Here is my list of the five novels of Zadie Smith in the order in which I like them:
- Swing Time
- White Teeth
- On Beauty
- The Autograph Man
I have read, posted upon and enjoyed several of her short stores. Additionally I have enjoyed and learned from essays in both of her essay collections. I have listened to a number of lectures on YouTube. For sure I see a Nobel Prize in her future.
All of her novels are at least partially based in London. I am very behind on posts I want to get done in April so this will be mercifully brief.
The central character makes his living buying and selling autographs. Ethnographically he is Chinese and Jewish, from London. He has some celebrity crushes and is in contact with other Autograph and celebrity memorabilia collectors and dealers. As I read this book I imagined how much this business has been changed since the pre-internet days.
Here is the publisher’s description (a bit of a hype, of course)
“When twelve-year old Alex Li-Tandem meets Joseph Klein at a wrestling match in London, he couldn’t have possibly predicted that their conversation about collecting autographs would change the course of his life. Alex grows up to be an Autograph Man, making a living buying and selling famous names, obsessively pursuing the very rare autograph of 1940s Hollywood movie star, Kitty Alexander.
But Alex’s life is a shambles. He’s wrecked his car during an acid trip, injuring (and alienating) his girlfriend Esther; his friends are mad at him; and he’s still grieving over the death of his father, Li-Jin. His friends, Adam and Rabbi Rubenfine, want him to say the Kaddish for his father on the fifteenth anniversary of his death, but Alex sees that as nothing more than an empty gesture, a ritual he can’t believe in. His girlfriend Esther wants him to grow up and stop being so selfish. But all Alex seems to want is the autograph of Kitty Alexander. He has written her hundreds of letters over the years, all of them unanswered. Until the fateful day when his wish is miraculously granted with the arrival of a signed photo. Now he plans to find her. And thus ensues a wild trip to New York, where he is guided by the “famous whore” Honey Smith, and where he finally meets the woman behind the name he has sought for so long.
Smart, hip, daringly imaginative, The Autograph Man gives readers a vivid glimpse of the signs (and signatures) of the times, and shows once again why Zadie Smith is one of our most admired young writers.”
Anyway, I’m suggesting those new to Smith, read her novels in the order I listed.
Her essays are a delight.