The Great American Read…Or Not

EAC32B51-3A10-4BFE-8B22-C370ED286BC5A couple weeks ago, I posted here about the just-released list of 100 books that comprise “The Great American Read,” a new series on PBS that will examine the books that supposedly define America.

Since that list came out, there has been considerable buzz online and in real life about what’s included. The discussions I’ve heard personally have included:

  • “Fifty Shades of Grey?” You have GOT to be kidding! (I’ve heard this one consistently from all my reader friends.)
  • There aren’t enough women.
  • There aren’t enough People of Color.
  • There are too many kids books.
  • There aren’t enough kids books.
  • “I thought this was just American authors!”
  • There isn’t enough diversity – “America is the original Melting Pot, right?”
  • “These are all the books you’re supposed to read in school but instead get by with Spark Notes.”
  • “I lost all respect for this list when I saw the Left-Behind series included.”

While the list isn’t perfect by any means, I think it has already started what PBS hoped for – intense discussion about books and stories, about how reading has changed our lives. And that’s a good thing.

People are thinking deeply about this from all perspectives – how they love or hate some of the titles included, what books they’d recommend instead of the ones on the list, which authors deserve a second look, and so on.

I’ve seen some good alternate lists pop up in my news feeds that have served to plump up my TBR (To Be Read) list. For example, this one shared by Tate DeCaro today – Twenty-One Books You Don’t Have to Read contains some really fascinating suggestions to the books “everyone has read.”

You might not be impressed with The Great American Read list, and that’s just fine. It means you have an opinion about books and reading and you’re talking about it. And that is never a bad thing!

The Great American Read


Next month, a new series debuts on PBS that will examine 100 books that have been identified as having a significant impact on the American public. The list of 100 books was released today and I am very happy to see a much greater diversity of titles and authors than I had anticipated. When I first heard about this, my immediate response was, “Well, it will be To Kill a Mockingbird at the end.” Now I’m not so sure.

These are not the “canon” of American or even World Literature. There are authors of various races, religions, and genders; authors who are still alive; and books that are definitely not considered “high-brow reading.” You can learn how the books were selected on the PBS website.

You can also take a short quiz to see how many of these books you’ve read.

I’ve read 30 out of the 100, which means I’ve got some reading to do!

The Monroe County Library System libraries will host a number of fun and interesting activities during the course of the Great American Read. There will be book discussions, debates, Exploration Stations, lectures, films, and more. Watch the events calendar at for upcoming events.

How do you feel about the titles on this list? Is there anything missing? Anything that leaves you scratching your head and asking “why?”