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By choosing good topics for an argumentative essay, at first you should find out what an argumentative essay is and what writing tips are necessary to follow. This essay presents the arguments with their supporting and opposing ideas. The writer should persuade the reader to adopt his or her point of view and behavior rules.

The distinctive characteristic of this type of essay is that the author needs to rebut the arguments of the opposite stance. What this means is that you need to elaborate what evidence the opposition has and find facts to refute it. Some students even think that this type of paper is the most difficult.

However, you shouldn’t panic, because each task that is given to you in college or high school can be completed successfully if you have a good strategy. One thing you need to remember is that planning can ease this process a lot. The first step of writing the paper is selecting the topic. Sometimes this step can take even twenty percent of the entire work time. We decided to make this easier for you and have gathered issues in one list which you will see below. Hopefully, our topic ideas inspire you to write an A-level paper. Before moving to the list, we recommend that you get acquainted with these quick and useful tips.

How to Choose an Argumentative Essay Topic

Make sure that the topic is not too broad. Otherwise, you won’t be able to reveal it properly. Try to be specific by focusing on a certain aspect of a general issue.
Take into consideration that good argumentative essay topics should concern a conflict that urges many discussions in society. It should be an important and arguable topic.
When opting for an argumentative essay topic, find out whether you will be able to find proper factual information to support your arguments.

Under the conditions of tight deadlines, you need to make quick, yet well-thought decisions. All essay topics have their advantages and disadvantages. If you can’t select the topic among several choices, compare them by defining the pros and cons of each.

Before presenting a certain argument, make sure it is strong enough to convince the reader. Each argument should be supported with evidence consisting of facts, stats, and so on.

Ask yourself the question: “Do I care about this issue?” That way, you’ll understand whether the subject is truly interesting for you. If it is, you are likely to perform better with your task.

The List of Good Topics for an Argumentative Essay

Society

  1. Can the death penalty be effective?
  2. Is buying a lottery ticket a good idea?
  3. Is competition really good?
  4. Is religion the cause of war?
  5. Is fashion really important?
  6. Are girls too “mean” in their friendship?
  7. Are feminist women being too harsh on other women who don’t support the movement?
  8. Can smoking be prevented by making tobacco illegal?
  9. Is a highly competitive environment good or bad for studying or working?
  10. Is it true that life 100 years ago was easier?
  11. What are the drawbacks of a democratic political system?
  12. What is cultural shock and how does it impact our perception of other people’s cultures?
  13. Should working moms be given special privileges?
  14. Should there still be any quotas for accepting people from minorities?
  15. Is being fired a suitable punishment for cyberbullying?

Technology

  1. Are we too dependent on computers?
  2. Are cell phones really dangerous?
  3. Does social media fame impact one’s life?
  4. Will we ever be able to stop using social media from our own free will?
  5.  Can humanity get rid of the Internet and continue developing?
  6. Are reading ebooks worse than reading paper books?
  7. What are the drawbacks of online dating apps such as Tinder?
  8. Should content on the Internet be more restricted?
  9. Will paper money be substituted by electronic money?
  10.  Does a constant social media connection make people feel more lonely and stressed?
  11. Do technologies that ease housekeeping, such as a robotic vacuum cleaner, make people too idle?
  12. Who is responsible for the excessive amount of abusive language in comments (under blogs and social media posts, videos, etc.) on the Web?
  13. What is the impact of technology on people’s ability to create?
  14. What is considered as superfluous usage of the Internet, and can it be counted as a form of addiction?
  15. Will the creation of artificial intelligence which can regulate itself lead to human extinction?

Morality

  1. Should torture be acceptable?
  2. Is it ethical to tell someone else’s secret to a person involved in that secret (for example, if you discover that your friend has been cheated on)?
  3. Do paparazzi violate the private lives of celebrities?
  4. Is it fair that people with no special skills get famous and rich from social media?
  5.  Is it a good idea to start a diary?
  6. Is it fair to control the time a teenager dedicates to playing computer games or using the Internet?
  7. Should people help the poor?
  8. Can a person whose spouse is in a coma demand a divorce?
  9. Do beauty pageants influence the moral values of society in the wrong way?
  10. Do cameras placed in public places infringe on people’s privacy?
  11. Should women who don’t have enough money for living opt for an abortion?
  12. Does a person with a physically or mentally disabled significant other have a moral right to cheat?
  13. Is killing a murderer immoral?
  14. Should people use animal tested cosmetics and drugs to protect themselves from dangerous consequences?
  15. Is it moral to refuse to save someone’s life if there’s any risk for your own?

