Everybody loves a book list, right? If nothing else, it gives us something to argue about. Now comes a TV show called The Great American Read, which PBS calls an “eight-part television series and multiplatform campaign designed to spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have inspired, moved, and shaped us.” It’s centered on a list of “America’s 100 favorite novels selected through a demographically representative national survey.”
Hosted by Meredith Vieira, the show premieres on May 22, so I haven’t seen it yet, but the list of books just makes me want to argue. A Separate Peaceand The Catcher in the Rye: Are those the favorite novels of anyone who’s read one since high school? Is The Godfatherreally anyone’s favorite book, or do they really just love the movies? I wonder whether anyone still reads The Clan of the Cave Bearand Flowers in the Atticor if they were such formative experiences for the millions who read them 30-plus years ago that they’d vote for them as their favorite books.
There are some wonderful books on the list, of course: Beloved, The Intuitionist, Anne of Greene Gables, The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale. I could go on. But if I were suggesting a list to people who were looking for something new to read, it wouldn’t be this one—it’s too hit-or-miss. For something very new, I’d send readers to Kirkus’ list of the best books of 2017. For a curated selection of the best of contemporary fiction, there’s the BBC’s listof the 21stcentury’s 12 greatest novels. For young people, I like the New York Public Library’s list of 100 great children’s books. Author Sarah MacLean has a list of recommended romance novelson her website. There are book lists everywhere online, but, unfortunately, while PBS’s might provoke some interesting arguments, it isn’t a reliable source of reading advice.
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.