I watched The Great American Read last night, a PBS show hosted by Meredith Vierra designed to get Americans to read more. The two-hour show went through 100 books that had been collected by various suggestions from the public as the most favorite book of all. The show presented each of the 100 books, had some interviews with authors and I guess between now and the fall, people can go to the web site and vote for their favorite(s) and votes will be tallied and determine which is the favorite book of all. You can vote once a day and can vote for more than one book at a time.
I have read over half of the books on the list and thought I would pick thirteen to talk about here. These aren't necessarily my favorite books but books that have made an impact on me for one reason or another.
1. I'm certain that when all the votes are tallied To Kill a Mockingbird will end up being #1. It is on everyone's list and who doesn't love this book? I'm glad that I never saw Harper Lee's first book, which was kind of a prequel to Mockingbird and which was not published until after her death. Apparently people encouraged her to publish the other book first and it was the only book published in her lifetime. Apparently in the prequel Atticus Finch wasn't such a good, noble guy and I would hate to think of anything other than a Gregory Peck-ish Atticus Finch.
2. The list combines series books into one book, so choosing Outlander is actually choosing all 8 of Diana Gabaldon's books. It may not be my favorite book but is close to the top. I am not as slavishly dedicated to the series as many, many others are, but I do love it, especially the audio books, because of the wonderful narration by Davina Porter.
3. Catch-22 might not be on my all time favorite book list, but we all read Joseph Heller's farcical novel in college and bits and pieces of it stick with us today. And who can hate a book with a character named Major Major Major Major?
4. Where the Red Fern Grows is a multi-tissue book that I loved and gave to Brianna for Christmas. I don't know if she has read it, or will read it, but I wanted to share that book with her. It is one of my favorite dog books.
5. I wonder if I would love Jane Eyre as much now as I did as an adolescent. I read it several times, along with Wuthering Heights, so the Bronte sisters were some of my favorites. The language might make it a slog to get through now.
6. Of course Gone with the Wind has to be on my list. I tried reading it twice and gave up and when I finally gave it the ol' college try on the third reading, I got immersed in it and read it one or two times after that. It's one book that I don't think the movie spoiled for me.
7. I stopped reading the latest books in the Clan of the Cave Bear series, but at the time when I was reading Jean Auel's epic quasi historical novel, I was really taken with it. The heroine is Ayla, a young Cro-Magnin girl who grows to adulthood during the course of the books. You have to hand it to Ayla because according to Auel she is responsible for everything good in life--the wheel, spoken language, domesticating animals, cooking food, and even discovering orgasm. A prehistoric Superwoman. (It all got too fantastical for me and I stopped reading)
8. I did go through a lot of b-i-g books at a certain point in my life and Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet was one of them. I had read many of Follet's thriller-type books and this, which tells the story of the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Knightsbridge (I think it was based on the cathedral in Salisbury). It covers the years from 1123 to 1174. I was very glad I had read that book when we were at Salisbury Cathedral many years ago and perhaps had a greater appreciation for the work that went into the building of it (though I have not read the two subsequent books which take the cathedral through to its completion.
9. I was pleased to see Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City on the list. I first read the book, as everyone did, in serial form in the San Francisco Chronicle. The first three (I think) were serials and eventually they all made it to book form. I loved those books, which were set half a block from where I grew up.
10. Chronicles of Narnia is on the list. While these books aren't favorites, they have made a big impact on me because of Brianna's book club where she leads a discussion among several adults, which is one of the "funn-est" things that has happened in the last couple of years.
11. I'd put Grapes of Wrath on my list, though I really like Steinbeck's East of Eden better. I went through a huge Steinbeck period, where I read almost all of his books, back to back. I found that my writing improved whenever I was reading Steinbeck.
12. I will guiltily admit to reading Book 1 of both the Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey sagas. Both were a waste of time and I hated the heroines of both books, though curiosity about what was going to happen kept me reading. However, finishing Book 1 I had absolutely NO desire to continue the Grey series.
13. From time to time I think about George Orwell's 1984 and wonder which of my favorite books I would choose to memorize and pass along to a younger person, if all the books were to be destroyed. Of course it's all moot at this point anyway because I couldn't remember diddily squat now.
The list does not include Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar, which was one of my adolescent favorites which I read at least once a year for several years. The movie totally destroyed it for me, it ruined it so badly. Likewise Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides, which was one of the best written books I'd read in a long time, didn't make the list. It too was destroyed by the movie (I have a hard time forgiving Barbra Streisand for what she did to it!)
I will be continuing to cast my vote(s) over the coming weeks and will be curious to see if my prediction about To Kill a Mockingbird ends up being true