But somehow it had never appealed. From what I'd read about it it just seemed like one of those painfully tedious exercises in political PR, along the lines of those 'books politicians are taking on holiday' lists. It gave me visions of Cameron/ Clegg/ one of the Milibands grabbing the nearest intern and and haranguing them abut what music they could choose in order to seem with it and 'like, part of the Zeitgeist but not too ridiculous, Are the Arctic Monkeys still cool?'
I first encountered Smith when I was doing my A-Levels, and White Teeth came out. I was alerted to it by my A-Level English teacher - I remember him saying he had been dubious about reading it because the story lines span several generations and he wasn't convinced that a 23 year-old would be able to write well about people so much older than herself. Until he read it, was bowled over, and started recommending it.
I adored White Teeth, but it took a long time until Smith became one of my favourite writers. I avoided Autograph Man after trusted friends read it and said they were disappointed with it. But I devoured On Beauty - I'd enjoyed Howard's End and this (loose) updated retelling was everything I wanted.
But it wasn't until I picked up NW earlier this year that I became infatuated. I can't remember the last time I turned a book over the moment I finished and began reading it again, but that's exactly what I did with NW. The novel winds its way around Notting Hill Carnival weekend, dipping back in time to give the characters their stories but anchored to those few days. It could feel brief, but it's one of the most expansive works of fiction I've ever read. Everything I learned about the characters, I wanted to re-read the novel knowing. I'm still, months later, carrying them around in my head like old friends or those people you meet at a party who you'll never really know but who change the course of your life, ever so slightly, with one conversation.
So I decided to listen to Desert Island Discs. And that stuffy politician image was blown away. For those unfamiliar with the show, it's an interview themed around the question of which 8 tracks the interviewee would choose to take to a desert island. They're also allowed one book (the Bible and complete works of Shakespeare being provided), and one luxury.
She's also winningly open, talking about an accident that almost killed her when she was 15, falling out of a window while smoking
But as much as I loved her music choices, it was her thoughtful and humorous answers that made me want to save the interview and listen again and again.
She dismissed the idea of beauty disqualifying you from writing, even if, predictably, her looks are what the papers chose to focus on. Asked about her success, and whether she's an icon of multicultural Britain:
"There's a good line from Kanye somewhere where he talks about being the black spot on a domino. It's nonsense, 1 or 2 people out of a comprehensive school of 2,000 - that's no kind of success... I don't like being held up as that kind of example, or as that idea of having been rescued or saved from.. a class you need to be saved from, because I don't feel that way either."
She expands on this later when she talks about going to Cambridge and how she was lucky that a friend's father had been to Oxford and so was able to help her apply, tell her what they would be looking for. She calmly shatters the idea of exceptionalism - "there were plenty of kids from my school who could have gone to Oxbridge, but nobody told them how to do it."
She's also winningly open, talking about an accident that almost killed her when she was 15, falling out of a window while smoking: "yes it was a cigarette. It could easily have been a joint that I almost dies for. But it was just a Silk Cut!"
When I first read NW I wished I could write a fraction as well. Now I wish I could think, speak, a fraction as clearly as Smith. Listen while you still can,here. And if you'd like to read what she has to say about writing, check out her ten tips forwriting.
There are clearly worse things than being trapped on a desert island with Zadie Smith.