Over the past six months, American readers have been voting for their favourite novels as part of The Great American Read. An advisory panel of literary industry professionals chose a shortlist of 100 books following a poll of 7,200 Americans who were invited to nominate their favourite novel. The 100-book shortlist was based on the following criteria:
Only one title permitted per author.
A series counts as one entry on the list.
All books published in English (no matter where in the world) are eligible.
Each book must be a work of fiction.
More than four million Americans voted in The Great American Read, and the winner was Harper Lee’s classic and seminal novel To Kill a Mockingbird. According to the event organiser, PBS, To Kill a Mockingbird was in the lead for most of the voting period, and it received the most votes in 48 out of the 50 states. Richly deserved, I’m sure you agree.
But what of the other finalists? Here is the top ten list:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon
3. Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
5. The Lord of the Rings (series) by JRR Tolkein
6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
7. Charlotte’s Web by EB White
8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
9. The Chronicles of Narnia (series) by CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Media commentary has highlighted the prominence of British authors in the top ten (‘British writers scoring highly in huge US poll to find Great American Read’ read a headline in the Guardian newspaper), and the fact that seven out of the ten authors are female has been a talking point.
However, I find the genre mix here most interesting. Four out of the ten books are children’s fiction, and another four out of the list are romance novels. That leaves To Kill a Mockingbird, which is usually categorised as Southern Gothic and coming-of-age (teen) fiction, and The Lord of the Rings, which is fantasy (as are Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia).
No thriller. No horror. No erotica. The favourite books, it turns out, are works with beauty at the core.
As a romance novelist, I was delighted to see that romances are so beloved by Americans: epic romances like Gone with the Wind and Outlander with sweeping, dramatic storylines, and romances rooted in essential truths like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.
Overall, I am glad that love (romance) and innocence (children’s) won out over darkness and fear. It is a hopeful result, I feel, in what for many are difficult times.
You can read the full Great American Read list at http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/results. How many of these novels have you read and enjoyed? Which of the 100 books would have earned your vote? I would love to hear your thoughts.