October 17, 2018

PBS’s Great American Read doesn’t necessarily mean we’re reading Americans


For The Guardian, Allison Flood breaks down the demographics of PBS’s inaugural “Great American Read” program, revealing our country’s continued attraction to all things British.

Photo via Fabiola Peñalba/Unsplash

Launched in April, PBS asked American audiences to vote on their favorite book out of 100 carefully selected titles. According to Flood’s report, over 3.8 million votes have been cast since that date.

Twitter and book lovers throughout the US were excited with PBS’s nationwide announcement. Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN invited Linda Wei, Chair of the PBS Digital Media Advisory Council and Director of Digital Strategies for Nashville Public Television, to discuss the new series on their fantastic blog, Parnassus Musings. When asked if The Great American Read was inspired by the BBC’s own nationwide campaign, “The Big Read,” she had this to say: “This really is a different series, reimagined to inspire an American audience to choose books that resonate with them. Also, the British version was 15 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then.”

Now, in the sixth month of voting, we’re closing in on the top ten, which include: two living writers, “seven of the 10 are women; five are British.”

Charlotte’s Web
The Chronicles of Narnia (Series)
Gone with the Wind
Harry Potter (Series)
Jane Eyre
Little Women
The Lord of the Rings (Series)
Outlander (Series)
Pride and Prejudice
To Kill a Mockingbird

In some ways, this list is encouraging–since seven out of the ten remaining books were written by women illustrates the importance of their voices in an American identity. But that only two are still living and half are securely British stories (obviously, the most glaring omission is that none of these people are of color, or immigrants, or LGBTQ)–well, it makes you wonder how involved the current literary world is with the larger American public. Is the Great American Read really going to be a book we all read written for children, read by children, most likely last read by us when we were children?

The last day to vote for the winner out of this bunch is October 18. In anticipation of the announcement, PBS also turned “Great American Read” into a television program, with each episode exploring different genres and styles of writing, highlighting the importance of many of the titles in the initial 100. The final episode announcing the winner will air October 23.




Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.