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Book Review

By Jane Mallison
Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 336 pages
ISBN: 978-0071482714

THE thing about mass literacy is that it isn’t just good enough to be able to read anymore. Kids’ books, chick lit, speculative fiction, academic references, dummies’ guides – there are books for everyone, and everyone’s reading. So for the aspiring elitist within each of us, the important thing is to read well.

That’s precisely what Jane Mallison’s Book Smart helps you do. It’s basically a list of good books – good enough to show a lit professor without facing condescending laughter.

Book Smart lists 120 books split into themed sets of 10 per month over the course of a year. It’s up to you to choose one or more of them to read each month. To help you decide, Mallison gives a brief synopsis of each book, along with some historical titbits.

Mallison also gives her own opinions, and her obvious enjoyment of literature is infectious. Reading her summaries is like listening to a kindly genius aunt who’s so down-to-earth and engaging that she almost passes off as a hip older sister.

What’s especially appealing is that, apart from the classic (read: old, very old) English language titles, she also includes translations of great non-English works. She’s selected translations that are usually clear, readable, and quite unpretentious, while still retaining a musicality hopefully true to the original languages but certainly compelling in their own right.