I am besotted with Zadie Smith’s essay “Fail Better,” in yesterday’s Guardian. The woman thinks, reads, reflects, reads some more, and continues to ponder while writing with incredible depth, intelligence and panache.
In this piece Smith addresses some of the most fundamental truths of fiction writing — lifting the veil so to speak, on some of the most difficult realities of her art. She points out the contradictions inherent in the very attempt to write, factors in failure, considers the revelations of self, craftsmanship, delusion, myopia, talent, and selfhood to name just a few in her thought-provoking article.
After much bluntness about writing and writers, she ends with a focus on readers and reminds us that “A novel is a two-way street, in which the labour required on either side is, in the end, equal. Reading, done properly, is every bit as tough as writing – I really believe that.” Me too.
With the ALA book awards to be announced a week from tomorrow, various Mock Newberys being decided, and other lists of the best children’s books of 2006 being produced, this essay really hit home for me. That is, it reinforced my belief that what makes a book great and award-worthy is something that goes beyond audience, something that has more to do with the relationship developed in the act of reading between a talented writer and a talented reader whatever their age. As Smith notes, “The ideal reader steps up to the plate of the writer’s style so that together writer and reader might hit the ball out of the park.”
A long and demanding read, but well worth it. Highly, highly, highly recommended.