Intimations
Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of essays on the experience of lock down, by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time“There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those—the year isn’t half-way done. What I’ve tried to do is organize some of the feelings and thoughts that events, so far, have provoked in me, in those scraps of time the year itself has allowed. These are above all personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity.”Crafted with the sharp intelligence, wit and style that have won Zadie Smith millions of fans, and suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these unprecedented times, Intimations is a vital work of art, a gesture of connection and an act of love—an essential book in extraordinary times.

Intimations Details

TitleIntimations
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 28th, 2020
PublisherPenguin Books
ISBN-139780593297612
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction

Intimations Review

  • karen
    January 1, 1970
    ever since quarantine began, i have been bracing myself for the inevitable flood of memoirs i knew were gonna come out of it—everyone with their feels and reflections; those "now i know what's really important" realizations they felt needed to be shared beyond their social media platforms. i was not anticipating that zadie freaking smith would be first in that fray, so now i gotta take back at least 80% of my eyerolls even before i read this, and probably more of what's left once i get my hands ever since quarantine began, i have been bracing myself for the inevitable flood of memoirs i knew were gonna come out of it—everyone with their feels and reflections; those "now i know what's really important" realizations they felt needed to be shared beyond their social media platforms. i was not anticipating that zadie freaking smith would be first in that fray, so now i gotta take back at least 80% of my eyerolls even before i read this, and probably more of what's left once i get my hands on a copy. way to deflate my anticipatory snark, zs.everyone else still gets eyerolls.
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  • Katia N
    January 1, 1970
    These are lock-down essays by Zadie. I did not expect them to be very crafty, but wanted to read them for the immediacy of our, I suppose, widely and weirdly shared experience. And by "widely" I mean more or less the whole planet. Based upon my understanding, she has moved from NY and spent this time in her London place with the family. Unsurprisingly, it is not difficult to identify with her experience. But some of these brief essays are quite poignant in its own right. I liked the first one ca These are lock-down essays by Zadie. I did not expect them to be very crafty, but wanted to read them for the immediacy of our, I suppose, widely and weirdly shared experience. And by "widely" I mean more or less the whole planet. Based upon my understanding, she has moved from NY and spent this time in her London place with the family. Unsurprisingly, it is not difficult to identify with her experience. But some of these brief essays are quite poignant in its own right. I liked the first one called "Peonies" when she caught herself looking at the new tulips and wanted them to be peonies. What follows is a short meditation of being woman and spend the life writing.Another wonderful set of sketches called "Screengrabs". It is devoted to the last hours of their NY life. There is an episode when she walks her dogs and meets an old lady whom she knows from the neiigbourhood. The lady says to her that they all are going to get through this together. And Zadie cannot do much but nod knowing that she is actually leaving. I was touched by this moment and by Zadie's honesty of including it in these essays. It reminded me another book I've listened to recently where the western narrator living in Japan choses to leave for Hong Kong after Fukushima together with many expats. But the locals do not have this choice. She writes as well how hard it was after that to come back and how some people did not feel like welcoming any more. I do not want to make any judgement in both cases. Actually I am not sure why I am retelling this episode even. But it is the bundle of feelings on both sides i can so easily relate to.There is one political essay as well. And if anything else, that would make this collection for me as I cannot agree more with her point of view. She makes the virus a metaphor. She talks about the virus of contempt both the UK and the US. And her conclusions are not very hopeful. I just quote her:This is about the UK. I also would like to stress how potentially spot on she is about so-called "data-rich" structures Cummings is vexing lyrical:"...in the form of the Prime Minister’s ‘ideas man’, Dominic, whose most fundamental idea is that the categorical imperative doesn’t exist. Instead there is one rule for men like him, men with ideas, and another for the ‘people’. This is an especially British strain of the virus. Class contempt. Technocratic contempt. Philosopher King contempt. When you catch the British strain you believe the people are there to be ruled. They are to be handled, played, withstood, tolerated – up to a point – ridiculed (behind closed doors), sentimentalized, bowdlerized, nudged, kept under surveillance, directed, used, and closely listened to, but only for the purposes of data collection, through which means you harvest the raw material required to manipulate them further. "And this is her view on the reaction in the US to BLM. And it is so much what i feel when I see many people suddenly flock to read the books by people of colour. It is very good move. But it should not be done to make one feel better about herself, or to be under illusion that this constitutes any positive performative action:"But I am talking in hypotheticals: the truth is that not enough carriers of this virus have ever been willing to risk the potential loss of any aspect of their social capital to find out what kind of America might lie on the other side of segregation. They are very happy to ‘blackout’ their social media for a day, to read all-black books, and ‘educate’ themselves about black issues – as long as this education does not occur in the form of actual black children attending their actual schools."
