"Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more". from "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"-Wordsworth
Zadie Smith has given us the first book about life under COVID-19 (and all of her author royalties are going to either The Equal Justice Initiative or The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for New York). I think the short interlinked essays, reflections and brief portraits, will be read ten years from now on the strength of the phrase crafting ("the cage of my circumstance"). It's short enough to be read in one sitting. It's wise enough to share with your book club.
English novelist, essayist, and short-story writer Zadie Smith's 2020 essay collection was written around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States. The essays discuss topics such as creative writing, the pandemic, and the killing of George Floyd.
“Smith does more than illuminate what we're going through right now. She offers a model of how to think ourselves through a fraught historical moment without getting hysterical or sanctimonious, without losing our compassion or our appreciation for what's good in other people. She teaches us how to be better at being human.” —John Powers, Fresh Air
Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of reflective essays by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time.
Written during the early months of lockdown, Intimations explores ideas and questions prompted by an unprecedented situation. What does it mean to submit to a new reality--or to resist it? How do we compare relative sufferings? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us? How do we think about them? What is the ratio of contempt to compassion in a crisis? When an unfamiliar world arrives, what does it reveal about the world that came before it?
Suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these extraordinary times, Intimations is a slim, suggestive volume with a wide scope, in which Zadie Smith clears a generous space for thought, open enough for each reader to reflect on what has happened--and what should come next.
The author will donate her royalties from the sale of Intimations to charity.
About the Author
Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW and Swing Time, as well as a novella, The Embassy of Cambodia, and two collections of essays, Changing My Mind and Feel Free. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Orange Prize for Fiction, and NW was shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Zadie Smith is currently a tenured professor of fiction at New York University and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
"Zadie Smith has always been at least as phenomenal an essayist as she is a novelist. This slim, flash-published volume of reflections on life under quarantine rides the waves of dread, loneliness, community, loss and self-refection we all went through — and still are." —Los Angeles Times
"Smith’s slim volume is a balm during an anxious year. We have learned the meaning of essential, and Smith’s prose is correspondingly stripped down. Clear. Precise. Orderly… An indispensable snapshot of a time when we were all scrambling to put our thoughts in order. I for one, am thankful to Smith for offering us hers.” —Tracey Baptiste, Washington Post
“A slender and moving compendium…[W]hat unites these quietly cerebral vignettes is a pervasive interest in and empathy for the lives of others.” —Matthew Adams, Seattle Times
“One of our finest living writers has already produced what may be the first definitive chronicle of an era she dubs ‘the global humbling.’ In a series of essays both personal and political, Zadie Smith turns her sharp gaze to everything from a bouquet of peonies to the death of George Floyd, with disarming insight into her own shifting perspectives as woman, writer, mother, and citizen of the world. ‘The people sometimes demand change. They almost never demand art,’ she suggests at one point, too modestly; we may not have asked for Intimations, but this slim, resonant collection still feels like a gift.” —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Intimations is the third and slimmest of [Smith’s] essay collections, at 100 pages, but its psychic heft is substantial. In six essays that feel as intimate as a long walk with an old friend, Smith takes on some of the most pressing issues of our time, including police brutality and economic injustice. The book is grounded in inquiry far more often than in certainty, however, and the collection is one that probes, exploring everything from the relationship between privilege and suffering to the nature of isolation and what it means to be confined with the people we love.” —Ericka Taylor, NPR.org
“[Smith] is a spectacular essayist….who has written searchingly about race and culture, identity and place and family. Such issues continue to infuse the present, although their salience is complicated by the ways the virus has eroded collective trust…This is the essential job of the essayist: to explore not our innocence but our complicity. I want to say this works because Smith doesn’t take herself too seriously, but that’s not accurate. More to the point, she is willing to expose the tangle of feelings the pandemic has provoked. And this may seem a small thing, but it’s essential: I never doubt her voice on the page.” —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Intimations feels less like a precise attempt to document the COVID-19 era than a more abstract meditation on time: who is given it, who has it taken from them, and what its sudden presence or absence can lead to. “Time is how you spend your love,” Smith wrote in her 2005 novel On Beauty—quoting a poem by her own husband, Nick Laird—and Intimations functions impressively as a document of the mixed blessing of time as well as a searing excoriation of a society that has always apportioned it unevenly.”—Emma Specter, Vogue.com
“These days, I find in [Smith’s] work what I once found in Paley and Baldwin - a clarifying lucidity wedded to big-hearted moral awareness. These virtues shine through her powerful new collection, ‘Intimations: Six Essays,’ which she began at the onset of the pandemic and finished shortly after Floyd's killing. Although only 100 pages, it made me think more than most books five times that length. There's something worth quoting on virtually every page… Smith does more than illuminate what we're going through right now. She offers a model of how to think ourselves through a fraught historical moment without getting hysterical or sanctimonious, without losing our compassion or our appreciation for what's good in other people. She teaches us how to be better at being human.” —John Powers, Fresh Air “‘Intimations,’ [Smith’s] slender new collection (less than 100 pages) of ultra-timely essays (several written in the past few momentous months), showcases her trademark levelheadedness. This cast of mind doesn’t mean that Smith avoids moral stances. In ‘Intimations,’ she speaks clearly and forcefully about the murder of George Floyd and the legacy of slavery and the systemic sins revealed by Covid-19…But despite these jabs, Smith remains unmistakably noncombative. This spirit appears born not of a fear of confrontation but a genuine perplexity (of a searching, brilliant kind) at the nature of experience and people, including herself….Smith’s gifts as a novelist animate her essays…In Zadie Smith’s universe — meaning, for my money, the one we’re all living in — complexity is king.” —John Williams, The New York Times
“Slender, solacing…To read Zadie Smith is to recognize how few writers seem to genuinely love human beings the way she does, with such infinite curiosity and attention, even when they are behaving monstrously. Or, for that matter, how few are able to do justice to what, for want of a better term, we’ll call common decency.” —Laura Miller, Slate
“What a treat, then, that Zadie Smith has presented us with this jewel of a book, six essays all written at the beginning of lockdown, each generous, reliably insightful explorations of things like suffering, productivity, and love; all reminders of the kind of art people are capable of, even in the most dire of times.” —Refinery29
“Incisive and insightful . . . Smith is at her perceptive and precise best in this slim but thematically weighty volume of personal and civil reckoning.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“There will be innumerable books to come about life in the pandemic, but Zadie Smith is who we want to read right now . . . This will be essential reading for us now, and when we look back in the years to come.” —Town & Country, Best Books to Read This July
“Intimations captures the uneasiness of our modern moment as Smith reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic and relates it to issues of privilege and inequity. Her urgent voice tackles everything from what becomes important during isolation to the global response to George Floyd’s killing. The author asks questions, both timely and timeless, about how we respond to crisis and suffering.” —TIME, Best New Books of July
“[Smith] writes with the immediacy of a house on fire, illuminating the tumult we are collectively experiencing… A sharply honed, obsidian collection glowing with Smith’s insights and eloquence.” –Booklist
“An incisive collection . . . In just under 100 pages, Smith intimately captures the profundity of our current historical moment. Quietly powerful, deftly crafted essays bear witness to the contagion of suffering.” —Kirkus, starred review