On Beauty by Zadie Smith

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The 150-word Review: An all-encompassing rivalry, upon which your career, reputation, and identity is based, can sometimes be a real drag.

Howard Belsey is a British-born professor of Rembrandt studies, living with his African-American wife and his two children in the ivy-covered sanctuary of Wellington, outside Boston. Monty Kipps is Howard’s rival, an ultra-conservative dandy, an author of a best-selling book on Rembrandt, and the visiting professor at Howard’s university. When Howard’s oldest son, Jerome, falls under the seductive spell of Kipps’ daughter, he is compelled to rescue his son from Monty’s objectionable worldview.

As with her first novel, “White Teeth,” Zadie Smith explores the travails of the middle-class, multi-ethnic family: parents losing touch with their children, spouses hanging on to hopeless marriages, and children struggling to come to terms with their heritage and establish unique identities. “On Beauty” holds a magnifying glass up to the “culture wars” with hilarious, and insightful, results.

Reading this book on your shelf will impress: fans of E.M. Forster, Haitian street hawkers, hip-hop archivists, back-bitting academics, proponents of affirmative action, opponents of affirmative action, freestyle rappers, and dangerous ingénues.

This book will go great with: Dr. Brown’s Soda

Set the mood with: Ball of Confusion by Love and Rockets

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the book is loosely based on “Howards End” by E. M. Forster, and has been described by Zadie Smith as a homage to Forster’s novel.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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The 150-word Review: When your hopes, dreams, failures, and regrets, heaped upon your children end in disaster; when your adopted country, the one you’ve shed blood for, turns its back on you; when your homeland fails to resurrect the fundamental good that must still reside in your blood; what are you to do? You do what any Englishman (by way of Bangladesh) would do; you find your best mate and head to the pub.

Samad Iqball (ICK-ball!!) and Archie Jones are best mates and the patriarchs of two London families in Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” In this brilliant Whitbread-winning debut novel, three generations struggle to maintain (or discover) identity, fulfillment, independence, and joy in a multicultural world that is, at once, nurturing and indifferent. It is a story about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, immigrants and imperialists, triumph and disgrace, and the complexities that arise when everything is thrown into one pot.

You would like this book if you’re a fan of: genetically engineered mice (FUTURE MOUSE¬©), culture shock, browbeaten husbands, exasperated wives, sibling rivalries, self-involved animal rights terrorists, “hysterical realism,” and parodies of the misguided middle class (Chalfenism? Absolutely brilliant).

This book would go great with: Samuel Smith’s India Ale

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Interesting fact Norm… like her character, Irie Jones, Zadie Smith is also the daughter of a Jamaican mother and an English father.

Reading this book would impress: Jehovah Witnesses, E.M. Forster, Mangal Pandey, Jamaicans, Bengalis, Englishmen and maybe your dentist.