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  • Walker Iversen
    January 1, 1970
    We all knew the quarantine musings would come. But how soon? And should they come at all? If I’m going to give into such things right NOW, I’d rather it be with Zadie Smith; her famously unpretentious, and often funny, frankness on full display. This collection is short, not even 100 pages. It is brisk, for sure, but she recognizes that we are just at the beginning of a major unraveling and captures the absurdity and surreality of this liminal space. She does this, not with grand statements, but We all knew the quarantine musings would come. But how soon? And should they come at all? If I’m going to give into such things right NOW, I’d rather it be with Zadie Smith; her famously unpretentious, and often funny, frankness on full display. This collection is short, not even 100 pages. It is brisk, for sure, but she recognizes that we are just at the beginning of a major unraveling and captures the absurdity and surreality of this liminal space. She does this, not with grand statements, but intimate sketches of the people that inhabit the peripherals of her life. She draws connections between their (and her) privileges and inequities, the pandemic and the police brutalities, and the ways these things are converging at this particular moment. Per her title, these are only intimations of things to come, but right now there is more than enough time for reflection—and reckoning.I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Lee Klein
    January 1, 1970
    Best when relaying observations from immediate life, small scenes, character sketches. Insightful, graceful, reckoning with life at a remove thanks to lockdown, intrinsic/artistic nature, race, class, and gender. Will be interesting to revisit in a decade or two.
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  • Sam Glatt
    January 1, 1970
    I got this in the mail today and devoured it almost immediately. I love Zadie so much. The essays (or "pieces," really, as I've been calling them in my messages to others) are obviously not necessarily "uplifting," given what they are about, but reading them is the first time I've felt some amount of comfort when reading any writing at all about the current moment in our world. When you read these pieces, you hear Zadie's voice, unmistakably, in your head, and it's wonderful. The writing style i I got this in the mail today and devoured it almost immediately. I love Zadie so much. The essays (or "pieces," really, as I've been calling them in my messages to others) are obviously not necessarily "uplifting," given what they are about, but reading them is the first time I've felt some amount of comfort when reading any writing at all about the current moment in our world. When you read these pieces, you hear Zadie's voice, unmistakably, in your head, and it's wonderful. The writing style is just pure Zadie and it reads as if an old friend is venting their feelings, with clarity, to you, talking with you. She's saying what we're all feeling in a way that only she can. Even if things are dire, and she acknowledges that they are, there is still comfort to be found in the tumult; you just have to know where to look.
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  • Morelia (Strandedinbooks)
    January 1, 1970
    How have I not read any of Zadie Smith’s work sooner?? This collection of essays was insightful, given the author’s own thoughts and feelings about the year so far, amongst the many stories that are to come of this year.
  • Riley Redgate
    January 1, 1970
    ... the truth is that not enough carriers of this virus have ever been willing to risk the potential loss of any aspect of their social capital to find out what kind of America might lie on the other side of segregation. They are very happy to "blackout" their social media for a day, to read all-black books, and "educate" themselves about black issues - as long as this education does not occur in the form of actual black children attending their actual schools. zadie smith is cerebral, one of ... the truth is that not enough carriers of this virus have ever been willing to risk the potential loss of any aspect of their social capital to find out what kind of America might lie on the other side of segregation. They are very happy to "blackout" their social media for a day, to read all-black books, and "educate" themselves about black issues - as long as this education does not occur in the form of actual black children attending their actual schools. zadie smith is cerebral, one of the world's great analysts. she's playful and funny, but her humor always has a satirical edge; she often seems to circle things to get a look at them from a distance. her writing does make me feel deeply, but not because it's just so emotional - rather, because it analyzes deep feeling, or the lack of feeling, or the reasons for feeling vs. not feeling.this book leaves that mode, especially the essay excerpted above, "Postscript: Contempt as a Virus," which is (obviously) about the state of racism and what must be done to move the apparently immovable. it's run through with frustration and has a barnburner of an ending: I used to think that there would one day be a vaccine: that if enough black people named the virus, explained it, demonstrated how it operates, videoed its effects, protested it peacefully, revealed how widespread it really is, how the symptoms arise, how so many Americans keep giving it to each other, irresponsibly and shamefully, generation after generation, causing intolerable and unending damage both to individual bodies and to the body politic - I thought if that knowledge became as widespread as could possibly be managed or imagined that we might finally reach some kind of herd immunity. I don't think that anymore. crushing. and it's not just this one essay that emphasizes physical, material reality over knowledge and awareness. the whole collection is saturated with the importance of the simple conditions of everyone's lives - the brutal and immoral inequities of American existence that are always, always a matter of life and death. the last sentence of the collection - won't quote it here, but it hurt me a little bit in the stomach - casts the whole book as a kind of anti-epiphany book. the same author who titled an early collection Changing My Mind now seems to suggest that to change your mind only actually matters insofar as it impacts other people in measurable, experiential ways.i agree, but i also think that's a disorienting way to feel for artists and americans, because it's a fundamentally collectivist view. and to be both an artist and an american is to be involved in relatively narcissistic work in the most narcissistic age of a country forever obsessed with myths of individuality. (i know smith is english, but she speaks about the US with a confidence that suggests ownership, and has done american cultural criticism for years, so i don't feel bad about thinking about her work through this lens.) though generally warm and