I just finished reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty, a book that had been lying on my shelf for almost five years. It had been so long, the pages had yellowed, the signature on the title page forgotten. “To Snigdha” it said (the Snigda carefully transformed to its correct spelling). “Zadie A. Smith.” I have yet to figure out what this A stands for, but I did find a reading of the book by the author herself (http://fora.tv/2006/09/14/On_Beauty). Check it out, if only to salivate at her gorgeous British accent. 

As I dug into my first novel after months, nostalgia got the best of me. I remember those days I would sneak in my fill of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy while studying for the SATs my junior hear of high school. I remember the white marble notebooks full of my reading summaries of the books I would gulp down in middle school. I fear one day I will forget which books I have read, the source of influence for my own writing. I have this tendency to absorb mannerisms, sayings, accents, writings—as do we all I suppose. It would be terrible to forget what we are made of.

What I love most about Zadie Smith is her use of em-dashes. I’ve always loved em-dashes — the way they neatly separate important ideas from the rest of the sentence. She uses them with ease. And if there’s anything I’ve walked away with from this book, it is probably these three ideas (and their respective excerpts):

  1. Fittingness
  2. Love
  3. Love (Part 2)

Claire spoke often in her poetry of the idea of ‘fittingness’: that is, when your chosen pursuit and your ability to achieve it — no matter how small or insignificant both might be — are matched exactly, are fitting. This, Claire argued, is when we become truly human, fully ourselves, beautiful. To swim when your body is made for swimming. To kneel when you feel humble. To drink water when you are thirsty. Or — if one wishes to be grand about it — to write the poem that is exactly the fitting receptacle of the feeling or thought that you hoped to convey. (214)

'But sometimes it's like you just meet someone and you just know that you're totally connected, and that this person is, like, your brother — or your sister,' adjusted Levi, for he had been thinking of somebody else entirely. 'Even if they don't, like, recognize it, you feel it. And in a lot of ways it don’t matter if they do or they don’t see that for what it is — all you can do is put the feeling out there. That’s your duty. Then you just wait and see what comes back to you. That’s the deal.’ (304)

And were they still like that, she wondered — these new girls, this new generation? Did they still feel one thing and do another? Did they still only want to be wanted? Were they still objects of desire instead of — as Howard might put it — desiring subjects? (226)

Categories: Zadie Smith, On Beauty,