Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Makes Me Wish I'd Never Used The Word Recommend Before

Zadie SmithHendrik Hertzberg begins a recent post:

Please, I beg you: drop whatever you’re doing and read “Speaking In Tongues,” Zadie Smith’s brilliant meditation on Barack Obama. The only thing that could make this wonderful essay better would be for it to be available as a podcast, too. That way, one could have the pleasure of enjoying it in both of the author’s beautiful voices, the speaking as well as the writing one.

I've been trying to decide how to tell you what happened next, because in some ways, I want you to travel the same road I did, which started like this: After I read another few sentences, I decided I'd respect his opening plea, stopped reading the post, and followed the link on over. And it is a really good read. And then I came back and read the rest of his post. So, maybe you want to do that.

Smith's piece is longish and demands a little attention. It is the farthest thing from a struggle to get through, I assure you. But still, if you're not in the mood to read something long right now, and you doubt you'll come back to it later, there is an option in the Comments.

(pic. source)


bjkeefe said...

Here is how Hertzberg's post ends:

UPDATE: You can hear her speaking voice after all! (My thanks to the many readers who sent the URLs.)

That link points to an MP3 file, which contains a recording of her giving the talk printed in the NY Review of Books. It's about 50 minutes long, with a couple of minutes of Q&A at the end. As I noted in the post, I came across this right after I'd finished reading the text and then reading the rest of Hertzberg's post. I decided to start listening right away, anyway, just to hear if her voice was as good as Hertzberg said it was.

It was. It was a delight to listen to the whole thing, and I realized that I was happy that I'd read it first, if for no other reason than because I could luxuriate in all the different tones and accents and voices and not have to worry that I'd miss the meaning of the next batch of words.

So, if you got to this sentence without traveling the same road I did, fine. But I do hope you'll make the time to hit all the same stops.

bjkeefe said...

I should add that if you're not an Obama fan, I'd still urge you to give the reading and listening a shot. Hertzberg picked the right word: it is indeed a meditation, and not, say, a paen. There are flattering words, to be sure, and yes, you have to consider who's telling you this, but the piece is a lot, lot more than just gushing over, as Smith keeps calling him, "your president."

bjkeefe said...

For completeness, here is the NYPL page for the occasion of her talk. The audio link is on that page, too.

bjkeefe said...

Oh, and for the record? I had no idea what Zadie Smith looked like until after I wrote this blog post and decided to look for a picture to dress it up.

I was doing that thing you do when you're listening to audio -- trying to imagine what the speaker looks like, thinking about how wrong you always get it -- but this time, I wasn't completely off. I underestimated, to be sure.

Anonymous said...

I finally got around to listening to this. Or to be more accurate, I discovered it on my iPod after downloading and then completely forgetting about it. Anyway, whatever.

I think it's only fair to warn people that the introduction seems to drag on forever. The NYPL guy does a *lot* of thankyous and even a wine raffle at the beginning. Fast-forward 10 minutes into the 50 minute podcast and there's still some male monotonic voice dronining on listing names that I've never heard of.

So basically I gave up. But I'm sure it would have been good.

bjkeefe said...

Jeez, Alastair, sorry to hear that.

On the other hand, I'm surprised that you, as a guy who makes his living working with computers, didn't just do a binary search for the end of the introduction. Or are iPods not good at jumping to a random spot within a file?

[interlude]No, wait a minute. I didn't remember a long intro, so I just downloaded the MP3 file again to check.

I think you must have gotten the wrong file last time, or you weren't listening to what you thought you were, or something, because on the file I just downloaded, there is no introduction. It's Zadie Smith, speaking from the start.

And there are no wine auctions.

I urge you to try again -- maybe re-download from the link I just gave?