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imageTHERE was a time when you could not get on a bus or a tube train without seeing someone reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, the writer’s award-winning debut novel. The book didn’t go down so well with Boris Johnson, however, as we learned in curious circumstances this afternoon. “I found White Teeth unreadable,” was his assessment of the 2000 book, while he pottered around the West End Lane Books bookshop in West Hampstead. “I did my best. I really did. I gave it several shots.”

It all made his brief stop in the shop, one of north London’s best independent booksellers, all a little odd, given what he left with. He had marched in determined that he was going to buy something, as if firing a dart straight to the heart of the Amazon warehouses, but then struggled to make a swift choice.

So, he was advised by staff, unaware at that stage of his dislike for her previous work, to buy a copy of Ms Smith’s most recent novel, NW, on the grounds that she was one of the area’s local writers. Zadie, after all, is part of the alumni at Hampstead School in Westbere Road.

“Ok, I’ll get it,” Boris agreed. Yet even at the cash till, while he was handing over his dosh, he was still probing the woman behind the counter and asking with a disbelief: “Did you actually read White Teeth?”

“Yes.”

“What? Cover to cover?”

So there he was, standing there with Smith’s new book, while slating her old one, and being asked by the ‘togs to hold it up – hold the book up, Boris, hold it up, hold it up. He tsked: “Hang on, I’m not going to plug Zadie Smith.”

Eventually he relented, but will he get to the end this time?

ZADIE SMITH PIC: DAVID SHANKBONE/FLICKR