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How to be both: A novel Paperback – October 13, 2015
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“Playfully brilliant. . . . Delightful. . . . Incredibly touching.” —The Washington Post
“Magnificent. . . . Brilliant and cheeky.” —The Boston Globe
“[A] sly and shimmering double helix of a novel.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Joyful. . . . Moving. . . . Encompasses wonderful mothers, unconventional love and friendship, time, mortality, gender, the consolations of art and so much else.” —NPR
“A mystery to be marveled at. . . . Smith is endlessly artful, creating a work that feels infinite in its scope and intimate at the same time.” —The Atlantic
“Ali Smith is a genius. . . . [How to be both] cements Smith’s reputation as one of the finest and most innovative of our contemporary writers. By some divine alchemy, she is both funny and moving; she combines intellectual rigor with whimsy.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Captivating. . . . How to be both indeed works both ways, demonstrating not only the power of art itself but also the mastery of Smith’s prose.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A synthesis of questions long contemplated by an extraordinarily thoughtful author, who succeeds quite well in implanting those questions into well-drawn, memorable people.” —The New York Times
“Innovative. . . . The book’s high-concept design is offset by the beauty, prowess, and range of Smith’s playfully confident, proudly unconventional prose.” —Elle
“Deft and mischievous, a novel of ideas that folds back on itself like the most playful sort of arabesque.” —Los Angeles Times
“Ali Smith’s signature themes—of the fluidity of identity and gender, appearance and perception—are here in profusion, as is her joyful command of language, from lofty rhetoric to earthy pun.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Ali Smith is a master storyteller, and How to be both is a charming and erudite novel that can quite literally make us rethink the way we read.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“An entirely delightful and moving story. . . . When you reach the end of this playful and wise novel, you want to turn to the beginning and read it again to piece together its mysteries and keep both halves simultaneously in mind.” —The Dallas Morning News
“A wonderfully slippery, postmodern examination of the perception, gender, loss and the lasting power of art. . . . The sort of book you could happily read a second time and uncover overlooked truths. In art as finely crafted as this, there’s always more to see, if you look.” —The Miami Herald
“Boundless. . . . Exhilarating. . . . Smith’s concerns—in subject matter and form—are profound and encompassing, and it is beautiful to watch her books defy pinning down.” —Portland Oregonian
“An inventive and intriguing look into the world of art, love, choices, and the duality of the human existence. . . . Even though Smith is writing two very different stories from two different eras, she does a masterful job of weaving connecting threads between the two.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Wildly inventive. . . . The narrative voice makes the double-take cohesive, as both are lyrical and fresh. . . . I absolutely adored this book.” —Laura Creste, Bustle
“Smith’s talent shines brightest in her tender depiction of the emotions that, like the underpaintings in a fresco, remain hidden but have a powerful impact.” —BookPage
About the Author
Ali Smith is the author of many works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith lives in Cambridge, England.
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Top customer reviews
What fun there is in this part (quite a bit, actually) stems from the shade’s attempts to make sense of modern electronics, as well as some gender bending (if that sort of thing still amuses you, go for it). And you’ll gain knowledge of life in early Renaissance Italy. All the while, you’ll learn how one paints a wall.
The e-book version gives you the choice of starting there, or instead choosing the other tale, “Camera,” which is George’s. Shortly after their visit to the artwork, George’s mother died, and she’s trying to get over her grief. This story is told in the third-person and far more clearly (I doubt if you’ll have to do any flipping back here, as you may well want to do in the painter’s tale.) Anyhow, it’s really, really special, as it weaves back and forth in time as once-lively and witty Georgia gets through her grieving. As you go through it, you’ll recall some of the scenes and some of the comments made in “Eyes” by the painter.
Interestingly, the two tales seem to reflect their eras: the Renaissance tale swirly, witty, larger than life. The modern tale dryer, flatter, ironic more than somewhat. They meld together nicely.
Of the two tales, "Camera" is more successful. There's not a false note in it. Perhaps the author as a teen was as amazing as is her George. "Eyes," of course, is an imagined past, and lot of what's in it comes from research, not life. The artifice shows through more. (And how could it not? It's a tale told by a ghost, after all.)
It is my understanding that half the copies of the physical books start with one story, half with the other. If you have purchased a copy that starts with “Camera,” however, I would definitely recommend that you start with “Eyes” anyhow. It really seems to make more sense that way. At least to me.
Notes and asides: The Kindle version’s AI counts the story twice, because if you load “Eyes” first, then you get “Camera,” and then you get the whole thing in reverse order. And amazingly, each tale ends precisely at the true halfway point, which the AI thinks is the 25% point. When I noticed that, I thought for certain that if Georgia were reading this book that would no doubt amuse her.
Maybe I'm too old-fashioned, but I like my stories or novels with a beginning, a climax, and an end (or an open ending, whatever). But I didn't enjoy this novel at all, although I will say that I ended up highlighting a few phrases that I found lovely (but overall would not read it again). If you like modern literature, go for it, I've heard rave reviews from others who understood what was going on.
If you like more "usual" lit, mayyyyyyybe give it a go to see if you enjoy the genre.
It was a close run thing as I almost gave up while reading the section I began with - Eyes.
Time is fluid and while the prose is beautiful, I found the vague stream of consciousness narrative frustrating at times and found myself skimming this section.
The second section (in my copy) is written in the same fashion but tells the story of a (more) contemporary teenage girl's struggle with the death of her mother and the effect on her father and brother, as well as her own grief. As I read this section the links to the first section began to make sense.
After finishing the book, I then returned to the first section and re-read it.
I'm glad I persevered with this book and am sure I will return to it again as it is the type of book that you will find more links and meaning each time it's read, however I did think the premise of starting at whichever section you felt like was a bit of a gimmick not really worthy of the book.
I am aware that the printed books are printed half with the 15th century first, and half with the 21st, so it's a lottery which one your have - but the e-book that I purchased had the 15th century story first, followed by the 21st; followed then again by the 21st and then the 15th again; in other words two books for the price of one! 😊 not sure whether this was intentional, but I dutifully read on through, expecting at any minute to find a twist. It was only when I had finished "both" books that I searched the web to discover th intention.
I think that I read first in the right direction, for the 15th century story contains much material foreshadowing the 21st century one. Although I think that the e-book might give some clue as to the dual nature of the writing, I thoroughly enjoyed and was richer for the experience.