The Questions That Matter Most: Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom

Heyday. Jun. 2023. 256p. ISBN 9781597146050. $30. LIT
The habit of looking around and capturing the influence of a sense of place are prominent themes in this collection of 17 of Smiley’s previously published essays and one short story, “Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, Gives Desdemona Some Advice.” Smiley explains most of the pieces are a response to “assignments” she accepted from numerous publications. The question that matters most, according to her, is: What does it mean to know? She stresses the importance of reading the difficult books to form opinions and connections, whether it is as a middle school or high school student or as an adult. “History vs. Historical Fiction” is a powerful essay based on Smiley’s experience in a late-1990s interview on BBC Radio, where an author dismissed the value of her research in historical fiction. “Can Mothers Think?” comments on the historical divide between male authors who earn their living as writers, and female authors who raise children and often write as a hobby. References are made throughout the collection to the works of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, and others.
VERDICT In this slim yet valuable book, Smiley gives educators, readers, and writers much to discuss. Highly recommended.
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