by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
Have you heard about the new PBS show The Great American Read? This is an eight-part television series about Americans’ favorite books. The premiere was broadcast recently, and the final episode will air in October, when they will announce which book won first place in the voting.
Host Meredith Vieira will introduce the 100 featured books, plus she will interview authors, celebrities, and regular people about how particular books have influenced them and our culture. PBS is hosting a virtual book club on Facebook to discuss a couple of the books per week, and there will be some live public events, including some in select libraries across the country. The public library in the little town of Cook, up in northern Minnesota, was the only library to receive the grant in our state.
The list of America’s favorite 100 books was compiled by PBS and a polling service through a public survey asking people to name their most-loved novel. Each author is represented only once, and book series are listed as one entry to increase variety in the list. So, for example, the Harry Potter series is listed, rather than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Books could be from anywhere in the world as long as they were published in English; only fiction was included. The books span a wide range of time from the 1600s to 2016, as well as a wide range of genres and styles.
Voting for favorite books has already opened online through the PBS website, and voting by phone will be available in the fall. You can vote once per day. It sounds a bit like American Idol for novels.
Our library’s adult book club has read some of the books on the list. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is an elegantly-written young adult novel narrated by Death. An orphan named Liesel in Germany during World War II is taken in by the gentle Hans and his prickly wife Rosa, as is a young Jewish man named Max who needs a place to hide. Liesel becomes fast friends with Max as well as with Rudy, a scrappy, poor neighbor boy. The friendships and the words in this book are beautiful, and it is a favorite of mine.
We have also read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, a quiet epistolary novel about generations of ministers in a small town in Iowa. Members found it thought-provoking. The Giver by Lois Lowry was another young adult novel we’ve read that most of the readers enjoyed; it’s an intriguing look at a supposedly utopian society. We have also read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Martian by Andy Weir, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I would say they are all worth reading.
The idea behind the series is to get people reading and talking about books. This is a goal the library shares. Look on the display on top of the DVD shelf to easily pick up some of the 100 books from the Great American Read.