“A Reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” This quote by author George R. R. Martin soundly encapsulates the newest PBS project: The Great American Read.
Launching with a two-hour special on Tuesday, May 22nd, The Great American Read is ambitious, profiling one hundred novels chosen by readers and viewers in an online poll, the goal of which was to find out which one would be named America’s Favorite Novel.
The books are wide-ranging in time period and subject. There are some expected classics like Moby Dick and Little Women, as well as more recent picks such as The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s a little bit of futzing with the list; books in a series are represented by their first volume, which is why The Harry Potter and Game of Thrones books have only one entry each. But that’s fair, as listing each book individually would probably split the vote.
The special, hosted by Meredith Vieira, profiles the books, finding people who’ve nominated them to make their case as to why each book should be voted number one. Actress Gabrielle Union tells a moving story of how Alice Walker’s The Color Purple helped her move from seeing herself as a rape victim to a survivor. John Green, whose own Looking for Alaska is on the list, talks about the experiences he’s had reading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye first as a teenager then as an adult.
Each book of the hundred receives attention, though it is not distributed equally, which would be incredibly difficult given just two hours to talk about one hundred books. Wil Wheaton makes an appearance, arguing for Dune. Diane Lane makes a case for Lonesome Dove. Jenna and Barbara Bush, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Chelsea Clinton, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and many others make impassioned appeals for the books of their choosing.
How the project works in this: the hundred books are listed on the PBS website. Between the airing of the special and the fall, people will vote on which books are their favorite. If you’re having trouble picking just one, don’t worry. You can vote once a day for as many different books as you like. The votes will be tallied over the summer and the results will be announced in another Meredith Viera hosted special next fall. All of the details are at pbs.org/greatamericanread. There will also be local events hosted by libraries and bookstores. Follow the KIXE website for more information about that.
The Great American Read launches Tuesday, May 22nd at 8:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.