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Artful Hardcover – January 24, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (January 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204861
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204869
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As author of the 2012 Weidenfeld Lectures on Comparative Literature, Smith finds inspiration in Milosz’s conviction that “The purpose of poetry is to remind us / how difficult it is to remain just one person.” Indeed, Smith daringly splits herself into two captivating voices: that of a Dickens-loving bibliophile and that of her former lover’s ghost. Because that ghost shares the bibliophile’s passion for literature, the dialogue evolves into a wide-ranging reflection on how novelists invent reality, how poets cross-fertilize the literary flowers of their predecessors, how filmmakers transform the screen into a dream that absorbs their audience. As unpredictable as an undead vagrant, this scintillating conversation showcases Smith’s own gifts as a creative writer. But it also reminds readers of how great literature—of Shakespeare, Lawrence, Hopkins, Ovid, Plath, Rilke, and Flaubert—requires them to reorient their line of vision. Nothing—Smith shows her reader—forces such reorientation more than violating conventional boundaries, often in dangerous ways. These most unlecture-like of lectures deliver the thrill of perilous border crossings. --Bryce Christensen

Review

"A stimulating combination of literary criticism, essay, and fiction. Smith’s writing is ethereal... funny."
The New Yorker

"These brief, acrobatic lectures... perform spectacular feats of criticism. Each is as playful as it is powerful, as buoyant as it is brilliant."
—NPR Books

"A wordsmith to the very smithy of her soul, [Smith] is at once deeply playful and deeply serious. And her new book, in which she tugs at God's sleeve, ruminates on clowns, shoplifts used books, dabbles in Greek and palavers with the dead, is a stunner."
New York Times Book Review

"What a treat…. Artful is a love story full of everything - mind and body, past, present and future. The last lines of this wonderful book are spoken by the narrator: '(Who did I think I was talking to? You.)' Thank you, Ali Smith, from all of us."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Smith dealt before with grief in relation to the passing of time in her 2001 novel, Hotel World. The clever structure on show in Artful allows her to expand on this theme and enables the reader to delve back in at random and be entranced all over again."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Ms. Smith has an agile and mischievous mind. I will keep this book on my shelves forever, I suspect, for one line alone, a play on the song 'Smile,' made famous by Nat King Cole. (Charlie Chaplin wrote the music.) 'Simile,' Ms. Smith writes, 'though your heart is breaking.' If that doesn't make you happy you may be, like the writer in this book, dead... It's speckled with elegant allusion... It's a book with unusual nooks and crannies, a book that pulses with minor-chord heartache... What matters in both life and literature, this book suggests, is to keep trying to connect."
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"One of the marvelous things about this book is its reconciliation of the serious — both in the form of this crumbling, smelly guest and in its ardent advocacy of art — and light. Smith, whose love of words and skill at wordplay has already been made apparent in her stories and novels, performs dodge after dodge after dodge… What Smith has done with Artful is to invent a new form apart from form, to build a kind of Frankenstein’s monster inside the act of art."
The Los Angeles Review of Books

"Artful is full of crossings and parallels. It is thought in 3-D. It is artful, which the book itself observes is the name given to the Oliver Twist character of the Dodger: the one who animates the story, who brings life to it."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Contemplative, electrifying, and transformative....Through riveting reflections on the limitations and the limitlessness of stories, Smith considers four aspects of the endeavor of creation: on 'time, 'form,' 'edge,' and 'offer and reflection.' The results are redemptive for everyone, testifying with singular clarity and wit to the immutable necessity for art."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[An] extraordinary journey... Smith's storytelling facility and critical eye are evident in the fact that this ongoing conversation about time, memory, loss, longing, love, art and nature stirs the mind and heart all the more because it takes place between the imagination and reality. A soulful intellectual inquiry and reflection on life and art, artfully done."
Kirkus Reviews

"Smith daringly splits herself into two captivating voices... This scintillating conversation showcases Smith’s own gifts as a creative writer. But it also reminds readers of how great literature—of Shakespeare, Lawrence, Hopkins, Ovid, Plath, Rilke, and Flaubert—requires them to reorient their line of vision. Nothing—Smith shows her reader—forces such reorientation more than violating conventional boundaries, often in dangerous ways. These most unlecture-like of lectures deliver the thrill of perilous border crossings."
Booklist

"Smart, allusive, informal, playful, audacious. (It's true. I think I am in love with Ali Smith.) Artful is a gift from Ali Smith to her reader. It's a book no one else could have written, or would have. Smith has a critic's eye, but fills her book with the novelist's art, and the novelist's heart."
Independent on Sunday

"Glittering inventiveness. Not just a ghost story, but also a love letter. As emotionally freighted as a piece of storytelling, as intellectually rigorous as an academic's essay."
Independent

"Smith's exuberance and cleverness delight. This is a sparky, inspiring, charm-laden little book that makes you want to read more and differently."
The Week

