Smith's latest collection, "Feel Free," gives warm-hearted glimpses into her life as an international literary star.
From cafes in Rome to a flat in Greenwich Village to the working-class immigrant neighborhood in London in which she grew up, Smith handles her fame and wealth with grace and humor.
She seems a generous companion, enjoying life's pleasures and handling challenges with smiles and easy laughter.
Rising to sudden fame at at a young age with her best-selling novel "White Teeth," Smith overcame an immediate bout of writer's block with a still-flourishing career as a novelist. Following Faulkner, Smith finds literary richness in her small childhood community.
She's also published short stories and a profusion of essays, reviews and reporting, while enjoying motherhood and marriage to the poet Nick Laird. The mixed-race writer's career illustrates the folly of Brexit.
Smith's personal essays glow among book reviews, speeches, and observations on music and popular culture gathered in "Feel Free." The pieces appeared in the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, Harpers and other publications still fighting for existence in the hothouse of literary journalism.
The reviews include her time as the regular book columnist for Harper's, a distinguished chair once held by the late John Leonard. The Harper's reviewer looks at several books in each column, and Smith held the post briefly, showing an unease with the heavy reading required.
As with her other reviews, Smith's Harper's columns reflect a reluctance to cause offense. Her leaving brought a change in direction at the magazine; Smith includes her welcome to her successor, Larry McMurtry, whose novels have done for Texas what Smith's seek to do for her corner of London.
Standing out among her literary essays in other publications is an insightful appreciation of Edward St. Aubyn's autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels. Although Smith rose from a vastly different experience, she has a kinship with St. Aubyn. She lauds St. Aubyn's restoration of a mandarin English prose style to describe disreputable activities. A Cambridge graduate, Smith also displays a traditional stylistic elegance in describing lives on the margins of British culture.
An affinity for Philip Roth is noted with a speech she gave in his honor at the Newark library. While weakened by obligatory laudatory boilerplate, the piece gives fruitful observations on how fictional characters differ from pure autobiography.
Delving into issues of black-white cultural authenticity, Smith delves into the complexities of music appreciation in a piece on how she came to enjoy the music of Joni Mitchell after a childhood listening mainly to black artists.
Her essay on her indolent days in Rome after first achieving fame is worthy of classic status. Her account in the piece of how she caused a fire that destroyed her apartment and the lackluster response of Roman firefighters shines with comic brilliance.
Also standing out is a piece on New York City, "Find Your Beach," that captures how gentrification is taking a tragic toll on the city's artistic soul.
The most endearing piece recalls a trip back to her London neighborhood, and her joining an attempt to preserve a neighborhood library that gave her her first introduction to literature's wonders. As with the New York City article, this international citizen mourns how the impersonal forces of international capitalism are devastating indigenous local life.
Even her sadness at wrenching community changes comes with prevailing light. At her best, Smith is like a friend telling stories over coffee. If you're looking for a vacation book, she's the perfect beach companion.