PBS Searches for the Great American Read
By Jacqueline McMahon, Staff Writer
Everyone has heard about the concept of the “Great American Novel,” a book that encapsulates the spirit and culture of the United States, while also possessing great literary merit. But what is it that makes a book a great American read? Is it the prose, the storytelling, the characters, or a combination of the three? Does a book have to be impeccably written to be considered great, or is an intriguing premise enough even if the execution leaves something to be desired?
This is what PBS is trying to figure out with their new eight-part series, The Great American Read. They conducted a representative survey with YouGov asking Americans for their most-loved novel. For a title to be considered, it had to be fiction, books published in a series would count only as one entry, and all the books had to have been originally published in English (though the author did not have to be American). The result was a diverse Top 100 list of the books considered most beloved by Americans. On the final list, each author was additionally limited to only one title in the name of fairness.
This top 100 contains a wide variety of authors, time periods, styles, and genres, including renowned American classics like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. There are books from countries all around the world, from Europe to Africa to Asia, including Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. There are books originally targeted at children (like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis) and at young adults (like Looking for Alaska by John Green and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton), and beloved fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. There are even a few controversial choices, love-them-or-hate-them books like the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James—which certainly will not be winning any awards for its literary merits; yet, has made its author rich and successful all the same.
The books on this list span continents and centuries. Some have been adapted into movies or television series. Some of them became instant best-sellers, while others never earned their authors’ fame while they were alive or were even critically panned at first. Yet all of them have resonated strongly enough with the American public to cement their status as famous works of fiction. In order to find out which of these books is the most loved by American readers, now through October 18 Americans can vote for which book on the list they think deserves the title of the Great American Read. PBS will also be airing several specials dedicated to the books on the list. In addition to the launch special which aired in May, starting Tuesday, September 11, PBS will be airing specials dedicated to various bookish topics, including “Heroes,” “Villains and Monsters,” “What We Do for Love,” “Other Worlds,” and more, focusing on the most interesting characters, romances, worldbuilding, and plotlines from the Top 100.
If you would like to vote for your favorite novel, voting is now open via the Great American Read website. You can also vote by creating an original post on Facebook or Twitter, using one of the official hashtags which can be found at pbs.org/the-great-american-read/. After the premiere of the first special on September 11, a toll-free phone number will also be introduced for each book on the list. On the official site you can also find the complete Top 100 list to see how many of America’s favorite novels you’ve read.