Intimations: Six Essays

by Zadie Smith

Paperback, 2020




Penguin Books (2020), Edition: Later Printing, 112 pages


"Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of reflective essays by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time Written during the early months of lockdown, Intimations explores ideas and questions prompted by an unprecedented situation. What does it mean to submit to a new reality--or to resist it? How do we compare relative sufferings? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us? How do we think about them? What is the ratio of contempt to compassion in a crisis? When an unfamiliar world arrives, what does it reveal about the world that came before it? Suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these extraordinary times, Intimations is a slim, suggestive volume with a wide scope, in which Zadie Smith clears a generous space for thought, open enough for each reader to reflect on what has happened--and what should come next"--… (more)


½ (139 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bookomaniac
I suspect it does make a difference whether you're reading this booklet in 2020, at the start of the pandemic when this was written, or two years later, as I did. Zadie Smith's brief reflections on her stay in New York and later London, quite shortly after the start of the covid-crisis, come across
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as remarkably light-hearted: they seem like fleeting impressions, and corona or the lockdown are actually only touched upon to a limited extent. But Smith does show how deeply the disease affects everyday life and unmasks obvious things as superficially founded. The essay “something to do” in particular, exposes how much of what we do is actually time-filling, and our lives seem little more than stretched out time. Still, I can't help but feel that Smith is also overestimating the long-term effects of the pandemic. At the very least, she suggests that the time before and after corona will not be the same. It may be too early to judge that, but what is happening in Ukraine now casts doubt on an impact for the better. That question aside, Smith's delicate reflections make a little beauty shine through the darkness.
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LibraryThing member arewenotben
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
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that will be hard to capture with too much remove.
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LibraryThing member maryroberta
Well crafted.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
What a year so far and in these essays, Smith tells us how she feels and what she is thinking. Life under Covid, of course, reasons authors write and musings on privilege. The essay though that I consider her strongest and most impactful was one on contempt. Comparing the epidemic of contempt to
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the Covid epidemic, both far reaching, possibly deadly, having unforseen circumstances until as with George Floyd's death, emotions reach a head.. It gave me a new way of thinking, and it made so much sense. I thought it was brilliant. The last part of this short book, whose proceeds will be donated, was her most personal. Descriptions of friends, aquaintances and some recognizable others.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
As Zadie Smith says, writing means being overheard.
A short, powerful book of essays written by someone who recognises their financially secure, educated status, but tries (successfully for me, another financially secure, educated person) to talk, sometimes obliquely, about life, Black Lives Matter
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and the impact of lockdown in 2020, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dated 31 May 2020 and published in August.
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LibraryThing member Iudita
I love the musings of her mind.
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Sad but deeply thoughtful insights from a brilliant writer about the current pandemic and its revelations about racism, poverty, privilege and inequity throughout the world.

The essays I cared for the most are: The American Exception with its masterful ironic reference to the "empty figurehead" in
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the US and then to one of England's most responsible and capable Prime Ministers, Clement Attlee. (I knew nothing about Attlee but now after looking him up, I happily do.) The contrast is stunning.

I appreciated Suffering Like Mel Gibson because of Smith's explanation that the 'privilege' bubble can be burst by self-acknowledgement and determination to change, but the 'suffering' bubble cannot be pierced because suffering is its own personal, lonely hell. One who hasn't suffered can not understand someone who has suffered much. Smith's juxtaposing privilege and suffering wasn't clear to me at first, but after a bit, I understood she meant the reader to see the cause and effect relationship.

The essay I found most meaningful is P.S: Contempt As a Virus.I found it right on target. Its about many of those in power, and/or in wealth who often see those who are not in the same privileged class as contemptible, other, burdens, to be kept separated, watched over, and manipulated. The Haves are afraid of the Have Nots and feel they must beat them down!

Smart read!
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LibraryThing member jphamilton
Despite all the praise, I’ve never found Zadie Smith’s fiction that enjoyable. I made it through White Teeth, but by the skin of my own teeth, my mind drifted away constantly. I started a couple of her other books, but never stayed between their covers for long. Yet, with her essays that I’d
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read in different publications over the years, I’ve always found them to be smart and engaging.

When the high praise and glowing reviews started up for this slim paperback volume—under one hundred pages—I was sold on buying it. These six essays were products of our current pandemic, written by Smith during our planet’s lockdown.

If the widespread anxiety and massive depression doesn’t stifle our writers’ minds, we could see a wide array of literature generated by writers of all stripes, as they found themselves forced into sheltering-in-place. The popular and romantic image of writers self-quarantining in their book-lined rooms, constantly writing away, seems to dominate our minds. But remember, writers are people too, and just because there’s an opportunity to do something, doesn’t mean there’s the motivation for it.

My thought is that this worldwide virus that forces so many to stay in their homes, kills millions, closes down economies for months, eliminates countless livelihoods, shutters our favorite businesses, will redefined who the “essential” workers are—for a little while. Then, we’ll adjust. We will still want to pay rock-bottom prices, and thus we’ll pull back on the bonuses that those formerly essential workers received … oh yeah, bargain-hunters will want us to "get real."

