Book Lovers: Here’s a Challenge for You

The Great American Read on PBS is searching for America's best-loved book

If your idea of a summer well spent involves working your way through a big stack of novels, PBS has given you a mission by assembling a list of 100 great American novels more than deserving of your attention.

On Tuesday, May 22, PBS is launching The Great American Read, a multi-platform digital and social campaign and eight-part TV series highlighting a fascinating and diverse selection of novels, both classic and contemporary, spanning five centuries of compelling literature.

PBS Launches ‘The Great American Read’

Throughout the next few months, readers from across the country will be encouraged to re-visit old favorites or finally pick up the “I’ve always meant to read this…” titles on their personal book-bucket list.

Never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Giver or 100 Years of Solitude? Or maybe you want to read The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird or 1984 from a new perspective. Take the quiz to find out how many of the novels on The Great American Read list you have read; the number may surprise you.

Where to Begin?

How were the 100 novels selected? YouGov, a market research firm, conducted a national survey of approximately 7,200 people and asked them to name their “most-loved” novel. An advisory panel of 13 literary experts, including librarian and author Nancy Pearl, book editor Ron Charles from The Washington Post and Calvin Reid, senior news editor for Publishers Weekly, weighed in to break ties and optimize the variety of choices. Authors who wrote multiple books can only be represented once on the list.

The Great American Read two-hour documentary special on PBS stations across the country (check local listings) May 22 will be hosted by television journalist Meredith Vieira and feature celebrities as well as book lovers talking about their favorites. The program will signal the start of a summer-long period of reading and a voting campaign where people will be able to nominate their top choice.

In the fall, The Great American Read will return with individual episodes focused on some of the top books, through the exploration of themes including “Heroes,” “What We Do for Love” and “Who Am I?” Participating notables include Margaret Atwood, James Patterson, Chelsea Clinton, Seth Meyers, Ming Na-Wen, George Lopez and Armistead Maupin.

On the final episode in October, the top vote-getter among the 100 titles will be announced and “America’s Best-Loved Book” will be revealed.

Creating a Conversation

In an e-mail interview with Next Avenue, the executive producer of The Great American Read, Jane Root, who is also CEO and founder of Nutopia, a global television production company, said the goal of the nationwide reading event is to create conversation.

“This is all about inspiring passionate discussion — even arguments — about what exactly makes a book best-loved,” she said, adding it is her hope that “people will be doing it online, on Facebook, and in one of hundreds of events taking place in libraries and schools around the country.”

In addition to joining other reading fans in conversation, viewers can follow The Great American Read on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and vote at pbs.org/greatamericanread as well as through hashtag voting via Facebook and Twitter at #GreatReadPBS. In the fall, there will also be the opportunity to cast votes toll-free by phone and through SMS texting.

When asked how many of the 100 American novels on the list she has read, Root said her quiz results revealed “only 41!” She added: “I’ve already downloaded 10 that I haven’t read, and am halfway through The Handmaid’s Tale. Ghost is next.”

By Julie Pfitzinger
Julie has worked as a writer and editor for more than 20 years; most recently she was a managing editor for the community lifestyle magazine group at Tiger Oak Media in Minneapolis, where she also served as editor of Saint Paul Magazine. Julie can be reached via email at jpfitzinger@nextavenue.org    Follow her on Twitter @juliepfitzinger.

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