Vanity Fair: What to Read in February


By Sloane Crosley

Lest you forget that Zadie Smith’s output encompasses several masterful careers, please allow Feel Free (Penguin Press), her new collection of essays, to remind you. Divided into five sections that range from the political to the personal, Feel Free was written largely during the Obama years, meaning these essays are delightfully uneclipsed by the orange storm cloud that currently looms over America. Instead, Smith is free to focus her incisive and often wry lens on painting, novels, dance, history, technology, Mark Zuckerberg, Jay-Z, race, love, and the nature of joy itself. But make no mistake—these pieces are as relevant as can be. They are reminders of how much else there is to ponder in this world, how much else is worth our time, and how lucky we are to have Smith as our guide. As she says in her foreword, “Essays about one person’s affective experience have, by their very nature, not a leg to stand on. All they have is their freedom.”

Over land, over sea: In Thisbe Nissen’s Our Lady of the Prairie (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) a long-married and long-suffering midwestern mother is hit with a political, emotional, and literal tornado. And, completed only a few weeks before Denis Johnson’s death, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden (Random House) includes both familiar and new faces, each haunted by the specter of the past and each staring down that all-too-certain barrel of the future.

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Anjali Kumar