When PBS launched the Great American Read several months ago, I considered what book the public would select as the most beloved novel of all time. I knew what novels I’d be voting for but had no idea what other people would choose.
Well, it seems the people who voted have a lot of love for Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It even led as the number one voted book in 48 states including Wisconsin.
I admit there are problems with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” many of which have to do with the problems of the country’s history of racism. But, I was pleased to see not only was the top pick written by a woman, it features a female narrator. It’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner. To have it chosen as the Great American Read is a testament to the legacy the book has among people.
Perusing the rest of the top 10 novels, I was pleased to see eight were written by women and all but one featured prominent female characters.
First, I was greatly surprised to see “Outlander” selected as No. 2. The series was first published in 1991 but prior to the Starz TV show I had never heard anything about the historical romance/science fiction series. People have said her rise to popularity is similar to that of George R.R. Martin’s whose Song of Fire and Ice series (ranked 48 in the poll) rocketed to popularity after the debut of the “Game of Thrones” TV show.
J.K. Rowling’s series about the adventures and perils of a boy wizard came in at No. 3; I had it pegged for a top five easily. Fantasy series were a heavy presence in the top 10 with the Lord of the Rings trilogy taking the No. 5 slot and Chronicles of Narnia earning the No. 9 spot.
Books 4 (“Pride and Prejudice”), 6 (“Gone With the Wind”) and 10 (“Jane Eyre”) are all novels I’ve tried to read but were never able to get past the first couple chapters. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t get interested enough to keep going.
Children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” was the seventh most voted for book. I was very happy to see this one in the top 10. How many generations of children have learned about the friendship between a spider and runt pig? And how many more will learn about Charlotte’s web-spinning skills?
And the March sisters of “Little Women” ranked eighth. The story remains relevant to the point where a modern-day adaptation of the book is set to be released in theaters later this month. I can’t say if the retelling will turn out great, but there’s a reason it’s in the top 10 as it still resonates with readers.
My favorite literary heroines Anne Shirley and Francie Nolan were in the top 15 at numbers 11 and 13, respectively.
I didn’t see any type of demographic breakdown, but because the top 15 books are female-heavy, I wonder if more women than men answered the poll. While all genders can enjoy the books on the list, trends have shown men are less likely to list a female-fronted novel as their favorite while all genders will list a book with a male protagonist among their favorite. Perhaps readers are bucking the trend.
After we’ve seen the pick for the top fiction book, I wonder what America would vote as the top nonfiction book or children’s book? What about poetry or graphic novels? Maybe PBS will follow up with another Great American Read series to give us an indication in those categories.