kind and thoughtful, the collection also has repeated notes of shame and mortification, and i can't help but think that this dissonance - the moral need to focus on material reality vs. the work being immaterial - is partially the source.in the "Screengrabs" section of mini-essays, maybe my favorite, Smith describes a neighbor of hers who, in passing greetings, calls out details from stories that Smith has written but makes no apparent judgment on them. the way this neighbor speaks, it's like the stories' contents don't really matter at all - only the fact of their existence, which leads her to be able to call out to Smith and connect to her. this is increasingly the way i feel about fiction and about writing, that it's all meaningful primarily as a conduit, rather than as an object in itself. along that line, i especially liked this quote in "Something to Do": The more utilitarian-minded defenders of art justify its existence by insisting upon its potential political efficacy, which is usually overstated. (Artists themselves are especially fond of overstating it.) But even if you believe in the potential political efficacy of art - as I do - few artists would dare count on its timeliness. It's a delusional painter who finishes a canvas at two o'clock and expects radical societal transformation by four. Even when artists write manifestos, they are (hopefully) aware that their exigent tone is, finally, borrowed, only echoing and mimicking the urgency of the guerrilla's demands, or the activist's protests, rather than truly enacting it. i keep having these feelings. art is a mirror. art is a street down which - hopefully - love can move. art or writing are not a replacement for anything. i don't think these are necessarily negative judgments, and so to see them here so frankly and lucidly expressed felt like taking a much-needed breath.as for the book as quarantine document, i don't think i can feel the whole depth of it, yet, as something with a timestamp. i'm too neck-deep already in the feelings it describes, in certain heightened anxieties, the sensations of uselessness, and the sudden confrontation of Death-with-a-capital-D by a society that until very recently was obsessed with ignoring death. i suspect that to read the book will be more of a shock in ten years, when we're all no longer the frogs in the steadily warming water.
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  • Jessica Ranard
    January 1, 1970
    Intimations was written during quarantine, and I just can't get over that. I would say that I loved most of these essays. There might have been two that were, interesting, but were confusing? Or, rather, confusing to me. Spanning from topics of racism as its own virus, writing as "something to do," to the disease that is america, to a list of people/ideas that Zadie Smith is grateful for (& more). I'll be thinking about these essays for a while - some because I loved them so much I clutched my c Intimations was written during quarantine, and I just can't get over that. I would say that I loved most of these essays. There might have been two that were, interesting, but were confusing? Or, rather, confusing to me. Spanning from topics of racism as its own virus, writing as "something to do," to the disease that is america, to a list of people/ideas that Zadie Smith is grateful for (& more). I'll be thinking about these essays for a while - some because I loved them so much I clutched my chest, and others because I didn't really understand, and will have to re-read. But if I do that, re-read them, it will be worth it.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    More like 3.5.
  • niri
    January 1, 1970
    thank you to edelweiss+ & the publishers for this arc!this was lovely: it's exactly what it claims to be, and it's warm and clever. thank you to edelweiss+ & the publishers for this arc!this was lovely: it's exactly what it claims to be, and it's warm and clever.
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  • Emily Carlin
    January 1, 1970
    I read part of a review that critiqued this on the grounds that it’s messy/unfinished and Smith should have waited a few years to metabolize the experience of the first six months of 2020 more fully. I think that is exactly wrong, but maybe it’s just me. Since mid-March, all I’ve done is put one foot in front of the other. I haven’t really had the mental space or fortitude to think very deeply or critically about what’s happening — much less to write a series of essays about it. So I found this I read part of a review that critiqued this on the grounds that it’s messy/unfinished and Smith should have waited a few years to metabolize the experience of the first six months of 2020 more fully. I think that is exactly wrong, but maybe it’s just me. Since mid-March, all I’ve done is put one foot in front of the other. I haven’t really had the mental space or fortitude to think very deeply or critically about what’s happening — much less to write a series of essays about it. So I found this extremely helpful and life-affirming (it doesn’t hurt that I absolutely love Zadie Smith’s essays even at the best of times). It feels apparent that Zadie Smith’s brain is not broken by the internet ... these are the thoughts of someone who has an attention span (unlike me; frenetically refreshing the NYT 234287 times a day). In other words, even at her messiest and least processed, she’s miles ahead of me. In one essay she describes the way a university at its best supports both her as a professor and a young IT guy who has great style (the focus of the essay). She writes: “The best we could hope for was that the university might act as a super-structure, like a Gaudi building, accommodating and supporting our curious shapes and styles, and that this institutional cover would fool people into thinking we were something like utilities — and therefore something worth retaining — rather than peculiar manifestations of the spirit, seemingly put on earth to connect one thing to another, and to make said connections smooth, visible and/or usable for others....” The last part is exactly what this slim book did for me: It connected things — feelings and analysis about this strange moment in history we’re still inside of — and made them usable to me. Also, the form of a book (even a slim one like this) just hits different than scrolling through coronavirus think pieces linked to from Twitter etc. TLDR; the experience of reading this was a kind of mental and emotional reset and I am very grateful to have read it.
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  • Adam
    January 1, 1970
    The observations in the Screen Grabs section are moving. Thinking about Ben the duality if serving his customers with an unflinching positivity while thinking about how to continue to make rent is visceral. Ben is so many Americans right now during this time. A poignant collection of essays, Intimations allows the reader to know that others are feeling the same way right now during this isolation. It gives hope where hope is fleeting for so many.
