Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School

Kevin Smokler. Prometheus, $18 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-61614-656-6
Many of us continue to avoid or have forgotten the books that our high school teachers said were good for us. Smokler’s humorous, though sometimes superficial book is an attempt to rediscover the practical value of these books “from the point of view of a married 38-year-old man with a day job.” Arranging the book into 10 divisions that mirror phases and events of our lives, Smokler (editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times) probes fiction, poetry, and essays ranging from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Surfacing, and Their Eyes Were Watching God to Susan Sontag’s classic essay “On Camp,” Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” and Annie Diller’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The book is a rumination on the lessons these works can impart to our daily lives. Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, for example, asks us “[c]an only the strong forgive or does forgiving make us strong?” whereas Borges’s “The Library of Babel” reminds Smokler that “perhaps the unstated best quality of paradise is the opportunity to leave when you want to and go back to living.” Smokler’s guide to reading, however, offers little to distinguish it from many other more entertaining and thoughtful books that cover the same territory. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/22/2012
Release date: 02/01/2013
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