2015 TBR Pile Challenge: White Teeth

I’m really late to the White Teeth party.

When it came out in 1999, I wasn’t ready to read a book like this. A colleague leant me the book sometime around 2006 but I never read it then either.  But when I had the chance to come up with a list of books that had been on my list forever, thanks to the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge (hosted by Roof Beam Reader), I finally decided that the time had come to actually read this book.

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m not the last person to read this book and do a little synopsis. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is the story of the unlikely friendship between Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Archie and Samad were in the same regiment during the end of the war. They got into things just as it was all winding down and aside from one final action, they didn’t have much to do with any of it. Years later they are both settled in the same North London neighbourhood, each married to much younger wives, expecting their first children. The novel is the story of all of their lives.

There is no doubt that Zadie Smith is a talented writer. Not many writers would be able to take on such a massive story – the lives of Archie and Iqbal, their wives Clara and Alsana, and their children, Irie, Millat and Magid. And then those of the Chalfens, a family of 4 boys that get involved with the Jones’ and the Iqbals after a run in with a joint at school. It’s a novel that deals with faith, race, patriotism, the old and new worlds clashing, eugenics – the scope of this book is huge.

Normally I love these kinds of novels. I love stories of generations of families, told within the confines of their time. But it took me a long time to care about White Teeth at all. I didn’t get that rush of joy when I was able to return to the story. I was missing some crucial connection. There were moments where I chuckled, passages that almost had me feel feelings, parts where I was blown away by Smith’s skills.

But overall, this book was just OK for me. I know. I can hear you guys yelling at me. Maybe it was the wrong time for me to read this book, maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace, or the weather was wrong or I forced it by putting it on a list and making it so that I HAD to read it. I don’t really know why this book didn’t send me into a spiral of delight, why it didn’t have me shouting to the world about how much I loved it. I wanted to love it. I just couldn’t.

This one is going to go back to the library for someone else to read and I feel no sorrow at that. I’m not scared off reading anything else Smith has written but I might give it some time…

Anyway, just two books left to complete the challenge! Are you participating? How’s it going for you?

25 thoughts on “2015 TBR Pile Challenge: White Teeth

  1. Pingback: 2015 TBR Pile Challenge – I’m Game. | The Paperback Princess

  2. Oh you’re shaming me. I basically have given up and am already creating a list for next year. Or can I do 8 books before the year ends?

    I know I’ve read this but don’t remember it at all. I think it wasn’t my favorite of her books.

  3. I must be the last person–never heard of this one, but it doesn’t strike my fancy. Now that I’ve hit my RC, I’m revisiting books read ages ago. For now I’m going through my D.E. Stevenson favorites.

    • I was going to say I feel bad that I didn’t describe the book in a way that made you want to read it. And then I was like “nope.” I’m not sorry. There are so many books we want to read, if we can weed out some of the ones that may waste precious reading hours, so much the better. You enjoy those favourites!

  4. I have had this one on my shelf (unread) for a few years, so you are not the last!
    The last review I read of this book had me all psyched to read it, and now… But, like you said in the comment above, there are so many good books out there. I might eventually read this one, or I might not. And, I might love it, or I might not. But, in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. (I’m getting pretty deep here…) 🙂
    BTW, I also really want to read Kitchens of the Midwest.

  5. I definitely appreciated the fact that you included a synopsis, because I’ve never read White Teeth! I always hear people raving about it. From the synopsis you included, I was intrigued, but I’m sad to hear that it was just okay for you. I’ll leave it on my “I’ll get to it at some point” list! (Also, great work on the challenge!!!)

    • I definitely feel like one of the only people who’s life hasn’t changed because of this book. It hasn’t turned me off reading Smith’s other work but this one…I don’t know. Maybe it was long because it was so full of everything under the sun? I mean, eugenics?!
      I’m looking forward to finishing the challenge. It’s always at the back of my mind when I choose a new book “ok but this one isn’t on the TBR list….”

  6. When I took over the AP Lit course at our high school this year, White Teeth was on the syllabus for summer reading. I had never heard of it and changed it out with some favorites of mine. I wonder what the kids thought of it? Coincidentally, my kids’ recently retired pediatrician was Dr. Iqbal. Lol

  7. I haven’t read White Teeth or anything by Zadie Smith either. I love intergenerational stories too, but agree there has to be characters that are interesting and worth caring about. What’s next on your TBR? Good luck with the challenge?

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  9. Interesting…I don’t believe you need apologize for your own reaction to a book! We all react differently to the same books. Otherwise, it would be no fun to read or share our thoughts, right? 🙂 For some reason I have never felt compelled to read Zadie Smith. Don’t know why, but perhaps I would not be totally in love if I did either! 🙂

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