Excerpt from On Beauty by Zadie Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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On Beauty

by Zadie Smith

On Beauty
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 464 pages
    Aug 2006, 464 pages

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So that’s Carlene Kipps. Tell Mom that she bakes. Just tell her that and then walk away chuckling . . .

Now, listen to this next bit carefully: in the morning the whole kipps family have breakfast together and a conversation together and then get into a car together (are you taking notes?) – I know, I know – not easy to get your head around. I never met a family who wanted to spend so much time with each other.

I hope you can see from everything I’ve written that your feud, or whatever it is, is a complete waste of time. It’s all on your side, anyway – Monty doesn’t do feuds. You’ve never even really met – just a lot of public debates and stupid letters. It’s such a waste of energy. Most of the cruelty in the world is just misplaced energy. Anyway: I’ve got to go – work calls!

Love to Mom and Levi, partial love to Zora,

And remember: I love you, Dad (and I pray for you, too)

Phew! Longest mail ever!


To: HowardBelsey@fas.Wellington.edu

From: Jeromeabroad@easymail.com

Date: 14 November

Subject: Hello again


Thanks for forwarding me the details about the dissertation – could you phone the department at Brown and maybe get me an extension? Now I begin to see why Zora enrolled at Wellington . . . lot easier to miss your deadline when Daddy’s the teacher J I read your one-liner query and then like a fool I searched for a further attachment (like, say, a letter???), but I guess you’re too busy/mad/ etc. to write. Well, I’m not. How’s the book going? Mom said you were having trouble getting going. Have you found a way to prove Rembrandt was no good yet? J

The Kippses continue to grow on me. On Tuesday we all went to the theatre (the whole clan is home now) and saw a South African dance troupe, and then, going back on the ‘tube’, we started to hum one of the tunes from the show, and this became full-blown singing, with Carlene leading (she’s got a terrific voice) and even Monty joined in, because he’s not really the ‘self-hating psychotic’ you think he is. It was really kind of lovely, the singing and the train coming above ground and then walking through the wet back to this beautiful house and a curried chicken home-cooked meal. But I can see your face as I type this, so I’ll stop.

Other news: Monty has honed in on the great Belsey lack: logic. He’s trying to teach me chess, and today was the first time in a week when I wasn’t beaten in under six moves, though I was still beaten of course. All the Kippses think I’m muddle-headed and poetic – I don’t know what they would say if they knew that among Belseys I’m practically Wittgenstein. I think I amuse them, though – and Carlene likes to have me around the kitchen, where my cleanliness is seen as a positive thing, rather than as some kind of anal-retentive syndrome . . . I have to admit, though, I do find it a little eerie in the mornings to wake up to this peaceful silence (people whisper in the hallways so as not to wake up other people) and a small part of my backside misses Levi’s rolled-up wet towel, just as a small part of my ear doesn’t know what to do with itself now Zora’s no longer screaming in it. Mom mailed me to tell me that Levi has upped the headwear to four (skullcap, baseball cap, hoodie, duffel hood) with earphones on – so that you can only see a tiny, tiny bit of his face around the eyes. Please kiss him there for me. And kiss Mom for me too, and remember that it’s her birthday a week from tomorrow. Kiss Zora and ask her to read Matthew 24. I know how she just loves a bit of Scripture every day.

Excerpted from On Beauty, (c) 2005 Zadie Smith. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved.

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