Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Review: On Beauty

Anyone who even tangentially follows book news will remember that when Zadie Smith's On Beauty came out a few years ago, it was basically hailed as a masterpiece. It made all sorts of "Best of" lists, and I think it won some awards, too. So when I was looking for a book to read at Charles de Gaulle airport this summer, before a long flight home to the States, I picked this one up. (Also, I had a few euros I needed to get rid of.) I anticipated a reading experience that would knock my socks off.

Not so much.

I truly, honestly think that I am not intellectual enough to "get" this book. The reviews on the cover and all that talk about how funny and hilarious it is. Uh, not funny. Not hilarious. Apparently it's a satire. Of what, I'm still not sure, but I think maybe intellectuals and intellectualism. I am not an intellectual. I will admit that without hesitation. So I think that's why I wasn't able to pick up on the satire.

Zadie Smith, however, is an incredible writer. There's nothing I hate more than reading a book where the author's efforts are so obvious. Good writing is effortless, and Smith's writing is effortless. Unfortunately, I just didn't care about the people she was writing about. The book centers around a family in Massachusetts—the Belseys. The father, Howard, is an art professor at a small college in the town where they live. The mother, Kiki, is a nurse/health administrator. Their three children are Jerome, Zora, and Levi. Everyone has their own story in this book, and most of them are interconnected. I liked Kiki and the kids, but Howard... gross. No. Didn't like him at all. I think he was being satirized, but like I said, if you don't know what is being satirized, it's not funny. (Like that whole New Yorker cover of Michelle Obama during the campaign.)

I read a lot of reviews of this book on, and a lot of people seemed to agree with me that this book was not all that and a bag of chips, as the industry reviews would have led us to believe. So it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who found this to be a rather forgettable book. I guess that in the end I'm not sorry I read it, though. Maybe someday I can have a pseudo-intellectual conversation with someone about how I'm not intellectual enough to enjoy it.

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