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  • Ben
    January 1, 1970
    Strong collection of essays, Smith captures the sometimes despairing spirit of the last few months very well and as always writes beautifully. Hope more writers of her calibre have similar collections written, there's something about the helplessness experienced at the height (so far!) of the virus that will be hard to capture with too much remove.
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  • rianna
    January 1, 1970
    A relevant and timely collection of essays from one of the greatest writers I've ever read. This collection is a personal and political examination of the past few months with Smith's signature insightful observations. Highly, highly recommend.
  • S!
    January 1, 1970
    you know what, i've been kinda dreading all the books that will come out of this situation but i trust zadie smith's brain a lot. so, yeah. looking forward to it
  • Michael Smith
    January 1, 1970
    A perfect book for right now, written in quarantine about the state of the current moment. Read it, think about it, discuss it with others.
  • Cecilia Barron
    January 1, 1970
    unfair
  • Mandy
    January 1, 1970
    Worth itIn buying this, I thought I really didn’t want to read essays about right now, it was too much like the news. I’m glad that I did. These works are of the now, but also manage to describe life in 2020 in ways I feel but haven’t been able to put into words.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    I devoured these six essays in an hour but will be thinking about them for years to come when we look back on this moment. We know there are a plethora of quarantine essays to come but I’m so glad we get to read Zadie Smith’s first. Intelligent and insightful musings on lockdown, connection, youth, inequality, and even the death of George Floyd.
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  • Daniel Simmons
    January 1, 1970
    A slim, elegant, eloquent chronicle of our present historical moment, and about how to put something meaningful down on paper when "an unprecedented April arrives and makes a nonsense of every line."
  • Robyn Courtney
    January 1, 1970
    4 stars
  • Meredith
    January 1, 1970
    Read it hard and fast almost against my will. So much highlighting. Filled some of the hunger that’s led me to keep reading the news long after I’ve ceased gathering new information because I want meaning. I’m not sure anyone can offer meaning right now, but Zadie Smith offers associations and contexts and the beauty of language.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    Best book to read during the pandemic and in quarantine. Highly recommended.
  • Nils Jepson
    January 1, 1970
    so fantastic. i would stare at the page and try to memorize every word and just tear up a bit before continuing to the next page. I'm not being dramatic! my notes app is covered with passages from this book, saved so I can look them up and feel them again whenever i need to.i guess this is the first piece of published pandemic pop culture I've engaged with. it feels weird because it feels like, since early march, all I've been doing is engaging with pandemic pop culture, in a way that feels very so fantastic. i would stare at the page and try to memorize every word and just tear up a bit before continuing to the next page. I'm not being dramatic! my notes app is covered with passages from this book, saved so I can look them up and feel them again whenever i need to.i guess this is the first piece of published pandemic pop culture I've engaged with. it feels weird because it feels like, since early march, all I've been doing is engaging with pandemic pop culture, in a way that feels very here and now, involving. makes sense because for the first time in my lifetime we're all involved in the biggest here and now thing. it's not politics, where you can try to go to buffalo wild wings and ignore. you can't not read about covid and if you don't read about it, chances are you're out there getting covid. engagement is inevitable; there's no way to escape.this might make a book of short essays about coronavirus seem extraneous. for one, we haven't had time to reflect yet. for two, we're still in the midst of suffering, no end in sight, and who wants to read about their own suffering before it's over. vox said this collection should have been pushed to the future when we have the gift of retrospect and semi-appreciation of hardship and experience. this makes sense, traditionally, i guess. no one writes their adventure story mid-adventuring, you're too busy adventuring.covid, alas, is no adventure and if it is the volume of action to dead bodies is significantly low. we're sitting here and we're dying. it's an adventure in boredom; forced to re-engage with time in a new way and forced to put everything on hold. there is absolutely nothing to do and because there's nothing to do we engage with what we have and what we have is news and tweets and maybe a walk around the neighborhood or two. this "nothing" i think, and how it leads to everything, is what these essays, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, are about. they're about a word i learned in a recent jia tolentino interview: negative capability. a phrase first used by john keats, negative capability is the capacity of writers to pursue their art, and for all of us in a broader sense to live our art, in the face of intellectual uncertainty and confusion. the ability to operate beyond the predetermined capacity we've designated to ourselves because we're walking on wavy, fluid ground, ground that we couldn't imagine before, forcing us to respond in ways we haven't imagined before.i spend a lot more time thinking about zadie smith's writing then reading her writing. her essays open rather than close, taking place, i would argue, mostly in your head compared to the words on your page. there is no other writer alive better at putting specific feeling to universal language. or, i guess, specific language universal in its specificity. there's no one better at diving so deep down, so deep in, that what seems so niche and specific becomes a bond that connects folks. smith is simultaneously so unsentimental, so unsure of the world around her, that you too start to see your world in waves, vibes, and encounters. these essays are short but every sentence is its own dynamic; trapezing from internal to external to communal to identity so fluidly and gracefully that the concepts start to jumble together, as they should.despite it's flow, this collection is stunted; presented in snapshots of life mostly on the edge of the precipice, before life falls down into covid. a lot of the essays track smith's last couple days in new york and the history behind her encounters with a real life