Great American Read Wrap-Up

Have you all been participating in the Great American Read?  I first wrote about it back in May, and since then I’ve been reading some books from the Top 100 list, voting for my favorites every day, and watching the weekly specials on PBS that highlight some of these favorite novels of the American public.

It was all leading up to Tuesday night, when the winner of the voting was announced.  You can see the full list of results here. According to the GAR votes, here are the five best-loved novels in America:

5. The Lord of the Rings (series)

4. Pride and Prejudice

3. Harry Potter (series)

2. Outlander

1.To Kill a Mockingbird  

To Kill a Mockingbird

My guess prior to the announcement was that it would be To Kill a Mockingbird, but even I was a bit surprised how overwhelming it was: it started out at number one and never wavered once over the months.  TKAM is a wonderful book with broad appeal, but I think it remains so popular because it is quintessentially American.  It’s a coming-of-age story of a young Southern girl; it deals with race relations; it shows the merits and flaws of our justice system; it provides an enduring role model and hero in Atticus Finch.  And it doesn’t hurt that it’s taught so frequently in schools that probably most Americans have read it (certainly the ones voting on PBS programs).

I really enjoyed the GAR and hope PBS will do similar events in the future, perhaps for American authors or nonfiction, plays, or poetry.  I now have a whole lot more books on my to-read list as well! I had already read 32 of the 100 on the list, and I read three more during the course of the GAR.  Here are some brief thoughts on these three novels.

Rebecca coverRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

This novel had been on my to-read list for a while, so I picked it up to read over vacation…yeah, it’s not really a light beach read.  It’s a gothic suspense story featuring the new, young wife of a widower with many secrets, especially regarding his late wife, Rebecca. I loved the atmosphere and very much enjoyed the twists and the ending.  I’m looking forward to reading it again, because I think this is one that improves upon closer acquaintance. I also watched the TV adaptation of Jamaica Inn by the same author and loved it; you can find it on Netflix.

The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist cover

I’ve heard wonderful things about this inspiration novel, which tells the story of a Spanish shepard who journeys across Africa to find his Personal Legend.  I enjoyed reading it and it made me think, but in the end it didn’t strike me deeply. The plot and characters were too vague and archetypal for my taste; if I’m going to read allegory, I’d prefer it to have some more personality, like the Chronicles of Narnia. I also felt like it didn’t have much to say to women; I can only remember one named female character, and we aren’t very interested in her self-actualization.

Bless Me, Ultima coverBless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

I don’t know how I missed this book all these years!  I had even mentioned it in a 2014 blog post for Banned Books Week, because it made the Top 10 Challenged list for the previous year.  Yet not only had I not read it, I knew nothing about it. It’s a wonderful coming of age story from a Chicano perspective in the southwestern US, where Antonio feels pulled between different family expectations as well as traditional and modern cultures as he tries to find his place in the world. I related to it very personally because I also come from a Catholic family, and I really enjoyed the meld of Christianity and the traditional practices of the curandera, or healer.

Have you guys read any of these?  Which of the 100 books did you vote for?  I voted mostly for Pride and Prejudice, but I voted for many others along the way, including those in the top 5.  I was really pleased with the choices for the top 5–how about you?

If you still want to get involved in the Great American Read, you can:

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The Great American Read

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!

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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.

VOTE HERE

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 FacebookTwitter, 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.

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GAR display in my local bookstore

Are you planning to participate in the Great American Read?  What book(s) are you voting for?