There are lots of books in my Book Group Toolbox, but this one, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touches Since High School, is going to be the source I consult when the group wants to read a classic.
Author Kevin Smokler understands why and how classics can become shoved aside by adult readers after hideous experiences in high school classes. Then he makes an excellent point, some classics will be far more appreciated by readers with more life experience under their belts than a teenager. This point made me wonder why some classics are chosen for English classes if the student readers may not be able to connect with the characters or story line. Classic works that resonate with students will stay on a readers favorite’s list for years. Classic works that don’t are being set up to fail and that doesn’t seem fair to the book or the reader.
Smokler wants to rectify that thought. He has chosen 50 classics that are typically taught in high school English/Language Arts classics. Head scratching fact: Smoker learned that there is no way to find out the number and titles of the most assigned books for high school reading. His criteria for selection closely resembles that used by book group facilitators everywhere. Smokler chose books with a lively pace; he understands that readers with busy lives will want a book that is compelling. He has also chosen books with a length between 200-400 pages and a primary appeal of storyline or narrative.
There are ten sections in the book with five titles each. Each title comes with a short essay defending it’s place in a readers life and urging the adult reader to attempt a re-reading with older, wise, eyes. Except for The Scarlet Letter. Smoker makes a great case for this book *not* being all that great in adulthood after school days. Yet, TSL deserves a place his own book, Smoker writes, because “some books aren’t meant to be our friends.” They’re job is to challenge us as readers and get us ready for the next stage of readership.
Book groups will find the essays invaluable as background info for leading discussion or choosing a classic. And I wouldn’t be surprised a book group that decided one year to read all classics, did most of their selection using Practical Classics.