White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This novel is unlike anything I've ever read, ever. I'd read many times that Zadie Smith was a great writer and that White Teeth was her super-successful first novel, so when I was in a book-buying mood one day I bought it. I didn't know anything about the actual story--only that, according to critics, it was funny and delightful and amazing. I'm still only about a third of the way through White Teeth, and it's quite a learning experience.
I haven't had to use a dictionary to read a book since I was maybe 10 or 12 or so. Back then, I couldn't ask my dad what any word meant without him answering, "Go get the dictionary, look it up, then you tell me what it means." If you look in books he's read, you'd find things highlighted and underlined with notes in the margins. My dad would be SO proud of me today because I'm lookin' up words left and right just to make it through White Teeth (successfully resisting the urge to highlight things and make notes). My vocabulary is expanding, I'm proud to say. For example, I now know that 'diaphanous' (i.e. a moth's diaphanous wings) means 'of such fine texture as to be transparent or translucent' and that 'exegesis' (i.e. liberal exegesis) means 'critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible.' Pretty sure I won't be using these words anytime soon, but at least now I know what they mean.
Not only is old Webster's getting a workout but I'm turning to Google pretty often too. This book is full of so many different cultural references. I think I've done a good job understanding the English and Jamaican and Bangladeshi dialects of the characters, but I've needed help understanding some of Zadie's references to things like the Jehova's Wintess & Muslim religions and World War II. Now, thanks to Google I know what Common (the rapper) means in his track "G.O.D." when he says "Only 144,000 gone get home."
Even with all the homework this book is enjoyable. While some of the humor is lost on me, I have laughed out loud a few times, which is something I haven't experienced much while reading. I look forward to reading this novel again in a few years when hopefully my vocabulary is significantly larger and I'm a little more knowledgeable in general--when I can read it and feel like more of an intellectual because I won't need reference books to make it through.