“The novels we know best have an architecture. Not only a door going in and another leading out, but rooms, hallways, stairs, little gardens front and back, trapdoors, hidden passageways, etc. It’s a fortunate reader who knows half a dozen novels this way in their lifetime. I know one, Pnin, having read it half a dozen times. When you enter a beloved novel many times, you come to feel that you possess it, that nobody else has ever lived there. You try not to notice the party of impatient tourists trooping through the kitchen (Pnin a minor scenic attraction en route to the canyon Lolita), or that shuffling academic army, moving in perfect phalanx, as they stalk a squirrel around the backyard (or a series of squirrels, depending on their methodology). Even the architect’s claim on his creation seems secondary to your wonderful way of living it it.”
Zadie Smith, “Rereading Barthes and Nabokov,” from Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays.
I love this quote as itself. And then I love it on another level because it is the whole reason I even know about Barthes or reader-response criticism, and without that, my thesis might be really different. And then I love it on another level because the novel I most live in, the one whose architecture is the most familiar to me, is On Beauty. This is how I feel when I read her novel, and I’m glad she knows that. (Especially the part about the tourists regarding Pnin as secondary to Lolita, because On Beauty is so much more intricate and interesting and worth your time than White Teeth, and I disregard anyone who thinks otherwise.)