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

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  371 ratings  ·  60 reviews
What do the great books of your youth have to say about your life now? Smokler's essays on the classics—witty, down-to-earth, appreciative, and insightful—are divided into ten sections, each covering an archetypal stage of life—from youth and first love to family, loss, and the future. The author not only reminds you about the essential features of each great book but give ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 19th 2013 by Prometheus Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.47  · 
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 ·  371 ratings  ·  60 reviews

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Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
This sounded like a good concept--revisit books you were assigned in high school, as an adult, and see what they can add to your life. Problems---many of items done here aren't even books (some are just essays.) Many of the items listed the author did not read in high school, nor do high schools commonly assign them---the author admits this. And the writing is terrible. Really, truly bad. There were sentences in here that were actually painful. Lamest metaphors I've ever read, I think. So the au ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I can't believe I read the whole thing. I never intended to but I would just pick it up and read a few short chapters in between other things and before I knew it, voila! I added some of the suggestions to my TBR and enjoyed Smokler's take on some of the ones I had already read.

I think educators face a dichotomy. Because many people don't study literature post high school, they feel like they have to introduce the classics or these folks will never be exposed to them period. On the other hand,
Classics have a lot to say about life, the problem is the ones that are forced upon us during high school are normally hated or forgotten about. Teachers pick books that are designed to teach important lessons as well as develop critically reading skills. Kevin Smokler has decided to reread those classics and try to tell the reader why we should reread them.

Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School is a collection of essays that often remind the read
Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was mostly enjoying this until the essay on Sherlock Holmes, where I came across this line: Leslie S. Klinger, who penned a revision of Holmes in which Holmes is a female detective named Mary Russell.

First, Smokler's description of the wonderful Mary Russell novels makes them sound like genderswap fanfiction. They are not.

Second, and most important, the series is written by Laurie R. King, not Leslie S. Klinger. Two seconds with Google could have told Smokler that.

Urrrrgh...I'll give the book
Ivonne Rovira
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kevin Smokler’s Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School is obviously aimed at the serious adult reader, the type of person who reads The New York Times, The New Yorker and probably The New York Review of Books, who buys season theater tickets and spends time in coffee shops. But don’t let that put you off! Many of us, even in high school, didn’t read all of these books, but it is never too late to gain a first-rate education.

I didn’t read Candide
Brooke Smith
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics, non-fiction
I was expecting this book to discuss some of the major themes in the chosen famous works and bring their themes into the modern world. In the instance of my beloved Jane Eyre, I would imagine discussing redemption, brash assumptions on others’ motives, or the role religion plays in decision-making in social hierarchy. And for about 80% of this book, there were good points worthy of rumination and discussion. Great discussion about Atticus Finch’s single parenthood in the world of To Kill a Mocki ...more
Mar 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
It's difficult for a book like Practical Classics to avoid coming off as condescending, what with its premise of "Oh, give 'em another try...{subtext: because you just didn't get it the first time}!" But Smokler has a point: We bring different things to books at different stages of our life, and what seemed like silly (or boring) crap in high school can speak to us tellingly as we age.

That said, he still almost managed to lose me by starting with a weak essay on Huck Finn, which I've had to read
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Motivational. Added some titles to my "to read" list.

20..H Finn..on an Odyssey..structured as a journey..Homer, Quixote, Oz, Rain Man...stability of home & clean clothes vs a wilder and unblemished America beyond the next river describes the torment of the Am. soul since its founding.
26..Candide..optimism thats willfully blind to the situation of others is just cruelty.. is free at the instant he wants to be
88..Portnoy..the things we love ignite curiosity about how they're made
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'd started reading this book quickly, essay after essay. But then realized that I wasn't keeping the books straight in my mind and decided to slow down and read them one essay at a time with intervals in between. So at this rate it may take me another 3-6 months to finish this book, but I'm liking this longer approach to the book. The essays give a very good picture of elements of the books that I did not grasp when I was younger and it gives me little hints into the thought processes behind th ...more
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wendy-books
"Practical Classics" groups 50 books/stories/essays/plays/articles into 10 topics (family, work, loss, heroes, etc.) with an emphasis on pieces that you may have read in high school and haven't thought about since. From "To Kill A Mockingbird" to "Fahrenheit 451," the poems of Emily Dickinson to Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," Smokler presents concise, compelling arguments for revisiting these literary warhorses at other times in your life, not out of obligation but for nourishment. Smokler is very ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
I came across this book in a booth at the 2013 San Francisco Writers' Conference and was immediately intrigued. Author Kevin Smokler revisits some of the classics he was assigned in high school, as well as some of the books and essays that are being assigned currently. Smokler graduated high school 10 years after I did, so he touches on some books that I read for pleasure, and a few with which I was unfamiliar.

Each chapter is an essay about one of the 50 titular books, with Smokler's thoughts ab
Mar 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
A very eclectic collection of recommended reads. Not all are standard HS reads. Some, like DFW, were writing as I finished high school, some, like Walter Benjamin, I didn't read until a post-grad class in lit theory. But a good chunk (Animal Farm, Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, etc) are mainstays of the HS curriculum (no Hemingway or Faulkner, tho). Good variation in the chapter formats. Some are more like fan letters, some are outlines, and a few are straight-up short es ...more
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: advice, book-books
It’s always sad when people say that they won’t use what they learn in school in real life. //Practical Classics// is about how fifty books you read in high school can affect your life now. The books are separated into sections, each dealing with different topics, allowing for a certain ability to browse through books with similar themes. As the books are set into themes that may not necessarily match what you were taught in high school it makes for some interesting reading.

