Zadie Smith on the best way to fail

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.


Filed under Reading, Writing

4 responses to “Zadie Smith on the best way to fail

  1. Dear Monica,
    This is a great great essay by Zadie Smith…thank you so much for posting it. I will be sure to share it with my students. I love the part of spending a morning reading Chekhov and how the world becomes Chekhovian in the afternoon. Thank you!

    All best


  2. I shared this with various other lists I am on that care about words and writing. Thank you!


  3. Delighted others agree with me on this one!


  4. Elissa


    I haven’t read the article yet, but I will try to make time later. I was JUST thinking last week about how the relationship between readers and authors of books can become something of a “soul” connection. I was trying to think of what makes a book “great” (when you say that you LOVE that book!) for one person, and not for another, and I also related it to the Joni Mitchell song where she says that love is touching souls. I guess Richie’s reviews are rubbing off on me. :)

    Thanks for pointing us to the article, and to your post!



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