Books Chapter & Verse

Will Americans be able to agree on a most loved book?

A new PBS program explores America's favorite books, culminating in an election.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., in 2007. Is Lee America's favorite author?
Rob Carr/AP/File
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Early 20th-century British aristocracy, wild Asian tigers, and a beloved British baker have starred in some of the most popular shows on the Public Broadcasting Station. But a new subject starring in an anticipated new PBS show scheduled to run next spring may top them all: the Great American Novel.

The Great American Read, set to begin airing May 2018, is an eight-episode documentary series that will explore reading in American culture and reveal America’s 100 best-loved books, culminating in a nationwide vote to select the country’s most-loved book.

Producers hope the program, “designed to spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have inspired, moved, and shaped us,” will also boost summer reading – and summer book sales – in the US. (A similar program on the BBC in the UK did just that last year.) 

The Great American Read will feature celebrities from entertainment, sports, news, and literature, discussing the books that shaped them. It is part of a larger literary campaign to promote reading, including community reading groups, digital and social media campaigns, and partnerships with local libraries and booksellers to promote reading.

“PBS and its member stations are thrilled to kick off a summer of reading with ‘The Great American Read,’ a multi-platform, system-wide initiative that explores and celebrates the diversity of thought, perspective and experiences of America through the lens of our most treasured literary classics and contemporary titles,” says Beth Hoppe, chief programming executive and general manager, general audience programming of PBS. “The time is right for this nationwide reading initiative that will encourage conversations and complementary activities in communities across the country.

The program will kick off with a two-hour episode exploring America’s 100 best-loved books, as chosen by regular Americans surveyed by YouGov. Subsequent episodes will be designed around themes, like “Heroes,” and “Growing up.” The final episode will reveal America’s Top Ten favorite books, including the best-loved pick, as chosen by viewers of the show.

Who is America’s best-loved author? The UK’s Guardian places its bets on the late Harper Lee.

As PBS’s Ms. Hoppe says, “We can’t wait to see what America chooses!”

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