The wielder of the sharpest pen around is wowed by death-affirming poetry, Nabokovian slyness, and—by George!—her first glimpse of female genius.
Here's an Iris Murdoch quote that I'm always paraphrasing: "Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality." This is the secret of fiction. It offers you a challenge—to try to understand that other people are real in the same way you are. That they are as complex, as sensitive, as capable of being hurt. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to remember when we go about our everyday lives. Also, the present culture encourages the opposite idea, that it's all about you. I suppose I seek out fiction that rejects that idea. I like books that expose me to people unlike me and books that do battle against caricature or simplification. That, to me, is the heroic in fiction.
Zadie Smith is the author of White Teeth . Her new novel is On Beauty(Penguin) .
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From the October 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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