10 Picks from the Great American Read

PBS is hosting a new series centered around the 100 most-loved American novels, The Great American Read. The first episode is already available, and it’s running through October 23rd. The list is full of different genres, and everyone will be able to find some books on here that they’ll love. Here are my top 10 picks from the list, followed by 5 I’m immediately adding to my TBR list.

My 10 Top Picks

While it was extremely hard to limit this list down to only 10, some of my favorite books of all time are here.

  • I can’t remember who first introduced me to Douglas Adams, but I’ve read and re-read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so many times I’ve lost count. Every single time I read it, it leaves me laughing so hard that I’m in tears. All of Adams’ books are incredible, but this will always be my favorite. Bonus: it contains some of my favorite quotes from any book that I’ve read:
    • “It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.”
    • “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
    • “He was staring at the instruments with the air of one who is trying to convert Fahrenheit to centigrade in his head while his house is burning down.”
    • “It is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
  • A dear friend of mine, Kathleen, gave me a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale years ago. As I read it for the first time, it terrified me, because none of it seemed far-fetched. Keep in mind, this was almost ten years ago, so now it’s even more relatable, which is something no one should be proud of. I hope this book is required reading in all high schools.
  • I hated F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby when I read it in the 10th grade. Like, really, really, really hated it. I thought all of the characters were silly and unrelatable, and the book itself bored me to tears. Last year I was at the library and came across a copy, and since it’s a very short novel, I decided I’d give it a second chance. I’m so glad I did. There’s so much going on with this novel, and it paints the 1920s in such a vivid way. Fun fact: I used to work at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, where Fitzgerald lived and worked for a while. It’s a beautiful place with a view that is unbelievably inspiring. I can’t blame him a bit for wanting to write from there.
  • Everyone has seen the movie by now (I hope), but I still recommend reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As detailed as the films were, there was so much that they had to leave out. Tolkien was a master of world-building, and was also a linguist who put great effort into creating his fictional languages. For Christmas one year, I received a cloth-bound box set of The Lord of the Rings, with illustrations by Alan Lee, one of my favorite artists. It was my most-cherished possession until my family’s home burnt down a couple of years later, and I’ve been looking for that exact copy ever since with no luck.
  • I was 10 years old when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out. I literally grew up with the books, and was borderline obsessed with them. When the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was released, I read the entire book in one sitting because I was so eager to find out what happened next.
  • Stephen King books were everywhere when I was growing up, as both of my parents like his books. The Stand is my absolute favorite. In fact, I would say it’s my second favorite book of all time, coming in just behind Cormac McCarthy’s The RoadMy genre-of-choice is post-apocalyptic, and King just knocked it out of the park with this novel. I do recommend reading the Complete and Uncut edition of the book, which adds over 500 pages that were edited out of the first release. It’s massive but well worth the effort.
  • My mother had a paperback set of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia books, and I read and re-read them so often that, by the time I entered high school, some of the pages were falling out and the spines were completely cracked. It was one of the first fantasy novels I read as a kid (aside from The Hobbit), and I was immersed in the world. I’m planning on re-reading it soon, and I’m looking forward to it so much.
  • Like so many others, I first read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school, right after finishing Animal Farm. I loved both, and I’ve re-read both several times, but 1984 strikes me as something that isn’t that farfetched (much in the same way as The Handmaid’s Tale). With privacy being stripped from us more and more as our technology increases, I think this is an incredibly relevant book.
  • While A Farewell to Arms is my favorite Ernest Hemingway book, The Sun Also Rises is right behind it, along with The Old Man and the Sea (click for my review).  Hemingway can be a polarizing writer, but he has a very unique, straight-forward style that I really appreciate. I also find myself feeling so much empathy for his characters.
  • Finally, we come to Andy Weir’s The Martian, which is a spectacular work of science fiction, both in print and on film. I’m a science geek, and I appreciated how much science Weir worked into the story. We don’t just read about what Mark Watney is doing, he explains to us why he’s doing it. It’s also just a well-written and fast-paced novel.  If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you’d love this book.

Again, there were so many other books on the list that are amazing, but those are my 10 favorites. Tomorrow, I’ll post a follow-up entry listing the five books that I’m most excited about reading from this list, as well as a few books that I think should be omitted from the list.  So, if you enjoyed this post, be sure to subscribe and check back for a more critical look at some of the books from the list.

Click here to read part two of this post.

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