Education

  1. Is homework helpful?
  2. At what age should sex education be introduced at schools?
  3. Does the amount of information we have to learn in school get bigger? Is this good or bad?
  4. Does home schooling undermine a child’s ability to learn how to socialize?
  5.  If college education is made free, will it be more or less qualitative?
  6. If compulsory homework is canceled, would children stop learning at all?
  7. Should children be taught at school about gender nonconformity and various types of sexual orientation?
  8. Should the grades or attendance for gym impact the GPA of a student?
  9. Should school teachers and staff members be allowed to socialize with students after school?
  10. Are standardized tests a good way to evaluate someone’s knowledge?
  11. Should children be occasionally tested for drugs at school?
  12. If a child doesn’t like the subject, can a school administration absolve him or her from studying the subject on the parents’ demand?
  13. Should all subjects be optional?
  14. Do prof-orientation tests really help students to decide on a profession?
  15. Should children be taught housekeeping at school?

Family

  1. Is it useful or harmful to give treats to a child when he or she does well in school?
  2.  If your child doesn’t like studying, is it acceptable to force him or her?
  3. Should people undergo testing to become parents?
  4. Is it irresponsible to have many children? (five or more)
  5. Is it fair to control the time a teenager dedicates to playing computer games or using the Internet?
  6. At what age should parents allow teenagers to try alcohol?
  7. Should children be asked by the court who they want to stay with after their parents’ divorce?
  8. Should siblings of different gender be treated the same way by parents?
  9. Should adults be responsible for their elderly parents? Should they be obliged to help them financially?
  10. Do parents have the right to read their children’s personal diaries?
  11. At what age should gadgets be introduced to children?
  12.  If parents find out their teenage child takes drugs, do they need to apply to specific institutions or settle the problem on their own?
  13. Should parents allow teenagers to have plastic surgery if they don’t have obvious defects?
  14. Do parents need to invade their teenage children’s personal relationships?
  15.  Should women and men have different rights and responsibilities in spousal relationships?

Health

  1. Should healthcare systems be free or paid?
  2. Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Why or why not?
  3. Should fast food come with a warning, like cigarettes and alcohol?
  4. Would it be better if the world had a universal healthcare system?
  5. Should people who suffer from incurable diseases be euthanized if it is their wish?
  6. Is human cloning acceptable?
  7. Does the time when people go to bed affect their health?
  8. Should shopping addiction be considered as a real disease on a governmental level?
  9. Are causes of obesity more physical or mental?
  10.  Should office workers be obliged to follow certain rules, such as washing hands, to reduce the frequency of spreading viruses and infections?
  11. Should the working day be shortened to six hours for the sake of health?
  12.  Do children of school age need to be provided with free mental therapy?
  13. Does the lifespan depend on genetics more than on other factors?
  14. Can people live without meat at all?
  15. Do all kinds of sports bring benefits to people’s health?

Art, Movie, Literature

  1. Should bookstores establish age limitations for certain books?
  2. Are movies of the 21st century much crueler than movies filmed in the 20th century?
  3. To what extent should movies that depict historical events be accurate?
  4. Should schools use electronic textbooks to save paper?
  5. Should paintings that contain nudity be censored?
  6.  Is it acceptable to bring children to exhibitions of a photographer who performs in nude style?
  7. Do actors take mental risks when playing different characters, including psychopaths and murderers?
  8. Should people read more books or articles to develop their mental horizons?
  9.  Is watching television series a waste of time?
  10. Do famous artists have an innate talent, or do they put in great effort to learn how to draw?

Where to Get More Argumentative Essay Topics?

Every now and then finding topics for argumentative essays can be challenging for students. There are many ways to get a topic, such as looking for it on educational websites, asking your teacher for tips, exploring the textbook, looking through argumentative essay examples or reading newspapers to understand which issues are important and controversial nowadays. Also, you should know that EssayShark.com is always ready to provide you with essay help. If you have run out of ideas, just contact us and we’ll do our best to help you. We wish you good luck with your studying and to achieve all your academic goals!

