The Questions That Matter Most
Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom
Long acclaimed as one of America’s preeminent novelists, Jane Smiley is also an unparalleled observer of the craft of writing. In The Questions That Matter Mostthis Pulitzer Prize–winning writer offers steady and penetrating essays on some of the aesthetic and cultural issues that mark any
serious engagement with reading and writing. Beginning with a personal introduction tracing Smiley’s migration from Iowa to California, the author reflects on her findings in the varied literature of the Golden State, whose writers have for decades litigated the West’s contested legacies of racism,
class conflict, and sexual politics through their pens.
As she considers the ambiguity of character and the weight of history, her essays provide new entry points into literature, and we lucky readers can see how Smiley draws inspiration from across the literary spectrum to invigorate her own writing.
With enthusiasm and meticulous attention, Smiley dives beneath surface-level interpretations to examine the works of Marguerite de Navarre, Charles Dickens,Anthony Trollope, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Franz Kafka, Halldór Laxness, and Jessica Mitford.
Throughout, Smiley seeks to think harder and, in her words, with “more clarity and nuance” about the questions that matter most.