Friday, October 31, 2008

Creativity and Zadie Smith

There was a lot of positive buzz when Zadie Smith wrote White Teeth several years ago.

I resisted reading it for a while, simply because many of the reviewers struck me as standard literary types whose idea of a fun Saturday night is curling up with a novel about a darkly dysfunctional family planning a trip to the corner grocery. I finally relented and found her comic novel to be marvelous.

Her subsequent books have been uneven - I'm cautiously reading On Beauty - and that fact is a reminder of the nature of creativity. Few authors, playwrights, and directors are consistently at the top of their game. One can wonder how many of the B+ or even C efforts are needed to eventually produce an A.

Dickens, Shakespeare, and other extraordinary talents produced, at times, fine but lesser work. Were those simple exceptions or were they necessary components of a creative process?


Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. My thoughts are thus:
Generally when an author, musician, artist, etc finally makes it big it is due to the careful harvesting of years and years of work, and only the cream is taken and put into the breakthrough. Thus, the first work is often the most heavy with the creator's soul. Subsequent works include much less great stuff, and much more mediocre meanderings.

Also, by nature humans are bored by the predictable. Once you have read an author for the first time, it's much less easy to be surprised by him or her. This also takes the edge of off subsequent works.

Finally, there really was only one Shakespeare, Dickens, or Motzart. They are placed at the top of human creative achievement for a reason. If it were easy, then there would be a lot of them doing it.

As a final note, I read not too long ago that to maximize your reading experiences, you should read any given author only once. The laws of diminishing returns suggest that reading any further books is less productive than reading a different one. I'd say you're learning that to be true at least with Zadie Smith.

Michael Wade said...


I see some management books that an author writes in the wake of a best seller and think, "If this is so good, why didn't you put it in the first book?"

A quick update Zadie Smith's "On Beauty." I'm almost finished and it is very good.

The thought of only reading any given author once is frightening. I loved all of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series and plan to re-read it. One can make the argument, however, that the series is simply one long novel.