"A wonderful achievement. Smith is so readable, likable, witty, and difficult to put down, that it makes you wonder why more people don't make use of her. She could make David Cameron interesting. Artful is a uniquely accessible work of criticism at the same time as it's a haunting fictional portrayal of grief, lost love and the power of art. Smith possesses rare levels of genius. She deserves to be read and discussed by every single person who has an interest in literature today."
Bookmunch

Customer Reviews

Had already wasted my money, didn't waste my time by finishing it.
Judith A. Anderson
Creative fusion is basically a blurring of the lines of form, where one type of literary form is seamlessly blended with another.
E. S. Elliott
Smith loves the short story and there is a lot to learn about the form in this book, along with much more.
Mel u-The Reading Life

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Vivek Tejuja on January 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The more I read interesting and different forms of the novel, the more I am convinced that the book cannot die. It shouldn't and it will not. Reading will never go out of style, and Ali Smith is one of those authors that keep proving this time and again. I started reading her when I was about twenty four or so and haven't stopped since then. All her books are quirky and have this mischief sense about them. This is what attracts me most to her books and her writing. If a writer can make me want to read his or her books without stopping, then that writer has done me in.

"Artful" is unlike anything which Smith has written before. It is based on four lectures given by Ali Smith at Oxford University. "Artful" is all about books and the love of reading and what reading can do to readers. The essays are on four themes: Time, Edge, Offer and Reflection. The lectures were then delivered in the format - as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by a former lover who haunts you. So partly, the book seems to read like a novel and at times like a work of non-fiction, which is a very unique way to write or compile a book.

The narrative and form of the book will instantly get to the reader, such is its power. I had to read the book in parts - could not finish it in one sitting because come to think of it, because of the structure, it is a difficult read in parts. One has to get used to the way it is written and only then can the reader be at ease. What attracted me the most to this book was that it was about art and more so about the love of books and fiction.

"Artful" while is a challenging book; it also lets you explore your imagination and ideas.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Y Arsenault on February 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Absolutely loved this book. The lingering aura of a previous love devastates the reader by its pernicious poignancy. I read and then re-read the book and still enjoyed it. The essay form that Susan Sontag so brilliantly revolutionized comes to life here in ways she would have found admirable. There are not enough stars to stamp on this book. It's novel as poetry, essays as journal, fiction as criticism and vice versa. I can't praise Artful enough. It is not overly long or cryptically short. Just right!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mel u-The Reading Life on January 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Artful is based on four lectures Ali Smith gave at Oxford University. The lectures were done in a unique format as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by former lover who haunts you. I really loved Ali Smith's short stories, especially "True Short Story" where there is a lot of material on the nature of the short story. When I saw these essays as forthcoming on Amazon I knew I really wanted to read them. There is much that is marvelous in these wonderful essays. Smith loves the short story and there is a lot to learn about the form in this book, along with much more.

Last year as I read articles on the short story by William Trevor and Elizabeth Bowen who both said the short story was the newest literary form. I thought who am I to contradict them but every fiber I had
screamed "totally wrong, they are the oldest form". I was so happy to see Smith agree with this and talking about ancient works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh as pieced together short stories and even talking about cave paintings as being inspired by short stories. I felt a shiver when she talked of countless literatures of the past lost to us.

Smith talks about why we need art and the limitations and reach of short stories. She organizes her lectures around four themes, "On Time", "On Form", "On Edge", and "On Offer and Reflection". I do not think there is an "Ali Smith doctrine" in these lectures, she is artist and a lover of the short story, not really a formal theoretician or academic (thankfully!) The greatness of these lectures, and they are marvels, is in the many wonderful things she says that make you ponder if you agree or not. There are lots of really interesting reading ideas here also.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Leon Zitzer on May 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Ali Smith's book is something like literary criticism but it's not that exactly. It does not strive for complete analysis. There is a plot line and a theme running through the book. The narrator has recently lost her lover who was some sort of professor of literature. How do you find comfort when you have lost someone you love? In this case, the narrator struggles to understand the notes her lover made for lectures she was planning to give. And because she struggles to understand, we come along for the ride. The lecture notes will never be finished. But that's not a bad thing. As her lover wrote about a music contest between a god and a man:

"... gods always win, but the music played by the man who is bound to lose his skin moves to tears, moves more than any god's perfect playing ever will, every living thing round him."

It reminded me of what the ancient rabbis said about the difference between objects and human beings. We want perfection in objects. A pot with a hole in it will do us no good. But a broken human heart works better than a heart that has never been damaged. Compassion comes from faults and imperfections.

In the end, complete meaning eludes us all, much as the Artful Dodger escapes Charles Dickens's final scrutiny (so now you know why this book is called "Artful"). There is a lot in here about Oliver Twist as well as many quotes from poets, writers, essayists (which means attempters, so Smith reminds us about the original meaning of `essay'). The first quote that grabbed my attention was this from Montale by way of Edwin Morgan's translation: "But it is only in ashes that a story endures, / Nothing persists except extinguished things."

Smith always names the translators, which is great.
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