The Great American Read

I enjoyed watching The Great American Read launch special on PBS a couple of weeks ago. The idea is to present a list of 100 (fiction) books as American’s most-loved books, then let people vote, and pick a winner. The show then returns to PBS in September with an eight-part series, leading up to the announcement of the winning book in October. (This article at thirteen.org explains the concept better than I just did.)

I’m a sucker for book lists and reading challenges, so I’m getting into this thing a bit. (Mind you, I was also enthusiastic about the Now Read This book club that PBS NewsHour and the New York Times started in January, and I haven’t read any of those books yet.)

So far, I’ve joined the official Facebook group for The Great American Read, and an unofficial Goodreads group. The Facebook group is currently very active, while the Goodreads group has less than two dozen members, with only a few people posting. The Goodreads group is planning to read one or two books a month, selected by a poll of the members. For June, we’re reading Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut. That works for me, since I’ve had a copy of Sirens of Titan sitting on my bookshelf for at least ten years, unread. I’ve read a few Vonnegut books over the years, including of course Slaughterhouse-Five, but I’ve never read this one. (Speaking of which, the selection of Sirens of Titans rather than Slaughterhouse-Five for the Great American Reads list is curious. But it works for me, since it gives me an excuse to read it!)

Because I love lists, here’s a list of the books from the Great American Reads list that I’ve already read:

  1. 1984 – George Orwell
  2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  3. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  4. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger
  5. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  6. Dune – Frank Herbert
  7. Foundation (series) – Isaac Asimov
  8. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  10. Harry Potter (series) – J.K. Rowling
  11. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  13. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  14. The Lord of the Rings (series) – J.R.R. Tolkien
  15. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
  16. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
  17. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The “rules” for the Great American Read list allow for a whole series of books to count as one entry, so Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter books can be on the list rather than just one book from the series. For each series that I’ve read, I’ve read all of it. (Though maybe not for the Foundation series, depending on whether or not you count the books that came after the original trilogy.) And it’s interesting to see that they included Dune and Hitchhiker’s Guide as individual books and not the whole series. That makes a lot of sense with Dune, since the book stands alone well, and (from what I understand) some of the later books aren’t that great.

So, anyway, I’m looking forward to reading some more books from the list. There are a few on the list that have been on my mental “want to read” shelf for quite some time, including classics like Catch-22 and more recent books like Ready Player One and The Martian.

There’s so much stuff I want to read right now. I’m thinking about adopting Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50. I rarely abandon books; maybe I should do that more often.

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