There’s been so much numbers talk in publishing this past week — layoffs, sales, etc. — that it’s nice to be reminded of what books are actually about: Words! Language! Last Friday at the NYPL Zadie Smith gave the annual Robert Silvers lecture — Silvers founded The New York Review of Books forty years ago along with Barbara Epstein and the magazine recently ran a long essay by Smith called “Two Paths for the Novel.” This lecture, titled ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ explored the power of language in defining who we are: “What does it mean when we speak in different ways to different people? Is it a sign of duplicity or the mark of a complex sensibility?”
Smith drew from examples as varied as Eliza Doolittle, to Shakespeare, to Barack Obama (video after the jump) to her own upbringing as the child of a Jamaican mother and an English father in North London followed by an education at Cambridge where she taught herself to speak with a different accent. Those of you waiting for a new Zadie Smith novel, however, may be waiting for a while. Smith later told the audience that her next book, Fail Better, which we think is intended to be some sort of collection of the academic-esque lectures she’s been giving over that last few years, will be out January 2010, any new fiction will come after that. After the jump Smith talks about language, equivocation, and Barack Obama.