How would you choose America’s best-loved novel? PBS has teamed up with the American Library Association, First Book, and the American Booksellers Association on a project that aims to do just that: The Great American Read. They recently surveyed Americans to select the top 100 books on our shelves and in our hearts and will be spending the summer celebrating these books before narrowing the list to just one.
PBS kicked off the Great American Read on Tuesday night with a two-hour special featuring these top 100 books. You can watch the episode, hosted by Meredith Vieira, here; you can also catch it repeated on PBS over the next few days. It was a very entertaining look at many of my favorite books and the ways in which they’ve impacted Americans. I have personally read 32 of the 100 books; you can check out the full list here and take a quiz to see how many you’ve read here.
The episode featured many authors, actors, other celebrities, and even just regular Americans talking about their favorite book on the list and why you should vote for it as America’s best-loved novel. The books on the list span many time periods, countries, and genres; to be included they must be fiction and published in English, plus each author is limited to one book on the list (so series count as one). All of the books on the list got a shout-out in the episode, but a few got a slightly more in-depth look.
Some felt comfortably familiar: George R.R. Martin (whose Game of Thrones is on the list) talked about the Lord of the Rings trilogy and how it impacted him; when Gandalf died partway through the book, it was a lightning bolt moment where he felt like “anyone could die.” John Green (whose Looking for Alaska is on the list) discussed Catcher in the Rye, and now the world makes sense to me because even as a teenager I never “got” that book, and despite how much I love John Green’s writing, I don’t really get his books either. I’ve even mentioned that previously on my blog!
Some were more surprising but no less enthusiastic: Allison Williams discussing why Frankenstein was such a big deal, and Sarah Jessica Parker gushing about Things Fall Apart (she even dog-ears her pages!).
One of my favorites was a woman named Eliyannah from Chicago talking about Harry Potter. She related to Hermione and the themes of bigotry in the books so much that she’s gone on to help create a web series called Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis.
Of course, I could never pick just one of these books. Pride and Prejudice is the one I’ve read the most, but I can’t discount The Giver, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc. etc. But luckily, I don’t have to! For the Great American Read you really can “Vote Early, Vote Often.” You can vote for as many books as you like once every day.
PBS with be continuing its series with themed episodes leading up to the finale in October, when all the votes will be tallied and the winner revealed.
The GAR is more than just a TV show, though. It is meant to be an interactive experience for readers. You can discuss the show and the books on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can even participate in a virtual book club dedicated to some of these 100 books; the first “meeting” is today and will discuss Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
You can also check out your local library or bookstore for GAR events. Here is a list of the libraries that got grants from the ALA to do official events, but many others have displays, events, or book clubs.
Are you planning to participate in the Great American Read? What book(s) are you voting for?