The Great American Read, presented by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), is exploring the power of reading with an eight-episode series where viewers will vote for the top book from a list of 100 of the most-loved novels. And our community is participating in this national celebration of reading!
The Reston Regional Library is one of 50 libraries nationwide to receive a grant from the American Library Association and PBS to host programs around the television series. We have also partnered with our local PBS station, WETA TV 26, which will air the series. To supplement the PBS show, we want you to vote in a series of polls from the same list to determine Fairfax County’s favorite book.
The 100 books have been placed into a bracket and divided into quadrants based on the years they were published: The Classics, Mid-Century, Late Century and Contemporary.
This week, voting is open for Round 1 of the Classics quadrant. Voting closes on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 11:30 p.m.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Jack London takes readers on an arduous journey through the forbidding Alaskan landscape during the gold rush of the 1890s. Buck, a rangy mixed-breed used to a comfortable, sun-filled life as a family dog, is stolen by a greedy opportunist and sold to dog traffickers. Buck soon finds himself on a team of sled dogs run ragged in the harsh winter of the Klondike. In a climate where every day is a savage struggle for survival, the last traces of Buck’s soft, pampered existence are erased as his dormant primordial urges — deeply embedded for generations — are brutally awakened.
Donna Barbara by Romulo Gallegos
Following the epic struggle between two cousins for an estate in Venezuela, Doña Barbara is an examination of the conflict between town and country, violence and intellect, male and female. Doña Barbara is a beautiful and mysterious woman–rumored to be a witch–with a ferocious power over men. When her cousin Santos Luzardo returns to the plains in order to reclaim his land and cattle, he reluctantly faces off against Doña Barbara and their battle becomes simultaneously one of violence and seduction.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
In his private laboratory, Dr. Henry Frankenstein experiments with the scientific forces behind the creation and preservation of life. Finally, with the help of his assistant, Frankenstein assembles a living being from parts of unearthed corpses. But the dire and terrifying consequences of giving it life are beyond his imagination in this chilling, Gothic tale of a creature that inflicts murder on the human race.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness is the thrilling tale of Marlow, a seaman and wanderer recounting his physical and psychological journey in search of the infamous ivory trader Kurtz. Traveling upriver into the heart of the African continent, he gradually becomes obsessed by this enigmatic, wraith-like figure. Marlow’s discovery of how Kurtz has gained his position of power over the local people involves him in a radical questioning, not only of his own nature and values, but of those that underpin Western civilization itself.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Widely regarded as the world’s first modern novel, Don Quixote chronicles the famous picaresque adventures of the noble knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, as they wind their way across sixteenth-century Spain. Milan Kundera calls Cervantes “the founder of the Modern Era” and Lionel Trilling “observes that it can be said that all prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote.”
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love and vanishing illusions.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, The Count of Monet Cristo recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantes, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Orphaned and subjected to cruelty at Lowood charity school, Jane nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. The story of how Jane becomes governess at Thornfield Hall, meets and loves Mr. Rochester and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than that traditionally accorded to her by Victorian society.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. The Picture of Dorian Gray was a succes de scandale. Early readers were shocked by its hints at unspeakable sins, and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Shipwrecked and cast adrift, Lemuel Gulliver wakes to find himself on Lilliput, an island inhabited by little people, whose height makes their quarrels over fashion and fame seem ridiculous. His subsequent encounters – with the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the philosophical Houyhnhnms and brutish Yahoos – give Gulliver new, bitter insights into human behaviour. Swift’s savage satire views mankind in a distorted hall of mirrors as a diminished, magnified and finally bestial species, presenting us with an uncompromising reflection of ourselves.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St. Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon- acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne starts out as a mistake. The elderly Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had planned on adopting a boy to help Matthew with the chores on their Prince Edward Island farm. What are they to do with the red-haired, high-spirited girl who arrives instead? Anne Shirley, with her boundless imagination and heart, slowly brings joy into the narrow lives of those around her and into the lives of readers.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years–due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist–Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Heathcliff is an orphan raised with favor by Mr. Earnshaw, father of Hindley and Catherine. Hindley’s hatred festers for Heathcliff as Catherine’s love grows. When Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley inherits Wuthering Heights he brutalizes Heathcliff, forcing him to work as a hired hand. Soon Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights. Catherine becomes friends with the neighboring Linton family and Mrs. Linton begins to teach her to be a ‘proper lady.’ Catherine becomes attracted to and eventually marries Edgar Linton. After three years Heathcliff returns a wealthy gentleman and marries Isabella Linton only to become cruel and abusive to her. His objective is to enact revenge on Hindley and Edgar Linton and soon gains ownership of Wuthering Heights and then the Linton estate, Thrushcross Grange.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Pilgram’s Progress tells the story of man’s progress through life in search of salvation remains one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written. Set against realistic backdrops of town and country, the powerful drama of the pilgrim’s trials and temptations follows him in his harrowing journey to the Celestial City. Along a road filled with monsters and spiritual terrors, Christian confronts such emblematic characters as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative, Ignorance and the demons of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But he is also joined by Hopeful and Faithful.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Pip doesn’t expect much from life . . . His sister makes it clear that her orphaned little brother is nothing but a burden on her. But suddenly things begin to change. Pip’s narrow existence is blown apart when he finds an escaped criminal, is summoned to visit a mysterious old woman and meets the icy beauty Estella. Most astoundingly of all, an anonymous person gives him money to begin a new life in London. Are these events as random as they seem? Or does Pip’s fate hang on a series of coincidences he could never have expected?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The story centers on Alice, a young girl who falls asleep in a meadow and dreams that she follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole. She has many wondrous, often bizarre adventures with thoroughly illogical and very strange creatures. Often changing size unexpectedly (she grows as tall as a house and shrinks to three inches), Alice encounters such characters as the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle and the Red Queen.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Written in a prose of almost biblical simplicity and beauty, it is the story of a soul’s long quest in search of the ultimate answer to the enigma of man’s role on this earth. As a youth, the young Indian Siddhartha meets the Buddha but cannot be content with a disciple’s role: he must work out his own destiny and solve his own doubt–a tortuous road that carries him through the sensuality of a love affair with the beautiful courtesan Kamala, the temptation of success and riches, the heartache of struggle with his own son, to final renunciation and self-knowledge.
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