Is it possible that Zadie Smith's real strength is as an essayist, rather than a novelist? It doesn't seem to matter what she's writing about Kafka, her father, Liberia, George Clooney. Just placing anything within the magnetic field of her restlessly intelligent brain is enough to make it fascinating. Smith (White Teeth) has the gift the late David Foster Wallace, who haunts her book's pages, had it too of showing you how she reads and thinks; watching her do it makes you feel smarter and more observant just by osmosis. Her account of her struggles as an author ("That Crafty Feeling") may be the most authentic, unglamorous description of novel-writing ever put on paper.