On Beauty by Zadie Smith


Audiobook.  A funny book about an aging male academic set in an Ivy with complications of race issues thrown in is hard to imagine.  But it manages to be funny and is willing to make just about all of its characters look ridiculous.  Howard is the most foolish and out of control; he's a white British Rembrandt scholar who would like to denounce Rembrandt in print if he could just get that book finished.  He married Kiki, a warm, kindly and tough black woman and they have three kids:  Jerome whose new Christianity dismays the family, Zora, smart and successful at college, unable to resist that second piece of apple pie like her mother, and Levi who pretends to his new street friends that he lives in Roxbury. 

Howard's academic arch-enemy is Jamaican and neatly the polar opposite of Howard (published a loving book about Rembrandt, devout, well, apparently devout Christian, opposes affirmative action).  The two families seem unable to leave each other alone, much to our amusement.

Academia is so easily made to look ridiculous but Zadie Smith doesn't take all the opportunities she set up.  For example, there were two bits about Howard's classroom assistant talking to Howard about setting aside images that the assistant will use to make a powerpoint for a talk Howard is to give.  He explains to Howard how easy this will be, Howard just needs to push the button to see the next slide, etc., etc.  Howard had received images by email that were intimate pictures of a female student and I was sure these were going to be part of the powerpoint show.  But no, this did not happen.

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