The Great American Read: Vote Now on the Top 32 Books

Great American Read Book Collage

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 the top 32 books across all four categories. Voting closes on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 11:30 p.m.

Learn More About This Project

 

The Classics
The Classics

Gone with the Wind
Frankenstein


Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life.

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.

 

The Classics

Jane Eyre
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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 Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
This irresistible tale of the adventures of two friends growing up in frontier America is one of Mark Twain’s most popular novels. The farcical, colorful, and poignant escapades of Tom and his friend Huckleberry Finn brilliantly depict the humor and pathos of growing up on the geographic and cultural rim of nineteenth-century America. Originally intended for children, the book transcends genre in its magical depiction of innocence and possibility, and is now regarded as one of Twain’s masterpieces.

 

The Classics

Anne of Green Gables
Pride and Prejudice

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.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A tale of hasty judgments, heartache, scandalous behaviour and, finally, true love. Stylish and teen-friendly, Bloomsbury Classics bring a cool, contemporary appeal to some of the most exciting books ever written. Each title has a foreword by a top children’s author that explains “Why You Should Read This Book.” Plus, a fun “newspaper” at the back of each book is packed with interesting facts and details – including a brief author biography, details on the fashions and music of the times, and a gossip column about key figures of the day.

 

The Classics

Little Women
The Great Gatsby

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Lovely Meg, talented Jo, frail Beth, spoiled Amy: these are hard lessons of poverty and of growing up in New England during the Civil War. Through their dreams, plays, pranks, letters, illnesses, and courtships, women of all ages have become a part of this remarkable family and have felt the deep sadness when Meg leaves the circle of sisters to be married. The novel chronicles Jo’s struggle to become a writer, Beth’s tragedy, and Amy’s artistic pursuits and unexpected romance.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Invited to an extravagantly lavish party in a Long Island mansion, Nick Carraway, a young bachelor who has just settled in the neighbouring cottage, is intrigued by the mysterious host, Jay Gatsby, a flamboyant but reserved self-made man with murky business interests and a shadowy past. As the two men strike up an unlikely friendship, details of Gatsby’s impossible love for a married woman emerge, until events spiral into tragedy.

 

Mid-Century
Mid-Century

Grapes of Wrath
1984


Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

1984 by George Orwell
George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984—the title derived by reversing the last digits of the year of its completion—is a dystopian novel depicting an oligarchical, collectivist society. Winston Smith, the protagonist, practices “thoughtcrime”—he lets his mind wander in ways the government would disapprove of—and it is through him that we discover the atrocities of the society. 1984 has been particularly influential, and one of its creations, “Big Brother,” has found a prominent place in pop culture. Ironically, the book has, at times, been challenged for being intellectually dangerous, even to the point of being banned. Its influence, however, remains unmatched and its message unforgotten.

 

Mid-Century

The Catcher in the Rye
Charlotte’s Web

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The hero-narrator of the novel is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

 

Mid-Century

Lord of the Rings (series)
To Kill a Mockingbird

Lord of the Rings (series) by J.R.R. Tolkien
In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilboentrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father–a crusading local lawyer–risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

 

Mid-Century

The Outsiders
Catch 22

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he’s got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends–true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up on “greasers” like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect–until the night someone takes things too far.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy during World War II, this of Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy–it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. If he makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

 

Late Century
Late Century

The Color Purple
The Clan of the Cave Bear


The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Celie has grown up poor in rural Georgia, despised by the society around her and abused by her own family. She strives to protect her sister, Nettie, from a similar fate, and while Nettie escapes to a new life as a missionary in Africa, Celie is left behind without her best friend and confidante, married off to an older suitor, and sentenced to a life alone with a harsh and brutal husband. In an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear, Celie begins writing letters directly to God. The letters, spanning twenty years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment.

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homel, but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority.

 

Late Century

Outlander (series)
The Joy Luck Club

Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon
Scottish Highlands, 1945. Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743. Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of a world that threatens her life, and may shatter her heart.

Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. “To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later the stories and history continue.

 

Late Century

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Pillars of the Earth

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together, this dynamic pair began a journey through space aided by a galaxyful of fellow travelers. Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known…of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect-a man divided in his soul…of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame…and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.

 

Late Century

The Handmaid’s Tale
The Wheel of Time (series)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.

The Wheel of Time (series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs–a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts– five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.

 

Contemporary
Contemporary

White Teeth
The Da Vinci Code

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’ s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
A mind-bending code hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. A desperate race through the cathedrals and castles of Europe. An astonishing truth concealed for centuries… unveiled at last. While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, a baffling cipher found near the body.

 

Contemporary

Memoirs of a Geisha
The Help

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town.

 

Contemporary

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Harry Potter (series)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable muggle aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own destiny.

 

Contemporary

The Book Thief
The Hunger Games


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist-books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the other districts in line by forcing them to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death on live TV. One boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen are selected by lottery to play. The winner brings riches and favor to his or her district. But that is nothing compared to what the Capitol wins: one more year of fearful compliance with its rules.

 

Results – Late Century, Round 2
  • The Color Purple (61%) defeated Lonesome Dove (39%)
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear (53%) defeated The Stand (47%)
  • Outlander (series) (69%) defeated A Confederacy of Dunces (31%)
  • The Joy Luck Club (66%) defeated The Giver (34%)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (50%) defeated (2 votes!)The Hunt for Red October (50%)
  • The Pillars of the Earth (64%) defeated Hatchet (series) (36%)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (59%) defeated Jurassic Park (41%)
  • The Wheel of Time (series) (70%) defeated Flowers in the Attic (30%)

 

Results – Contemporary, Round 2
  • White Teeth (59%) defeated Twilight (series) (41%)
  • The Da Vinci Code (57%) defeated The Martian (43%)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (62%) defeated A Game of Thrones (38%)
  • The Help (93%) defeated Fifty Shades of Grey (series) (7%)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (51%) defeated Gone Girl (49%)
  • Harry Potter (series) (79%) defeated The Lovely Bones (21%)
  • The Book Thief (84%) defeated Ready Player One (16%)
  • The Hunger Games (66%) defeated Gilead (34%)

 

The Bracket
Click the image to view a larger bracket (then click “View full size”)
Download a PDF of the bracket

 

 

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