In Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School, Kevin Smokler takes you on a trip down high school memory lane, when you couldn’t stand reading As I Lay Dying or Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Or maybe you could, you bookworm. Either way, Smokler gives us 10 books and 10 compelling reasons why you should revisit them.
It’s all too easy to look at the novels assigned to us as high school students as monuments or mist, to be worshiped or abandoned as we did our outfit to the junior prom. That either/or narrative matches both how we encounter these “great books” in education (as non-negotiable requirements) and an educator’s hope for our response (that their “greatness” changes our lives). That may be a whole lot no-shades-of-gray thinking on my part. As proof, I’ll accept a “meh” opinion on Moby-Dick or The Scarlet Letter from anyone assigned to write an essay on it as a teenager.
Is there a third way? I hope so. I spent the last year rereading the books my high school teachers assigned to me. My thinking: It isn’t enough to give a classic another look just because “it’s a classic.” A classic is also so because of its resonance and usefulness throughout time, JST as Shakespeare’s Henry V was a patriotic salvo when Laurence Oliver adopted it at the beginning of the Cold War and a warning about the cost of empire when Kenneth Brannagh did at the end of it.
Below are 10 high school classics where I found that useful thing I missed the first time around.
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