Smokler assumes that
Bill Fessler
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Probably the hardest part of authoring this book was deciding which books to include and - more difficult - which ones to leave out. I'm really glad Kevin Smokler included books he admits he didn't enjoy. He did a great job on the ones he listed, and he did a great job of giving them credibility. Personally, I will never read The Scarlet Letter again, but I'm willing to let it stand as a classic.
That's what makes this book so good. It's fun to read the list, and read the reasoning behind each bo
Oct 17, 2017 added it
Shelves: non-fiction, dnf
I had to check this one out on Overdrive a second time and I still couldn't finish it. It was a sign to call it quits. I usually don't include books on Goodreads that I haven't actually finished. In fact I think I've only done it once before. Usually if I can't get through them I delete them off Goodreads as if I never started. Turns out reading someone else's thoughts about classic works of literature is just really boring. I loved Smokler's book on 80s movies and this sounded right up my alley ...more
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading critiques/essays about the books I've read over the years, not just as a young adult. It was like meeting up with a friend, old sport, and dishing about "older" friends. I was able to remember my reactions to books that I read, and compare my thoughts with Smokler. I especially enjoyed moving through the many genres. Historical to present day. Benign enjoyment of prose and plot of "Pride and Prejudice", to re-examination of those frightening ones, such as Joyce Carol Oat ...more
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
While I didn't always like Smokler as a writer, I loved him as a reader. I loved the way he engaged with the texts, using them as a means to contemplate the big questions about himself and the world around him. He was at his best when he was talking about identity and violence, and he gave me a lot to think about.

So while his tone was occassionally offputting, and the quality of the essays was uneven (I think he got a little hung up on the symmetry of his frame and made some weak editorial choic
Sep 11, 2013 rated it liked it
There were too many books in here that I'd never read in the first place ( including Catcher in the Rye; hi, Stephen Colbert!) I enjoyed a few of the essays about the books that I did know, and was inspired to re-read at least one of them. That was The Great Gatsby, and I found it less satisfying this time around. Actually, I became convinced that in HS I must have quit reading in the middle. Anyway, I love the idea behind Practical Classics, because really, who has great life perspective at age ...more
Chunyang Ding
Jul 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I don't think that I've blasted through a book, and definitely not what is essentially a glorified anthropology of fabulous book reviews, that quickly. But Kevin Smokler is absolutely fantastic in Practical Classics, to the point that I don't think that I am worthy of writing a pittance of a book review of that masterful work.

But I shall take my feeble attempt!

Full Review Here:
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I can see myself writing a book like this someday. Smokler goes back to books recommended to high school students to find and share with others the books that speak not only to teens but also to adults. He opts for shorter works (I'm pretty sure I'd do that, too) and throws in lots of contemporary books (again, something I'd probably do).

His little essays are short and encouraging and persuasive.

Good job, Kevin Smokler.
Ernest Sneed
Aug 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
A look back at life through the some of the more popular books read in high school and college. The writer finished high school and college in the early 1990's and completed this book in 2011. He reflects on the meaning and messages of the books in his life and tries to broaden that introspection to include the adult audience his age and older. He ponders many issues: culture change, adulthood and responsibility, the writer's sage advice with the passage of time, etc.
May 23, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a solid book recommendation list. Remember that each suggestion is written as a short essay, sometimes invoking the title author's style, and it will excuse the awkward wordiness. The list includes Maus, The Phantom Tollbooth, and many contemporaries which I usually see book lists avoiding. It would be a great jumping point for a committed book club, class or New Year's resolution.
Jul 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Smokler gives you lots of reasons why you should reread these 50 classics from high school. Some I agree with, others not so much. Obviously part of his argument is that as an adult you will see them differently. A good place to start if you are looking for some inspiration or wondering if that book you loved so much in high school has stood the test of time.
Jun 04, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Each chapter/essay is perfectly sized, so it was easy to pick my way through the book and find the titles I've read before. The most surprising thing about this book? It makes me want to read "Catcher in the Rye" again. I know! I wouldn't have ever thought that would happen in a million years.
May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fantastic! This book doesn't try to tell readers why they must love every book in the collection. Instead, it contains an honest take from the author's perspective -- some books you like, some you don't. Either way, it made me want to revisit some stories I read in high school (Catch-22, Fahrenheit 451) and many others I'd never touched. Overall, this book just makes me want to read more.
Katharine Holden
May 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
He gives away all the plots, twists, or surprises of all the novels and stories. Who wants to read for the first time or re-read a dimly remembered book if this guy's just told you everything that happens and who died at the end?
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
For me this was a quick and interesting read that made me think differently about re-reading some classics.

Note to self: In 2014 you are not allowed to read any more books that exist for the sole purpose of adding to your already impossibly long TBR list.
Sandy Sopko
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent!!! This book had some interesting ideas and information about some of the classics that we either read or should have read in high school and/or college. I ended up putting a number of books on my to-read and re-read lists. Highly recommended for anyone who likes to read!
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
I read a few essays and then skimmed the rest. His writing is imprecise, and lacks any particular insight. His perspective seems weirdly out-of-date or fogey-ish, especially on race issues. I wasn't crazy about many of this book choices. No.
Shawn Camp
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: kindle, read-2013
Many of these books I've either read or intended to read. Thanks to the essays Kevin Smokler has written these books are now back on my to read list or moved up higher because Im excited to get to them again!
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Classics Without ...: Practical Classics by Kevin Smokler 5 36 Mar 20, 2013 12:08PM  

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Kevin Smokler is the author of "Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies" (2016) the essay collection "Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books you Haven't Touched Since High School" (Prometheus Books, Feb. 2013) and the editor of "Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times," A San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of 2005. His essays on pop culture have appeared in the LA Times, ...more