version of a fictionalized homeless man, an IT guy in the NYU library, a woman that makes the rounds outside smith's apartment, an elder she meets on a bus in London, etc. etc. these people exist vibrantly and outside of ideology. i think "intimations," through it's explorations of smith's folk and fluid community of ideas and people, gives me, you, the reader time to grieve, although that seems too strong of a word, for what we've lost in a way i haven't been able to yet. that sounds dramatic, "back to normal" is clearly a privileged illusion, and our world was never "good," per se, but there is a certain loss of publicness and youth that i think its okay to mourn. we can acknowledge the stifling systems of capitalism, which have always been here, which have always killed and punted, and acknowledge the livelihoods that are being lost everyday, the hopes people had, i had, that have crumpled under the weight of uncertainty and boredom. am i making this collection sound heavy? it's not; it's life-giving. i forget, sometimes, that life is still giving something to us.my favorite part of the book is the last essay "debts and lessons." less an essay than a list of dedications to people in her life, smith explores who has touched, given, and taught her things. it has nothing to do with covid, explicitly, but it feels communal and lovely in a way few things or pieces of media have felt recently. i love reading someone's love for someone else. these few pages are overflowing with the feeling of love, almost to the point that you feel like you're an eavesdropper on an intimate act of dedication. i re-read every dedication two, three, four, eight times, feeling smith's words to her family, friends, herself in myself. it's a joy and i felt drunk with warmth after. smith's writing often feels like this but the openness and willingness to be vulnerable felt like something new, a step beyond what I've read from her before. this is a writer, like the rest of us, in flux. questioning her bravery, complicity, the floor she stands on and the concepts she advocates for. this book is a stool for smith to find her footing on. she toggles but never falls. the collection, while stunted and sometimes fractured, small screenshots of a larger picture, track smith's progress from uncertain to, well, certain. personally, I've been in a hole of thought and anger the past few days. I'm mostly mad at myself and my wishy-washy beliefs of "empathy" and "education" and "learning" and how all of these hypothetical, floating concepts can somehow correct centuries of injustice, decades of poverty, our fractured world. they, smith says, can't. I'm mad that I've been brainwashed to think art and the aesthetics of politics, in abstract, can solve racial injustice. i'm mad that i'm such a fucking coward who talks and talks and talks, and i've been taught that talking matters so much, instead of going out there and doing something about what i'm talking about. i'm mad that, somewhere, i got lost in the mud between aesthetics and materialism, thinking the former could replace the latter. i'm mad that i thought superficial "cures," like discourse or essentialism or talk or diversity and inclusion programs or etc etc, can provide food and shelter and freedom. none of these things provide freedom. what can? coalitions. economic justice. real action. bravery. this pandemic, beyond anything, is not an existential threat; it's very real, it's very economic, it's a killer. people are starving, dying, homeless. it's a, as smith says in the last sentence of the collection, test that she's never faced before. this is no time for cowardice. it's time for a revolution.
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  • Dana Sweeney
    January 1, 1970
    In this collection of essays written since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, Zadie Smith muses on how the pandemic has fundamentally changed or recast the act of writing, the distribution of power, and human connection. Where such an undertaking risks feeling dreadfully topical and rushed to press, I think Smith writes admirably to the inconclusive, no-end-in-sight, unsettled, discomfiting, fragmentary nature of the nightmare we are all sharing in. The strongest sections of the book, to me In this collection of essays written since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, Zadie Smith muses on how the pandemic has fundamentally changed or recast the act of writing, the distribution of power, and human connection. Where such an undertaking risks feeling dreadfully topical and rushed to press, I think Smith writes admirably to the inconclusive, no-end-in-sight, unsettled, discomfiting, fragmentary nature of the nightmare we are all sharing in. The strongest sections of the book, to me, were the parts that consider Smith's relationships with other people. These portions reminded me of Baudelaire's poem "To a Passerby," first published in 1857: they are filled with the same flavor of pure wonder at the volume and intensity of fleeting connections that modernity presents us with. But unlike Baudelaire's wide-eyed appreciation narrated from the bustling street, Smith's essays come to us narrated from a lonely bunker, as memories touched with the pain of nostalgia, and loss. Mundane encounters have become lustrous in her memory because they are no longer possible. Smith spends entire essays writing odes to random people with whom she has relationships probably best described as one-dimensional: the masseuse who she visited weekly to relieve her back pain before the lockdown; the eccentric, young librarian she would see at her university, who she describes as "very American: super-enthusiastic, a little goofy, forever wishing a good day upon me"; the vibrant elderly neighbor in her building who "knows exactly how long to talk to someone in the street, who creates community without overly sentimentalizing the concept." These essays feel exactly right. They give a language and a body to a sense of loss that feels almost silly. Reading them, I felt myself acknowledging how much I miss the woman who works at the front desk of the local post office, and the barista at my favorite coffee shop, and the waitress at my favorite Mexican restaurant down the street. My conversations and encounters with many people are insubstantial and almost always focused on a narrow range of transactional topics. And, I miss them terribly. Smith helped me to think about what that means. She helped me think further by closing the collection with an exquisite, delicate list of "debts and lessons" she owes or learned from people throughout her life, which are serving her now.Other parts that were notable: she writes an essay on white supremacy as a virus (which reminded me very much of Toni Morrison's similar, earlier analysis). A good essay of light, but scathing