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February 18, 2008

Zadie etc.

Another looong listing of reader comments at Bookninja. (See my post below). I find it interesting that these topics which have incited such debate are both in regards to women who other people think are much more successful than they deserve to be. Zadie Smith, in this case, who I personally believe is every bit as successful as she deserves to be for she is a legend. I heard her speak at Harbourfront two years ago, and I swear I would pay her anything to sit in my house and lecture me. She is fascinating, and oh so smart. Her books are some of the most exciting and inspiring I’ve ever encountered in literature, contemporary or otherwise. And yet there are those who’d see fit to knock her off her star.

Such as this commmenter: “… while I’ve picked up a couple of Smith’s novels to skim them, I’ve not read nor purchased one because I find them similarly lacking in quality, much less greatness.” He who could detect “greatness” in a skim? Perhaps he is the legend after all.

My friend K, who attended the Z. Smith Harbourfront reading with me, has recounted in her blog the horrible incident that took place in the Q&A. In which some jackass thought it be clever and/or polite to ask if Smith supposed she would have had the success she’s had were she not so physically attractive. It was mortifying. I mean, what this woman has to deal with. That after three novels, short stories, editing of anthologies, incredibly astute literary criticism, marvelous and generous work as a public figure, that it would all come down to her face. There is an underlying sense here that as a woman Smith is incapable of greatness on her own terms. The same sort of sense you get from a guy who’d dismiss the possibility of her greatness having not even done more than skim one of her books.

It makes me angry.

Margaret Atwood hating is exactly the same. It’s so stupidly easy, you know. Hating Margaret Atwood or Zadie Smith is not the express ticket to clever. Hating them without having read their books could possibly make you the least literary person ever, and the stupidity is only underlined by being in this position and even supposing you’ve got something to say.

6 thoughts on “Zadie etc.”

  1. Anne C. says:

    I couldn’t agree more, on Smith, Atwood, McLaren— everything!

  2. Artful Kisser says:

    Me too. Incredibly irritating. And I hate getting drawn into the whole “Men never, ever, ever get asked this question” rigmarole, but damn it they don’t. I’m reading “On Beauty” right now, having read her other works and cannot for the life of me work out why people choose to downgrade her so. Can only be sheer jealousy.

  3. Panic says:


  4. Kerry says:

    Thank you so, each of you! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

  5. rona says:

    Well said, Kerry. I haven’t yet read Zadie Smith, but have noticed with increasing dismay how quick women are to bash their own. It’s as if success is still so hard for a woman to attain that those who do achieve it must be put in their place by jealous onlookers. This happens in other spheres as well (e.g., political life). The women are getting dissed by men because they don’t fit the mail norm, and by other women for having the cheek to succeed anyway. It’s all so terribly diminishing.

  6. patricia says:

    Great post. I read that whole mess over at Bookninja, and was just stunned by the response re: Smith. And that jackass who made the comment about skimming her work (you neglected to add his later comment to another blogger where he states that he must “read better” than others. One is left quite speechless).

    If you’re going to comment on someone’s work, at least read the whole damn thing. And try and leave their appearance out of it.

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