So it may not be surprising that I preferred the essays in the volume that are not literary criticism. "That Crafty Feeling" explores how Smith approaches the work of writing a novel--something that is always interesting to the members of our book group. She categorizes writers as Macro Planners (who have the structure, characters, and plot of their book worked out before they start writing) and Micro Managers (who don't know what they are going to write until they start writing) and describes how she, as a micro manager, works.
In "Speaking in Tongues" Smith reflects on voice, examining what adopting a certain accent means in class-conscious England (Smith herself is a biracial Brit from a working class family who reports that she now speaks in the posh tones of someone educated at Cambridge--but regrets the loss of her other voice) and on what it may mean for the American president to be someone raised "between cultures, between voices." These two essays appear in a section titled "Being," which also recounts a trip to Liberia.
In "Seeing," Smith includes movie reviews, paeans to two of her favorite actresses (Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo), and an amusing essay entitled "Ten Notes on Oscar Weekend." The section "Feeling" includes three essays about her family.
Smith writes beautifully and I enjoyed many of the essays; the literary criticism was a tough slog and made me feel inadequate to boot. So my recommendation would be to be selective in approaching this volume unless you love literary theory and/or have no self-esteem issues!
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, et cetera.
It's oddly oppressive to set off on a journey into a place so thoroughly imagined by other people.