cultural criticism called "The American Exception," meditating on the United States' relationship to death. A vulnerable essay on the meaning of different kinds of work, some of which are plainly essential, and some of which (like being a writer, for example) are not. Parts that didn't land for me: Smith introduces an interesting, but frustratingly underdeveloped argument distinguishing privilege from suffering. In short, she argues: "Suffering is not relative; it is absolute. Suffering has an absolute relation to the suffering individual - it cannot be easily mediated by a third term like 'privilege.'" I think that she is arguing that privilege cannot insulate a person from suffering in some way. I think that is true. But I don't understand her angle or purpose, or why she felt that this needed to be said and argued over. There were also a few attempts at wry humor peppered throughout, which missed their marks and did not always sit right with me. Smith is, so far as I know, the earliest major writer to publish a full work on the catastrophe we are living through. This work feels reflective in many ways of where I am: caught in a momentous swell of history-in-the-making, upended, disturbed, distressed, sure that a world has passed away forever and that something new will have to be made after it. This collection is unsettled and inconclusive. It is a series of observations, of (as it proclaims by name) "intimations," of the beginnings of thoughts. It is not an intellectual or political analysis. It does not give us a rigorous framework for understanding and responding to what we are living through. It doesn't need or promise to, but I share that warning because I think others may be in search of it, and may make the mistake of hoping to find it here. Those readers may be better suited in waiting for Arundhati Roy's forthcoing "Azadi: Freedom, Fascism, Fiction," which will be published on September 2, 2020, and which, I think, will offer more of those kinds of guidance. Overall, a brief and decent read. Nothing exactly revelatory, but well-attuned to the moment. It's strangely comforting to see expressed in print some of the things that I myself have felt, and to meet new thoughts with relevance to the uncanny world we now inhabit. It is comforting to be reminded that the artists, the writers, the thinkers: they are all as flummoxed and muddling as the rest of us. Time well spent. (And as a final note, money well spent, too: applause to Smith for donating all proceeds from this publication to The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for New York and to the Equal Justice Initiative. That's cool.)
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  • Kimberley
    January 1, 1970
    Zadie Smith knows her way around words. To read Smith is to truly read someone whose love of language is so stellar, it's impossible for you not to love it too. Pair that with an observant eye and a desire to intimately understand self, and others, and you have a writer who continues to push other writers forward in the way they present their work to the world. Intimations is yet another brilliant example of Smith challenging you to not just see but understand. I only recently began to read Marc Zadie Smith knows her way around words. To read Smith is to truly read someone whose love of language is so stellar, it's impossible for you not to love it too. Pair that with an observant eye and a desire to intimately understand self, and others, and you have a writer who continues to push other writers forward in the way they present their work to the world. Intimations is yet another brilliant example of Smith challenging you to not just see but understand. I only recently began to read Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. It's my, well, meditative text; that said, I've been working through it slowly, with a great deal of purpose, for quite some time now because ...I have the time. So, it was a funny coincidence to read that Smith was reading through Meditations as well and decided to set forth with Intimations because she too had the time; Quarantine has made "lack of time" a reason with much less punch than before; even so, it's clear Smith is just as happy to have the motivation as the time because there is no guarantee of one simply because we have so much of the other. But, I digress. Intimations is a short but powerful collections of essays that read like extensive journal entries; details of fleeting interactions are spoken of and reflections of observations are given. In A Woman With A Little Dog, Smith speaks of how intermittent interactions with a neighbor ends up reminding her of the value of "community"--even if that "community" is an unspoken one where the participants don't bother to acknowledge its presence. The unspoken understanding of someone knowing you're there and watching your back still exists. In A Hovering Young Man, the "youthful exuberance" of her university's IT guy acts as a reminder of how much the dream of something more has changed for those young adults living in the now of this madness; there is no longer the sense of what will be there when this is done, only the what is there now and how best to boost the simplest of pleasures--even if those pleasures amount to being only material. An Elder at the 98 Bus Stop details a brief run-in with an old family friend; that sparks the notion of how different we now connect with each other; how technology has taken the place of nights on the porch or gatherings around a table--where the comings and goings of so-and-so with such-and-such were once spoken about. Those conversations and connections are different now because the places we once inhabited don't always allow for such intimations. The most powerful of these, though, is Screengrabs Postscript which was likely written just after the murder of George Floyd; Smith's anger is palpable and it's clear she'd reached the same level of despair and hopelessness as every other Black person whose seen how little Black lives actually matter to a world where systemic racism still holds court. I think I used to think that there would one day be a vaccine: that if enough people named the virus, explained it, demonstrated how it operates, videoed its effects, revealed how widespread it really is, how the symptoms arise, how irresponsibly and shamefully too many Americans keep giving it to each other, generation after generation, causing intolerable and unending damage both to individual bodies and to the body politic--I thought, if that knowledge became as widespread as could possibly be managed or imagined, we might finally reach some kind of herd immunity. I don't think that anymore.I enjoyed this collection and, have no doubt, others will as well. Thanks to Edelweiss+ and Penguin Random House for this early look. Opinion is my own.