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If you are tired of puns, are you tired of life? Puns are easy to disdain. They are essentially found, not made; discovered after the fact rather than intended before it. Puns are accidental echoes, random likenesses thrown out by our lexical cosmos. They lurk, pallidly hibernating, inside fortune cookies and Christmas crackers; the groan is the pun’s appropriate unit of appreciation. On the other hand, everyone secretly loves a pun, and, wonderfully, the worst are often as funny as the best, as the great punster Nabokov knew, because the genre is so democratically debased. Puns are part of the careless abundance of creation, the delicious surplus of life, and, therefore, fundamentally joyful. Being accidental, they are like free money—nature’s charity. There’s a reason that the most abundant writer in the language was so abundant in puns: words, like Bottom’s dream, are bottomless.

The Scottish writer Ali Smith is surely the most pun-besotted of contemporary novelists, edging out even Thomas Pynchon. It’s not simply that she loves puns; it’s that she thinks through and with them; her narratives move forward, develop and expand, by mobilizing them. She is an insistently political writer, and her most recent work can be seen as an urgent, sometimes didactic intervention into post-Brexit British animosities, into a world that could be called, to borrow from one of her many punning characters, “nasty, British and short.” Since that calamitous referendum, in June, 2016, Smith has quickly published two novels, “Autumn,” in October of that year, and now “Winter” (Pantheon), the second of a projected seasonal quartet. But, for all the sense of bitter urgency, her work remains essentially sunny (pun-drenched, pun-kissed). “Autumn” and “Winter,” novels full of political foreboding, are also brief and almost breezy—topical, sweet-natured, something fun to be inside. The last page of “Winter” bears a baleful reference to President Trump’s hideous speech to the Boy Scouts in West Virginia, and the book contains a fair amount of family strife; yet the novel ends more like a Shakespearean comedy than like a political tragedy, with an air of optimistic renaissance and familial unity. One of the characters makes a reference to “Cymbeline” that might also function as a description of the novel we have just read: “Cymbeline, he says. The one about poison, mess, bitterness, then the balance coming back. The lies revealed. The losses compensated.” And much of the comedy and the fundamental cheerfulness in Smith’s work has to do, I think, with the figurative consolations the pun embodies: that life is generative, and that, even as things split apart, they can be brought together. For the pun is essentially a rhyme, and rhyme unites.

Is Smith drawn to creating wordy, precocious characters because she is so fond of puns, or do her intelligent characters naturally lead their author toward such wordplay? Certainly, her books contain a lot of high-spirited banter, spoken and thought. Her third novel, “The Accidental” (2005), opens as the preternaturally brilliant twelve-year-old girl Astrid Smart is waking up, and reflecting on her family and the summer holiday they are taking in a Norfolk village. Characteristically, her thought proceeds by way of verbal fission and replication:

She shifts on the substandard bed. The substandard bed creaks loudly. After the creak she can hear the silence in the rest of the house. They are all asleep. Nobody knows she is awake. Nobody is any the wiser. Any the wiser sounds like a character from ancient history. Astrid in the year 1003 BC (Before Celebrity) goes to the woods where Any the Wiser, who is really royalty and a king but who has unexpectedly chosen to be a Nobody and to live the simple life, lives in a hut, no, a cave, and answers the questions that the people of the commonweal come from miles around to ask him (most probably a him since if it was a her she’d have to be in a convent or burnt).

I associate this happy, whimsical music, arch in places, with the sound of antique English children’s literature. Perhaps it’s odd to find this old, golden register in the work of a contemporary author, who grew up in a working-class family in the Highland town of Inverness, who is gay, and who often writes about gender, sexuality, and politics. But Smith’s capacious art warmly embraces variety, and creates eccentric stylistic families out of disparate inheritances: “English” whimsy sits easily enough alongside “Scottish” postmodernism; the realistic premises of conventional bourgeois fiction (families on holiday, unfaithful spouses, unhappy children, difficult parents) are regularly disrupted by surreal, experimental, or anarchic elements (time travel, ghosts, digressions, adaptations of late Shakespearean romances, and, in “Winter,” apparitions such as a floating head and a piece of landscape that hangs over a dining table, visible only to one of the characters). Sometimes you finish an Ali Smith book unsure about the final meaning of this variety show but certain that you have been in the presence of an artist who rarely sounds like anyone else.

