Hello! I hope this newsletter finds you coping well from the inevitable end-of-summer doldrums. I'm not quite there yet myself; as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm in a bit of a reading slump at the moment. The other day I was considering revisiting a few of my old favorites to snap me out of this funk I'm in, and as I was browsing my bookshelves, I got to thinking: we all have books we love and will champion to the death, but what if we could get a definitive answer to which book is the best of them all? Enter: PBS's The Great American Read.
This eight-part series is the centerpiece of PBS's campaign to "get the country reading and passionately talking about books." The premiere back in May introduced the 100 books eligible for the title (restricted to fiction novels) and to date, over two million votes have been cast. America's best loved book will be announced during the finale on October 23, and episodes in between will explore themes and concepts common to books in the top 100.
There are two things I love about what The Great American Read is doing here.
First, I think it's brilliant that the opportunity to cast a vote is available to anyone who cares to participate. I think there's a tendency when it comes to entertainment to value the opinion of "experts" more highly than the opinion of the public (for example, the Oscars), but The Great American Read is making an effort to make engaging with literature accessible to everyone. The list of 100 books the series is working from was compiled based on a public survey that asked people to nominate whichever book they love the most, and the results of that survey were narrowed down by a very basic set of criteria (which you can read here) to identify eligible candidates. But that's it! There was no elitism or pretension involved in the process, no literary credentials or qualifications voters had to have -- just, if you love a book, let us know.
The other thing I think is great about this series is the variety of candidates in the top 100. Some of these books come from other countries and languages; were written by people of color and the differently abled; and, collectively, span a crazy range of time periods (1600s to 2016) and genres. Overall, the top 100 gives a genuinely well-rounded representation of the diverse literary spirit of America. I mean, would you expect to see Twilight and Moby Dick on the same ballot? I certainly didn't, but it was a refreshing surprise. I guess that's what happens when you cast off preconceptions about what is "great" (and what is "American") and just let people enjoy the stories they do.
If you're interested in voting for America's best loved book, you can do so here. Let me know if you plan on tuning in, and read on for your updates from the world of publishing.