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The Great American Read book list and half-time report

Posted on August 7, 2018 at 6:00 am

By Dana Mannino

Welcome to August—a great time for a summer reading half-time report!

My summer reading looked a lot like this picture of the bulletin board in the staff break room at Spokane Valley Library.

The Great American Read bulletin board in the staff break room at Spokane Valley Library

Waaaay back in May, PBS launched The Great American Read, a program that highlights 100 of America’s beloved books (as determined by a phone survey) and invites us all to vote for our favorites.

Yes, you can get in on the action and vote for your favorites!

When the list was posted on the bulletin board in the Spokane Valley Library break room, it quickly sparked discussion. Surprisingly, no one person had initially read more than 42 titles (what?!). However, with the combined reading strength of the whole library staff, we had most of the list covered.

We think that’s the sign of a good reading list. It represents many kinds of readers.

Also (I’m going to take a moment to praise my colleagues), our combined reading is a sign of some great, diverse tastes from our staff. Each of us doesn’t read everything, but everything gets read by at least one of us (a great advantage when you come in to look for a book—one of us will have a worthy recommendation)!

Another sign of a good list is that everyone found a least one book on the list that they passionately disliked or that spurred nothing but disinterest. One librarian’s yawn really is another librarian’s binge read. Half of my favorites were on my colleague’s never-going-to-touch-that list, and vice versa.

Of course, we all had beloved titles that didn’t make the list. We spent several lunch hours railing against the injustice of the literary universe. Why no Richard Peck? Why?!

Not everyone opted to tackle a “Great American Read” title this summer. It turns out that some librarians are allergic to book lists: “Don’t tell me what to read!” they cry.

Other librarians are such great planners that by the time the list was released, they had already booked (pun intended) their personal summer reading lists that seemed to stretch on like a James Joyce sentence. They’ll get to The Great American Read list someday, maybe in a few years.

Evidently, I am both spontaneous and susceptible to suggestion because I picked up a few of the titles right away. Here’s my half-time summer reading report!

MY GREAT AMERICAN READ STATISTICS

Books read prior to the list: 22
(Embarrassing, I know. Why wasn’t the list made entirely of George Eliot, Jules Verne, and Richard Peck? I would have scored so much higher!)

Unread books I am interested in reading: 27

Books I started but never finished: 4

Book I wish had made the list but didn’t: Middlemarch
(and at least one thing by Richard Peck!)

Books I wouldn’t read if you paid me: 51
(Wait… 51?! That’s over half the list. I may need to rethink my life…)

Favorite book on the list: To Kill a Mockingbird

Books from the list I started this summer: 5

Book I snuck in that wasn’t on the list: On the Wings of Heroes
(I’m telling you, there was a serious lack of Richard Peck on The Great American Read list.)

Books I still hope to read (and finish) this summer: Looking for Alaska by John Green and Toni Morrison’s Beloved

WHAT I LEARNED

You never know what you’ll like.

I hesitatingly picked up the cult classic A Confederacy of Dunces so that I would have something to talk about with a friend on Facebook.

Confederacy is a farce centering on the foibles an obese 30-year-old man with a master’s degree in medieval studies who lives with his long suffering mother. He devotes his life to drinking soda and writing scathing social commentary that he hopes will bring back the feudal system. Pandemonium ensues when his mother insists that he get a job.

If you told me this spring that I would enjoy this book, I would have bet against it, but it was very cleverly written. My initial reaction was “What the heck is this?!” Which was followed by “I kind of like this.” Then came the thought, “Not sure I’m okay with the fact that I like this.” The Great American Read, you have broadened my horizons… okay, maybe just one horizon.

Your expectations color your experience.

I came to Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, looking for a fascinating piece of social commentary about race in America and beyond. Americanah is all that, but it’s also a romance. And I’m afraid I wasn’t in the mood to read a romance. I got through the first third and then put it down. Sorry, Americanah! You were beautifully written, and I will come back to you someday.

It’s okay to come late to the party.

The Book Thief spent ten years on the best-sellers list, and I have read other holocaust narratives, but I had never read it. I assure you, I’m blushing. This summer I fixed this oversight. Of course, The Book Thief was good. Yet, still unexpected! To me it felt like the darker, grittier cousin of To Kill a Mockingbird. Both are coming-of-age stories that explore times of extreme injustice through humorous, at times, vignettes. I had heard a lot about The Book Thief, but I hadn’t made that connection to humor before. It goes to show that even well-known books are worth reading firsthand.

How about you? Share your summer reading half-time report in the comments below.

Dana Mannino

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