PBS recently kicked off its great Great American Read, an eight-part television series and national campaign hosted by Meredith Vieira that explores America’s “100 best-loved novels” as determined by public poll. Here at Indiana Humanities, we’re excited to join along in this campaign that aims to encourage the public to think, read and talk about these beloved novels and what they mean to us.
To get involved, you can watch the series on your local PBS station, take a quiz to see how many of the 100 books you’ve read, vote for your favorite book or books from the list each day, share a story of how one of the books has impacted your life or join the conversation on the official Facebook virtual book club.
And, of course, you can read selections from the list to see why they’ve made the cut! If you’re looking for ways to track some of these books down, we have many of the Great American Read titles in our Novel Conversations library that you can check out for free to read with your book club. I’ve highlighted my five favorite titles from the list below—the ones I’ll be rooting for until the vote closes on October 18.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I was thrilled when I saw that this book made the list, as I consider it to be my own favorite book. Irving’s classic chronicles the story of a very unique boy Owen Meany and his lifelong friendship with the narrator, John Wheelwright. The book is funny, clever, heart warming, gut wrenching and, in my estimation, a true modern-day masterpiece.
“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God”
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Tan’s classic novel tells the story of four Chinese mothers and their four Chinese-American daughters, through an interconnected plot that utilizes different voices and spans decades. Some of the women’s stories are tragic; some are comedic; some are bittersweet. But each explores the complex mother-daughter relationship and the power it holds. You can check this title out with your book club from Novel Conversations.
“‘Not know your own mother? How can you say? Your mother is in your bones!”
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
This beloved children’s classic tells the story of a spirited and precocious red-haired orphan who moves into the home of a middle-aged brother and sister on Prince Edward Island. With her imagination, quick wit, flair for drama and independent spirit, it’s not long before Anne wins over the hearts of those she meets.
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epistolary novel details the story of John Ames, an aging Congregationalist pastor from Gilead, Iowa. Ames’s story comes in the form of a memoir or journal, written for the sake of his seven-year-old son, since he knows his own health is failing. Robinson’s masterfully written book explores themes of forgiveness, compassion, family and mortality. You can check this title out with your book club from Novel Conversations.
“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me… it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I’d be remiss if I did not vote for this title, seeing as it’s the year of Frankenstein at Indiana Humanities! We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s classic piece of literature with a statewide read of the book. The novel depicts the story of Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant scientist who pushes the limits of science to create a living being, but then regrets his creation. You can check this title out with your book club from Novel Conversations.
“There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious– painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour–but besides this there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore.”
Be sure to vote for your own favorite books from the Great American Read list and tune into your local PBS station to catch the rest of the series before the finale in October.
This post was written by Bronwen Carlisle, who manages our free Novel Conversations lending library for book clubs. For more information about the program, contact Bronwen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317.616.9103.