There are, of course, literary progenitors—you can hear the satirical scrape of Muriel Spark (whom Smith admires), and detect the influence of Virginia Woolf (fluid interior monologue, an interest in artists, and in genderless creativity). But the greatest influence is the writer whom no novelist can either escape or ever really sound like: Shakespeare. As in Shakespeare, especially Shakespearean comedy, everything is mutable. Reality dissolves into magic; men and women swap genders. Words are never stable in Smith’s fiction, because, as in Shakespeare, author and characters are always picking them up and turning them upside down to see what’s going on underneath. “Any the wiser” is flipped, in a moment’s reverie, into King Any the Wiser. In “Winter,” a “carapace” becomes “a caravan that goes at a great pace,” and England’s green and pleasant land becomes “England’s green unpleasant land.” In the same book, a character named Art is the one who sees, at the dining table, a chunk of landscape, just hanging above him, as if “someone had cut a slice out of the coast and dipped it into the room with us, like we’re the coffee and it’s the biscotti.” Art’s friend Lux tells his aunt that “Art is seeing things,” to which she replies, “That’s a great description of what art is.” Samuel Johnson, who created one of the first modern English dictionaries, threatens to merge with the politician and Brexiteer Boris Johnson until Lux helpfully distinguishes them: “The man who wrote the dictionary . . . The opposite of Boris. A man interested in the meanings of words, not one whose interests leave words meaningless.”

Elsewhere in Smith’s writing, received notions become “deceived notions.” I want to go to college, a precocious young Elisabeth Demand says, in “Autumn.” Her older interlocutor, Daniel Gluck, demurs: “You want to go to collage . . . an institute of education where all the rules can be thrown into the air, and . . . because of these skills everything you think you know gets made into something new and strange.” In “There but for the” (2011), Miles Garth, another of Smith’s brilliant punsters, turns the line of an ABBA song, “I believe in angels,” into a fighting manifesto: “I believe in Engels.” In the same novel, Anna asks nine-year-old Brooke, clever beyond her years, if she knows what A4 is: “A4, like paper? the child says. Or a road that is smaller than a motorway?” “Such good pun we’re having,” Anna adds, a moment later.

Puns are delightful because they are at once deep and shallow. Still, some are more significant than others. A superabundant art naturally produces superfluity—lexical runoff, weak in nutrients. Carapace/caravan is a throwaway; “England’s green unpleasant land” is too familiar to do any useful work; the college/collage joke seems forced; the thing about A4 paper being like a British A road seems like something Smith just had lying around. At times, you have the suspicion that Smith needs her characters to play around with words like this because she doesn’t know how to animate them as actual human beings, motivated by need rather than by whimsy.

Her art is at its most powerful when she gets her wordplay to resonate, and send meaningful vibrations throughout the fiction. One of her best and most captivating novels is a contemporary retelling of Ovid’s gender-bending myth of Iphis, entitled “Girl Meets Boy” (2007). Ovid’s tale is about a young girl who pretends to be a boy, and who is named Iphis, “a name both boys and girls could be called.” Iphis falls in love with Ianthe, a beautiful girl, and on the eve of her wedding is magically turned into a boy so that the marriage can be consummated. Smith’s version is set in modern Inverness, and concerns two sisters, Anthea and Imogen. Anthea falls in love with Robin Goodman, a woman who looks like a man. (“But he really looked like a girl. She was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.”) Robin praises the classical writer for his fluidity: “He knows, more than most, that the imagination doesn’t have a gender.” Thus the novel, in ways both playful and deep, makes good on the cliché of its title: “girl meets boy” by meeting boy in the middle. The pun expands meaning and possibility.

“I have this need . . . to be more,” Helena Fisker says in Smith’s best-known novel, “How to Be Both” (2014), in which a woman becomes a man, and two contemporary English girls, living in Cambridge, imagine themselves into the life of a medieval Italian artist. Indeed, if all of Dostoyevsky’s novels could be called “Crime and Punishment” (as Proust joked), all of Ali Smith’s could be called “How to Be Both.” Her characters are uneasy with single selves; they long to expand, to duplicate and generate. In “Girl Meets Boy,” Smith makes a truly Shakespearean joke out of the phrase “alas and alack,” which slyly becomes “A lass and a lack” (i.e., a girl, and a girl who “lacks” the all-important male parts). Recall the terms in which Samuel Johnson criticized Shakespeare’s ceaseless punning. Johnson appears to demote the pun to a mere “quibble,” and announced that a quibble was “the fatal Cleopatra” for whom Shakespeare, like Antony, “lost the world, and was content to lose it.” The pun for Dr. Johnson was lack, weakness, and female: a lass and a lack. Yet expansiveness is at the heart of Smith’s work; her characters aspire to the generative power of the pun.

