I will have to say that Mr. Smokler and I went to different high schools together. He graduated in 1991 and some of the books he writes about weren't even published when I graduated some years before that.
I admit that I don't really remember reading much in high school. It seems that there was A Tale of Two Cities (which I struggled through then but loved when I read it as an adult), Gone With the Wind (which I remember hurriedly trying to finish for class at 3 a.m.), and DuMaurier's Rebecca. I am pretty sure there was a Shakespearean play - I don't know which one - but if I remember correctly we watched the movie in class.
Not saying much for the school I attended although it was a good one. Maybe it wasn't the school; maybe I just didn't read the books assigned.
In any case, Mr. Smokler's book introduced me to some 'classics' that I was not aware of. And, reminded me of some books I would like to read or reread. He frequently references and has a great affection for Clifton Fadiman's The Lifetime Reading Plan (a favorite of mine), one of the books he used in compiling his own list.
He breaks his Fifty into ten sections that take a look at Youth and Growing Up, Identity, Inner and Outer Worlds, Love and Pain, and on through Working, Family, Violence and Loss, Ideas and Learning (I especially liked this section), Heroes, and The Future.
He not only writes about the books, but also looks at movies that they may have spawned, references in pop culture, and the influences their authors may or may not have had on other writers.
On the one hand, there were many books that I have no interest in reading - not because Mr. Smokler makes them sound uninteresting - but only because I am just not interested in the subject matter.
Here, though, is a list of ten books going on my TBR:
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Candide by Voltaire
The Library of Babel (short story) by Jorge Luis Borges
Bartleby the Scrivener (short story) by Herman Melville
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again ( a journalism piece) by David Foster Wallace
Fahrenheit 451 (reread) by Ray Bradbury
Metamorphosis (novella) by Franz Kafka
The Phantom Tollbooth (already on my list to reread)
by Norton Juster
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (reread) by Annie Dillard
The Remains of the Day (reread) by Kazuo Ishiguro
I recommend this book even if it has been a long time since you were in high school. See what classics you might want to add to your own TBR list. But beware: Things have changed!