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  • Dorothy
    January 1, 1970
    This short book of essays by the wonderful writer, Zadie Smith, is chock full of wisdom and apt observations of the unique time in which we inhabit this planet. The book is only around 100 pages long, but it reads much bigger than that.The essays all appear to have been written in this year of the pandemic, some quite recently. There is one, for example, that references the heinous murder of George Floyd and the resulting social unrest as people have continued to take to the streets in protest. This short book of essays by the wonderful writer, Zadie Smith, is chock full of wisdom and apt observations of the unique time in which we inhabit this planet. The book is only around 100 pages long, but it reads much bigger than that.The essays all appear to have been written in this year of the pandemic, some quite recently. There is one, for example, that references the heinous murder of George Floyd and the resulting social unrest as people have continued to take to the streets in protest. The writer says in her foreword that she has tried to organize some of her feelings and thoughts about events so far (which would have been the first half of the year) in this year that begins to seem more like a decade fraught with so much anxiety and stress. "These," she writes, "are above all personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity." I think my favorite of the essays is the one titled "The American Exception," from which I offer this extensive quote about our attitude toward death in this pandemic:We had dead people. We had casualties and we had victims. We had more or less innocent bystanders. We had body counts and sometimes even photos in the newspapers of body bags, though many felt it was wrong to show them. We had "unequal health outcomes." But, in America, all of these involved some culpability on the part of the dead. Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong skin color. Wrong side of the tracks. Wrong Zip Code, wrong beliefs, wrong city. Wrong position of hands when asked to exit the vehicle. Wrong health insurance - or none. Wrong attitude to the police officer; What we were completely missing, however, was the concept of death itself, death absolute. The kind of death that comes to us all, irrespective of position. Death absolute is the truth of our existence as a whole, of course, but America has rarely been philosophically inclined to consider existence as a whole, preferring instead to attack death as a series of discrete problems. Wars on drugs, cancer, poverty, and so on. Not that there is anything ridiculous about trying to lengthen the distance between the dates on our birth certificates and the ones on our tombstones: ethical life depends on the meaningfulness of that effort. But perhaps nowhere in the world has this effort - and its relative success - been linked so emphatically to money as it is in America.In another essay called "Suffering Like Mel Gibson" the writer plays on the movie that Gibson made called "The Passion of the Christ" to talk about the relativity of suffering. She wonders whether Christ's agonies on the cross, "when all was said and done, were relatively speaking in fact better than those of the thieves and beggars to his left and right whose suffering long predated their present crucifixions and who had no hope (unlike Christ) of an improved post-cross situation." The essay is essentially about privilege and the stubbornness of inequality.There is much to contemplate in each of these essays, written by a woman who obviously has thought deeply about the issues that she presents to us in a serious manner but not without humor. Her second job is as a teacher and she seeks to instruct us here through her writing. It is fitting that the royalties from this book will go to two charities, The Equal Justice Initiative and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for New York.
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  • Zöe Zöe
    January 1, 1970
    All kinds of “intimations” were forced upon us during the global epidemic, Zadie Smith collects them, ponders them, delves into them. I suppose “intimation” could only be enjoyable while it is voluntary, certainly not the case in Quarantine.2020 has forged a reality for us, a reality that everyone wishes for a difference. Zadie Smith starts with the familiar reality that a writer coins every time he or she writes —"WRITING IS CONTROL.WE TRY TO ADAPT, TO LEARN, TO ACCOMMODATE, SOMETIMES RESISTING All kinds of “intimations” were forced upon us during the global epidemic, Zadie Smith collects them, ponders them, delves into them. I suppose “intimation” could only be enjoyable while it is voluntary, certainly not the case in Quarantine.2020 has forged a reality for us, a reality that everyone wishes for a difference. Zadie Smith starts with the familiar reality that a writer coins every time he or she writes —"WRITING IS CONTROL.WE TRY TO ADAPT, TO LEARN, TO ACCOMMODATE, SOMETIMES RESISTING, OTHER TIMES SUBMITTING TO, WHATEVER CONFRONTS US. BUT WRITERS GO FURTHER: THEY TAKE THIS LARGELY SHAPELESS BEWILDERMENT AND POUR IT INTO A MOULD OF THEIR OWN DEVISING.WRITING IS ALL RESISTANCE."As we read further, Zadie Smith quotes the POTUS, casts doubt to those sentences, perhaps said on Twitter, but in her words, “Trump” was replaced by “he/him”. What a special time, if we could count the word “war” mentioned by media during this epidemic, we could forge another reality. Or maybe, another quantitative social linguistic research project for academics, who’s eligible for tenure. “He” almost convinced me that he was waiting for this “war time” to pour him a glass of victory champagne, speech already written.But half way, our realities and efforts of understanding privileges collide with others’ suffering. Zadie Smith compares them, distinguishes them —"SUFFERING IS NOT RELATIVE; IT IS ABSOLUTE. SUFFERING HAS AN ABSOLUTE RELATION TO THE SUFFERING INDIVIDUAL– IT CANNOT BE EASILY MEDIATED BY A THIRD TERM LIKE ‘PRIVILEGE’."From individual, the most absolute isolation, the ultimate trap of one’s body, we witnessed the abjection of a man who was kneeled by the neck and couldn’t breathe. “A man called George.” Quarantine means isolation, “segregation”, but suddenly, a collective anger was triggered. A “virus” out broke. I like when Zadie Smith creates the analogy of virus, a metaphor that is too real since we all are participants.Even it is pamphlet of six essays, we got to meet Zadie Smith’s people, those who are [under]represented by the phrase of “lack of capital”. They are of various race, beliefs, but more or less one Class. Their intimations tangled with worries, time to fill and rent to pay. And there are the youth, where she mentions Susan Sontag and her words on “Style”. That’s all what the young people got, and all were taken away. Suddenly, we are as empty as the streets, or aren’t we?
