Colin Marshall sits down in Westwood, Los Angeles with Kevin Smokler, author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School. They discuss what makes him think of Holden Caulfield as a Bing user; why we study novels in high school at all, and what it might have to do with Renaissance classics scholarship; how we got turned off to these books the first time around, and the radical notion that we now have time to properly absorb them; his hymn to his obnoxious teenage self, when he felt he possessed many abilities, yet none worked in concert with one another, and all lacked context; how these curricular books interact with the teenage impulse to rail at unfairness; whether Jane Austen represents the triumph of content over form or form over content; what, exactly, is the matter with The Scarlet Letter; David Foster Wallace’s notion of challenging the reader in the act of seduction; books now fashionably disliked, such as A Separate Peace; our onetime love of Dead White Males, our swing too far away from them in the early nineties, and the ambiguous DWM-relative position in which we now find ourselves; how he earned a lasting reputation at his high school for deeming Shakespeare “trite”; those moments where the necessary context for a work floods in all at once; The Day of the Locust, and how he read it only after coming to Los Angeles at 19 to supplicate before the altar of cinema; high school readers’ tendency to gravitate to the freaks and the outcasts, and whether his home city of San Francisco still welcomes such people; Rebecca Solnit’s lament over Google, and how the city’s future belongs to them rather than to the Grateful Dead; the life of a coffee-shop based San Francisco writer; and his next book, on music, which will go looking for a universal cultural experience in the particulars of his own adolescence.
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