Smith’s latest work can seem breezy, almost makeshift. “Autumn” and “Winter,” which must have been written at great speed, have the aspect of political pop-up books, quick, witty reads eager to have their say on the very latest news: Brexit, the refugee crisis, Donald Trump, climate change, the terrible fire that, last summer, demolished Grenfell Tower, in West London, killing seventy-one people. Smith’s political hunger is at times ravenous enough to swallow proportion. But, again, the best wordplay here earns its keep by growing new meanings, or new ways of looking at old meanings. “Autumn” is partly about a friendship between Elisabeth Demand, a lecturer in art history, and Daniel Gluck, who was Elisabeth’s neighbor when she was a child, and who is now very old, and dying in a nursing home. The book is replete with allusion—to the work of Pauline Boty, a neglected British Pop artist from the nineteen-sixties, to “A Tale of Two Cities,” to “The Tempest,” and to “Brave New World” (whose title is taken from Shakespeare’s play). Early in the book, Elisabeth is reading Huxley’s novel for the first time. It is a week after the Brexit vote.

Everything fits together, and “Autumn,” like “Winter,” can be thought of as instant political allegory. Elisabeth is in the process of applying for a new passport, symbol of British sovereignty and European Union membership; Elisabeth’s mother is furious about the Brexit result; Daniel, too old to care about such things, represents a lost sweetness, a piece of “old” Britain. Half the country voted for Brexit, and half did not. The country is at war with itself (a tale of two countries). It is indeed a brave new world, not in Shakespeare’s sense but in Huxley’s dystopian one (that is to say, nasty, British, and short). At one moment in the book, Elisabeth is listening to a political radio program, in which a conservative M.P. denounces the threat of immigration (one of the anxieties behind the Brexit vote). Elisabeth’s ears, Smith writes—channelling Shakespeare—“had undergone a sea-change. Or the world had.” And then she rewrites lines from “The Tempest”:

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and—

Rich and what? she thought.

Rich and poor.

In place of “rich and strange” comes “rich and poor.” Smith’s lovely correction picks up on the idea of self-division (a country of opposing positions), and also on the idea of external contradiction: a wealthy island now bereft of political imagination, at once rich and poor.

“Winter” extends the seasonal allegory. Nature is out of joint: instead of a “proper” wintry Christmas, there is only a “half-season grey selfsameness.” In post-Brexit Britain, one character explains, everyone is angry with everyone else, “and the government we’ve got has done nothing to assuage it and instead is using people’s rage for its own political expediency. . . . And what’s happening in the United States is directly related, and probably financially related.” This strife is concentrated in a singular family, a microcosm of the state, which gathers in a large house in Cornwall for a Christmas reunion. A solidly conventional novelistic setup is steadily subverted. The matriarch, Sophia Cleves, is eccentric and withdrawn, doesn’t seem to want her family with her, and has made no preparation for her visitors. Politically myopic, Sophia has long been estranged from her politically progressive sister, Iris, who nevertheless decides to turn up. Sophia’s son Art (who has a difficult relationship with his mother) is supposed to bring his girlfriend, Charlotte. But the couple have split up, so Art pays a stranger, Lux, whom he met at a bus stop, to travel with him to Cornwall and impersonate Charlotte. Lux is clever, playful, wordy—“a brainiac nerd”—originally from Croatia (via Canada). She has no intention of shacking up with Art—she is gay—and has come along simply for the money. But, like a figure in a Shakespearean romance—there are many references to “Cymbeline”—she is the angelic agent who magically brings Art, Iris, and Sophia together.

“Winter” lacks the cohesion of “Autumn.” It’s an antic collage, with a daub or two that might usefully have been suppressed. Like a number of Smith’s novels, it doesn’t know when to end—usually an element of her joyful profligacy—and trundles along into silliness. On the day after Christmas, a bus full of bird-watchers turns up in the garden of the Cornwall house; it seems to be there only so that Smith can have Lux, the lover of Samuel Johnson, deploy a leaky pun: “I refute it bus.” (The story goes that Johnson announced that he refuted the idealism of the philosopher George Berkeley by going outside and kicking a stone: “I refute it thus.”) As in “Autumn,” there are references to a female artist—this time, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth—but her presence here seems gestural. The political warfare in the Cleves family is rather too starkly laid out, and the novel can become earnestly didactic. “But what will the world do,” Lux asks, “if we can’t solve the problem of the millions and millions of people with no home to go to or whose homes aren’t good enough, except by saying go away and building fences and walls? . . . Human beings have to be more ingenious than this, and more generous. We’ve got to come up with a better answer.” The elements of realism and surrealism, of tradition and experiment, usually so deftly choreographed in Smith’s fiction, rub awkwardly alongside each other here. And there’s that not quite convincing bit about how “Art is seeing things.”

