If you want to see me really sweat, ask me to choose my favorite book. Sure, I just shared my top 10, but those were in no particular order and ALSO just my top 10 of March 2018. I fully expect that list to change over time (although I’m pretty sure Matilda will always be on there).
So when someone asks me what my single favorite book is, I really can’t do it. Does it mean the book I most enjoy reading? The book I recommend the most often? The book that taught me the most?
A new PBS documentary series, The Great American Read, is premiering next week, and it’s based around exactly that: 7,200 surveyed Americans picked their favorite novel, and a panel of judges narrowed that list down to the top 100 novels. And now we’ll vote, choosing the TOP FAVORITE NOVEL IN AMERICA!
I have a lot of issues with this premise. When my friend Lindsey handed me a list of America’s 100 most favorite novels (printed on a promotional bookmark), I immediately started analyzing: How does ANYONE pick one novel? Some of these authors aren’t even American? OK, I guess it’s favorite novel of Americans, not favorite American novel? And who THE HELL chose Fifty Shades of Grey?!
My initial thoughts about this list weren’t kind, I’ll admit. My degree-in-literature ass was judging the inclusion of certain novels (even some that I did enjoy reading). In my mind, the winner of this contest should be a serious work of literature. Maybe the words on the page are easy to read, but the themes aren’t. A good novel should make you think. About yourself, your relationships with others, the state of the world. And I don’t think that Flowers in the Attic accomplishes that.
BUT those initial thoughts are rude. Just because those are the criteria by which I choose my favorite novels does not mean everyone should or does think that way. I’m constantly complaining about how people don’t read enough, so I should shut my over-educated mouth and let people like what they like.
So that’s the last you’ll hear me complain about the selection of books on the list. (Exception: I will have some SHIT TO SAY if Fifty Shades wins. Read your erotic fiction all you want, no judgement there. Just maybe MAYBE maybe our favorite novel shouldn’t be so poorly written? 😳)
Voting opens after the initial show airs on Tuesday, and you can vote as many times as you want for your favorite book. I chose seven from the list that I love, and I plan to vote for them on a rotating daily basis. Maybe one of mine will emerge victorious, but it could also be the Left Behind series. Ahem.
- Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie This is a complicated and beautiful novel. The author’s TED Talk was sampled in a Beyonce song the same year this novel came out, which is, if we’re being honest, what drew me to the book in the first place.
In the book, the main character moves from her home in Africa to America, and she has to deal with race for the first time in her life. In a country where everyone is black, race is not an issue the way it is in America. There’s also a love story. The premise is thought-provoking and the writing is beautiful. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood You all KNOW I love this one. My review is here. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I can’t help but think Handmaid’s Tale (and 1984, also on the list) will have huge advantages because they’re currently on television. So we’ll see how that plays out.
- Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott I LOVE THIS NOVEL! It’s about sisters! ⭐⭐⭐⭐
But, for real, if you ever want to see me ugly-cry, turn on the 1994 movie with Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst. (And I promise that this isn’t a PBS ad, but they’re currently airing a Little Women adaptation that is pretty good.)
This novel may have been my first introduction to the format of novels that I love so much — multi-decade family drama!! I love that we meet the sisters as children and follow them through adulthood (well, most of them 😭).
(ALSO, many of the other entries on the list are series — the entire Harry Potter series, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings. Does that mean that the other Little Women novels are included when you vote for Little Women? Because they are not… quite as good.)
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker You all know how much I love the musical, but I loved the book first. A deeply sad story about Celie and her sister, I can’t read it without crying. Sisters separated by circumstance ALWAYS makes me sob. The novel is short, but it covers so many important themes: poverty, racial violence, marital abuse, familial sexual abuse. It is a HARD read, but it’s an important one. Celie’s life circumstances aren’t made up, even though she’s a fictional character. The things that happened to her happen to real women, too. ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold This is a beautiful novel. AND it’s about crime and murder, so you know I love it. I’m sure many of you know the basic plot, since it was a movie (that I never saw, I’m just now realizing) in 2009. The protagonist is a dead teenage girl who watches her murder investigation unfold from her own personal Heaven. It’s EXCELLENT. I’m seeing via Google that the movie was terrible, so please give the novel a try if you didn’t like the movie. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- The Stand, by MY DUDE Stephen King I love, love, love this novel. It’s about an America in the very near future, where a superflu has killed 99% of the world’s population. It is famously long (so long, in fact, that King cut 400 pages before the initial publication, and an unedited version was released after the novel’s initial commercial success), around 800 pages. I feel like its length will hurt it in the voting process, but I’m happy to see a King novel represented on this list. ⭐⭐⭐⭐
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee OK, OK, OK, this will probably win. It’s a widely beloved novel, we all had to read it in school, and it’s about racism, but the protagonist is white. ☕ People love this novel! And I do, too. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I was so, so, so sad when Go Set A Watchman was released against Lee’s wishes. No one deserves to have their first drafts published! That shit is PRIVATE.
Other miscellaneous thoughts on The List:
- I love Harry Potter deeply, and I am so happy that those novels got children to read. I just wish they’d maybe read some other novels, too.
- The children’s books that are included, like Charlotte’s Web, make my heart break with cuteness.
- I love that Jurassic Park is on this list. LOVE. Michael Crichton was teenage Caitlin’s favorite author.
- I feel weird about books that were very recently released being on the list, like The Martian. Sure, I liked it, too. But how can you call a book your favorite if it hasn’t traveled through the years with you?
- Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is on The List, and that’s the novel that James Delos was reading in his weird Ikea apartment last week on Westworld. IS THIS AN HBO TIE-IN?!
So there you have it. My thoughts and feelings about America’s favorite novel. My educated guess? Mockingbird will win. Or maybe Harry Potter.
Please, not 50 Shades. I’m not going to say any other winner would make me happy, because I am too dramatic for that. But PLEASE not 50 Shades.