Allowing mega-big-box retail outlets to always be selling, while closing or curtailing the independent stores and businesses was horrible. Seeing the billions of dollars of sales move from local businesses to computer screens for online giants is deadly. Maybe I’m just so jaded that I don’t see the improvements that will come of any of this. Come on world, prove me wrong.

I’ve worked in bookstores for many decades, married my best friend/lover/partner/wife in our own bookstore, and I’ve always believed that the people working in the book world are “essential.”

Oh, I wasn’t supposed to be on my soapbox here, I was writing about some great essays. Okay, okay, in short: they’re wonderful, intelligent, gluten-free, good for your head, and in a reasonably-priced paperback edition. Buy this book, damn it.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The essays in this slim collection circle around the current pandemic, sometimes using it as a metaphor for other viral threats, sometimes catching its aftermath before there is an aftermath, and sometimes turning to face it head on. I’m not sure whether Zadie Smith could even write a poor piece
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of prose, and certainly not here. She is thoughtful and cautious, angry when anger is warranted (it’s often warranted), thinking through her actions and reactions, and periodically second or third guessing herself. She tends to straddle the Atlantic divide, drawing examples from Britain and from America, mingling them casually. But what I like best is when she is focussed on the tiny particularities of life, with love.

Of course there are some essays that I like more than others. But I think I wouldn’t want to have the whole without its many parts. Enjoy them each in their own way.

Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member alanteder
Pandemic Era Essays
Review of the Penguin Books paperback edition (July, 2020)

This short book of essays was written early during the COVID pandemic of 2020-202? and issued to benefit Equal Justice and COVID Relief Charities. I especially enjoyed the observational character portraits of several
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strangers in New York in Screengrabs and the listing of gratitude to various family, friends, writers and musicians in Intimations. Overall, there is really not that much about the COVID pandemic as such, aside from the eerie feeling of leaving NYC and her teaching post at New York University. The most dramatic piece of writing is Postscript: Contempt as a Virus which likens the spread of racism and hate to a viral infection.
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 effect, 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.
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LibraryThing member lethalmauve
Zadie Smith's Intimations is a collection of 6 brief essays examining the already obstrusive issues reared worse during the current global pandemic. They struck me more as personal sentiments rather than anything provocative. And this collection begins with a feminist assessment of time against the
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expectations of women, her biological clock and making, then Smith's frustration with their confining, absurd deadlines. It seems to be one of the multiple things she has pondered on when in lockdown besides the desire to turn tulips into peonies. Perhaps, with it, the desire to change these expectations as well.

The essays then take a different form and turn to the events in the US. How racial discrimination, economic disparity, and social hierarchy have become apparent, have been magnified by the pandemic. It has caused a fury of political unrest. All the more with the brutal death of George Floyd. And with millions of people without jobs, with limited to no financial aid from the government, the faults and cruelty of such a system are exposed. A country built from slavery shows how its gears still run on this same fuel of oppression. Smith's ultimate lamentation of healthcare as a right and not a privilege shouldn't be conditional. Among the essays of Smith, Contempt as a Virus, I think, deeply encompass the persistent racism, our inherent prejudice, and concern for privacy (in the name of big tech companies and their data collection) in the US.

Smith doesn't forget the alteration of our lives and other peoples' at present; how suffering is absolute, how time has become stagnant, an excess, how we try to manage and fill the time with anything to do. Yet mostly, I like how she argues without love, we're only doing time; that's love and all its façades (Something To Do essay). I think the pandemic has brought all of us a lot of questions and outcomes—mostly negative. But also space to contemplate about our lives, its shortness and incomprehensibility. It could get lonely out there. More so when most of us are stuck at home, living day by day in similar successions, and painstakingly trying our best to survive. What we needed most is empathy. On the funny side, everyone has turned into a gardener or a baker. So there are things to do. There are things to love. It suffices to remind and comfort one's self that everything is impermanent; that time passes.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
A great chronicle of NYC and London in the before days. We are never going to be what and who we were before the pandemic, this is a major historical shift, and Smith has given us a pretty perfect document of a New York and London we might never again see. I loved the short pieces on the people she
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runs into on the street most of all. She captures these people so vividly -- just gorgeous. I was also affected by her effortless logical move to racism as a virus. For so slim a volume it is packed with truth and beauty and ugliness.
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LibraryThing member greeniezona
An impulse purchase from the new book. section at my local bookstore. I liked the idea of this book. Clearly this could not be some thorough analysis of the pandemic from a place of great perspective. Rather this is overhearing someone else processing a thing while we are all still in that thing.
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(And in August, we are all still very much in the middle of this thing, though some aspects are very different already from the days Smith is writing from.) The benefit being not only getting to listen to that processing from someone you haven't already been processing with for five months, but someone who has a career of thinking about people and how they work, how they shape narratives out of the chaos of their lives.

Many useful moments. I wished for more. (Not a criticism.)
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Very small book, with a few short essays, most (all?) related to COVID. I think I like her fiction more than essays but there was some good stuff. A very good writer.
LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
Zadie Smith is the perfect person to write about the insanity of 2020. I just wish this book were longer.


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Physical description

112 p.; 7.2 inches


059329761X / 9780593297612
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