On the other hand, Art does see something, and his visionary moment at the dining table is one of the novel’s unlikely triumphs, an oddly moving mixture of the fantastical and the allegorical. The Cleves family has been arguing steadily, about contemporary Britain, about borders and walls and refugees, when Art realizes that something is falling onto the table—pieces of dirt, grit, rubble. He looks up: “A foot and a half above all their heads, floating, precarious, suspended by nothing, a piece of rock or a slab of landscape roughly the size of a small car or a grand piano is hanging there in the air.” No one else notices it. Later, when Art tells Lux about it, she jokes that he has banged his head on the world. As if, she implies, instead of Dr. Johnson kicking the stone, the stone came and kicked Dr. Johnson. Reality exists, and it has come knocking, and Art, who shares some of his mother’s political obliviousness, will be knocked into a resensitized political awareness.

Perhaps Art’s political schooling is too obvious. But there’s something delicate, almost spectral—despite the hulking thisness of the symbol—about that piece of hanging landscape. It’s a piece of earth, a piece of Britain. (The English poet Edward Thomas, asked what he was going to fight for in the Great War, picked up some earth and replied, “Literally, for this.”) But, when I encountered the scene, I imagined not earth so much as a piece of cliff, perhaps a slice of the white cliffs of Dover; in other words, I imagined an edge, a border. The vision is surreally real, at once literal and symbolic, and the meanings productively multiply.

In “Girl Meets Boy,” Smith tells us that Imogen used to get cross with her lexically ludic grandfather, because he was “always changing the words to things.” (For instance, her grandfather liked to switch the male gender of Kipling’s poem “If”: “which is more—you’ll be a woman, my daughter.”) Smith also likes to change the words to things, and in both senses of the phrase: she likes turning words into things. Her elastic, jovial art delights in transforming things into figures, and figures back into things. An argument about sovereignty becomes a piece of landscape, and then the magical symbol is turned back into political argument. Her novel “There but for the” is an ingenious tale about a man who leaves a disagreeable London dinner party, goes upstairs, locks himself in the spare bedroom, and refuses to come out—for months. The event becomes a local sensation. Reporters and TV crews mass outside. But perhaps the man never actually locked himself in the room. (People knocked at the door but never tried to open it.) What if he left the room long before the media circus descended? And, really, the entire novel is just a suggestive riff on the “Knock knock! Who’s there?” jokes. Knock knock! Who’s there? Answer: No one. In “The Accidental,” a mysterious stranger, Amber, who has appeared in the holiday house out of nowhere, raps her knuckle on twelve-year-old Astrid Smart’s clever head, and asks, “Anybody in?” The impact is meaningful. For quite a while, Smith writes, Astrid can feel where Amber touched her head: “The top of Astrid’s head feels completely different from the rest of her, like the hand is still there touching her head.” In “Winter,” you could say that, essentially, a piece of British landscape knocks on Art’s head and asks, “Anybody in?”

This sort of bonhomous playfulness won’t delight everyone. It’s not always to my taste. The cost of inhabiting a world of postmodern Shakespearean comedy is precisely that life is seen buoyantly but not very tragically. The neatness of the pun, its capacity to make things rhyme, exists at the expense, perhaps, of mess, despair, and sheer human intractability. Yet there is also something beautiful about art as play, about witnessing jokes and figures of speech and clichés and stray words shimmer into reality—seeing them become things, become central to a book’s machinery—and then slip away again into gauzy abstraction, rather as Smith’s mysterious fictional strangers seem to pass through her books and then slip away. In “Winter,” one of those characters, Lux, eloquently describes how she once looked at her family tree, and saw herself at the very bottom of centuries of existence. She suddenly felt history as a palpable burden. Once again, Smith turns a figure of speech into an object:

I knew for the first time I was, I am, carrying on my head, like a washerwoman or a waterwoman, not just one container or basket, but hundreds of baskets all balanced on each other, full to their tops with bones, high as a skyscraper, and they were so heavy on my head and shoulders that either I was going to have to offload them or they were going to drive me down through the pavement into the ground, like that machine that workmen use to break up tarmac. . . . Don’t misunderstand me. I also knew they weren’t there, there were no bones, no baskets, nothing on my head. But all the same. They were. ♦