock yourself out".

On Karl Ove Knausgard: "Knausgard's boredom is baroque. It has many elaborations. . . It's a cathedral of boredom. And when you enter it, it looks a lot like the one you are living in".

On Relationships: "All living is meeting. But what most of us do, most of the time, feels more like 'presenting'. . . we treasure our identity as individuals. . . and work hard to differentiate ourselves. We feel we are having relationships even if, much of the time, our relations with others seem to exist mainly in the stories we tell. But what's the solution? A good place to start is moving from monologue to dialogue. . . recognizing the reality of other people- and having them recognize the reality of you- is at he heart of the matter".

On Parks: "In public parks it is a little easier to feel like you belong".

On Individualism, "Happiness", NYC, and "Find Your Beach" Corona Ads: "Beer used to be sold on the dream of communal fun. People crowded the frame, happy and smiling. It was a lie about alcohol- as this ad is a lie about alcohol- but it was a different kind of lie, a wide-framed lie, that included other people. Here, the focus is narrow. Almost obsessive. . . You are pure market potential in Manhattan, limitless. When I am in England over the summer, it is the opposite: all I see are the limits of my life. . . In England even at the actual beach I can't find my beach. I look out at the freezing water, at the families squeezed into ill-fitting wet-suits, huddled behind windbreakers. . . and all I can think is what funny, limited creatures we really are, subject to every wind and wave, building castles in the sand that will only be knocked down by the generation coming up beneath us".

On Mourning (citing author Julian Barnes): "It hurts just as much as it is worth".


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