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  • Barathi
    January 1, 1970
    Zadie Smith's "Intimations" is a collection of six essays, the preface to which predictably begins with a Marcus Aurelius quote, followed unpredictably but no less fittingly by a Grace Paley quote --- "my vocabulary is adequate for writing notes and keeping journals but absolutely useless for an active moral life."Just as with most collections, there is no conventional linear thread here but some themes emerge vaguely. "Intimations" does not pretend to be instructive, she defines these pieces as Zadie Smith's "Intimations" is a collection of six essays, the preface to which predictably begins with a Marcus Aurelius quote, followed unpredictably but no less fittingly by a Grace Paley quote --- "my vocabulary is adequate for writing notes and keeping journals but absolutely useless for an active moral life."Just as with most collections, there is no conventional linear thread here but some themes emerge vaguely. "Intimations" does not pretend to be instructive, she defines these pieces as personal essays, which are by no way whole. Smith’s essays are full of quotable sentences overflowing with bold claims, offering corny hopeful eyes-glazed view of the future, that disaster will demand a new dawn. Smith’s defense of writing as a way of life, as a way to take time, to do it is a little bit remindful of Jeanette Winterson. There is a waft of “Why be happy when you can be normal?” in the essay, “Something to do”. “Writing is all resistance.” Smith declares.In the first essay “Peonies” she describes writing as swimming in an “ocean of hypocrises”, as an activity that is more about control that is meditative but calculative. Writers, she writes, can take a “largely shapeless bewilderment and pour it into a mold of their own devising”. Perhaps that is what writers are resisting, an inner conflict of wanting to control while acknowledging that the current moment is beyond any form of control. But is that not what we all are doing? Resisting both the anxiety of lack of control, and a deadening kind of surrender. We are fighting to control the little around us, even as we swim in this built-in hypocritical micro-environment.Despite some discomforts I think “Intimations” achieves what it attempts to --- have a conversation with itself. It is like that attractive interesting, very out-of your-league couple sitting beside you at the cafe you are stealing wi-fi from, you cannot befriend them but you can eavesdrop on them and theirs.Thanks to #Edelweiss and Penguin Books for the advance reader’s copy. / A longer version of this is on my blog where I go into some of my discomforts regarding Smith's discussions on privilege and suffering. https://bookbarr.home.blog/2020/07/29...
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  • Bethany
    January 1, 1970
    Actual Rating: 4.5 A collection of essays that feel deeply relevant to where we are right now. Written in the wake of COVID and the murder of George Floyd, Zadie Smith reflects on both the mundane and the extraordinary. At times she gives character, nuance, and humanity to people who are often overlooked. It was thought-provoking and resonant. In an interesting twist, several of these essays also felt personally relevant and significant because I live in the same community as the author. How str Actual Rating: 4.5 A collection of essays that feel deeply relevant to where we are right now. Written in the wake of COVID and the murder of George Floyd, Zadie Smith reflects on both the mundane and the extraordinary. At times she gives character, nuance, and humanity to people who are often overlooked. It was thought-provoking and resonant. In an interesting twist, several of these essays also felt personally relevant and significant because I live in the same community as the author. How strange to see pieces of your own life reflected in this way, from mention of the local grocery store you frequent, to descriptions of people who are part of your world, this very much hit home. I imagine for many people the experience of reading might feel more exotic- a window into life in Manhattan with all the interesting people who populate it. But for me, it felt more like a mirror of sorts. That said, I think the ideas behind what she writes are universal. The value of human life, and of individuals, including those who are often marginalized and left alone at the fringes of society. The fact that this pandemic has been painful for everyone, albeit in very different ways. An essay that considers the difference between privilege and suffering, because even those with privilege can experience suffering that feels insurmountable to themselves. The effects of racism the ways that structural forms of oppression become increasingly relevant in a global pandemic. Well worth a read, and I listened to this all in one sitting. The author reads the audiobook herself and it is mesmerizing. Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an audio review copy. All opinions are my own.
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