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Pickle Me This

December 29, 2009

Book of the Decade: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Mostly due to the fact that this decade has had no name, it never occurred to me to try to experience it definitively. And really, how could one define a decade that begins with one (not) drunk (enough), falling down, pissing in a doorway, and ends with that same one married to the love of her life, with a seven month-old baby, and plans for a quiet-night-in with old friends? A decade that contained three continents called home, two degrees, new friends made and old friends kept, writing and reading that has inspired me and made me proud, a variety of jobs in interesting places. The decade during which I most definitely grew up (so far); it contained multitudes. And I could not possibly sum it up in a list of ten things or more.

But if I had to choose just one book, for reasons personal and even wider, I’d pick Zadie Smith’s first novel White Teeth. I first read this during the summer of 2001, and it was the first contemporary novel that I really got excited about. It was the first time that I really realized that amazing literature was being written right now, and by young people too. This novel was big, packed, funny, and gorgeous. Some people love to hate it, but most of them have never read it, and I maintain that it’s a magnificent construction.

White Teeth is also important for the way it anticipated the decade-to-come. When I reread it during the summer of 2006, it was hard to believe that it had been written before September 11, 2001. The whole clash of civilizations thing as enacted by British-born youths was quite prescient, and the racial tension in general. That the book had come true and didn’t read any less true was really something. That White Teeth was relevant even before it was relevant. And that it would even be a marvelous read, regardless.

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