The Questions that Matter Most: Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom

The Questions that Matter Most: Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom
Hardcover, 5.5 x 8.5, 256 pages.
ISBN: 9781597146050.

By Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley has long been acclaimed as one of America’s preeminent novelists. Less known is her nonfiction, her steady and penetrating essays on some of the aesthetic and cultural issues that mark any serious engagement with reading and writing. Her approach is both enthusiastic and meticulous, always quick to dive beneath surface-level interpretations of authors and their work. This volume of nonfiction begins with a personal introduction that traces Smiley’s migration from Iowa to California a quarter-century ago. She soon found herself grappling with the rich and varied literature of a state whose writers were engaging with a contested history of race, class, identity, and sex. 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 literary history to invigorate her own writing. Among the authors she examines are Marguerite de Navarre, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Franz Kafka, Halldor 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.


“In this sharp compendium, Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley bring together her literary criticism, which brims with the same keen observations, inquisitiveness, and humor as her novels. […] Fleet-footed and smart, this delights.” Publishers Weekly
+ Show all reviews

About the Author

Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is a novelist and essayist. Her novel A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992, and her novel The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton won the 1999 Spur Award for Best Novel of the West. She has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1987. Her novel Horse Heaven was short-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002, and her novel Some Luck was longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award. She has written for numerous magazines and newspapers, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper’s, and the Nation. Her most recent novel, A Dangerous Business, was published in 2022. She lives in Carmel Valley, California.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the page above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


P.O. Box 9145Berkeley, CA 94709(510) 549-3564

vertical logo for Heyday Books

Newsletter Sign Up




Use code heyday20 at checkout!

click here to copy code

Privacy Preference Center