Reviewed in Herizons, Summer 2010, vol. 24, no. 1
“. . . Smith clinched me with her essay on voice. In that essay, ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ she writes clear-heartedly on why people who have many locations that form them (and many other locations they choose) and are not mono-voiced, even if they have to be, at times, to enter particular discourses. Smith, the precocious British novelist, is herself multiply located.
She follows what she sees as the Henry James dictum—that you have to write and therefore experience as many nuances as possible, so that you and your reader are given the option of being ‘richly responsible.’ Richly responsible is not some dusty sense of duty, but is instead the reason for being, and for being simultaneously complicated and simple creatures in complex but clarified times. Smith also writes reassuringly of people who have to criss-cross borders almost constantly, including herself, U.S. President Barack Obama and Shakespeare.
Smith writes touchingly about her discovery of author Zora Neale Hurston and about how she refused to read her books at age 14, fearful that she would be tagged ‘Black and female,’ only later to realize that Hurston is simply a great writer, not Black and female—although that she is.
The rest of the essays, and there are 17 altogether, range from literary classics to screen icons Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo. In her essay on literary philosophers Vladimir Nabokov and Roland Barthes, Smith makes points that writers and readers will like: Nabokov basically says the writer is his or her own ideal reader—to read a writer well, one needs to read like they do. Barthes says the reader is supreme once the text is already published. Fundamentally, you can’t do without both locales or reading positions.
Best of all, Smith says that reading well is as much of an achievement as writing is.”