Reading has been in my own life a regular feature, even an addiction. So much beyond the immediate and the local becomes accessible. Reading has been in some ways for me a trusted companion.
Recently the PBS series The Great American Read came to my attention. My wife Cindy and I followed with it with great eagerness. The series started by polling readers for their favorite novels, then identified the 100 most popular, and followed with a series of themed episodes featuring various celebrities, educators and critics discussing these books and encouraging viewers to pick them up and read them. Their enthusiasm and gentle prodding to read, to explore experiences other than one’s own was wonderful to see and hear.
The Great American Read list was not the list I would have personally made, of course, as it was unlikely anybody’s list, but most of the books were worthy of anyone’s consideration. I was happy to see books that were typically assigned for junior high and high school reading; some I had read in my own schooling. There were a number of pre-20th and 20th century classics of literature, along with some science fiction and fantasy classics. There was some young adult fiction, and some excellent contemporary 21st century novels.
Books representative of the large U.S. Evangelical population unsurprisingly found their way onto the list, like The Shack, the Left Behind Rapture porn series, and the plutocratic capitalist novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, although the latter’s ideology would seem deeply antithetical to Evangelical beliefs.
The list also served as a an obvious stimulus for new books to read, and for conversations with other book readers, which in turn provided more stimulus for new books to read. On a recent raft trip populated primarily by educators, I asked the English teachers which novels they teach now, and was pointed both to a few of the books on the list, and others that were new to me.
Book Book Review, Title I, Alex Cross, Author James Patterson, Rating 3.0,
I, Alex Cross
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the Great American Read list was one of the many novels by James Patterson, king of airport throwaway fiction: I, Alex Cross. I decided to read this book as a last summer read fling. It was a quick read, despite its 500 page length, chopped up into 100 5 page chapters, each designed to lead you to the next, with mini-cliff-hangers galore. The story was over-the-top suspense detective fare, but not excessively so; the main story was one of caring for an ailing grandmother juxtaposed with searching for a violent killer, with plenty of gore along the way. All in all, one James Patterson novel is was sufficient for me to appreciate the appeal and to tire of the genre.
Books on their list which I would have put on my own top 100 book list included their number one To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Dune by Frank Herbert, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Some of the books I would have put on their list include In The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, and Candide by Voltaire.