Several months ago, I came across PBS’s “Great American Read” quiz, encouraging visitors to see how many of these “Great American Reads” they themselves had read. I have to admit I was puzzled by this list: it contained an awful lot of the dusty old classics of yore — things our English Lit. instructors insisted we just HAD to read. Take the quiz yourself and see how many you’ve read: my score is listed at the bottom of this post. If you like, feel free to comment on how many you’ve read, and what things you think should (or shouldn’t) be included in this list.
Unlike previous years’ editions of similar quizzes, this list at least had SOME genre fiction on it. But there was no background information: how was this list compiled – what were the qualifications for a book to make this list? Who was involved in selecting these books? It couldn’t possibly be JUST a popularity contest, or old saws like Moby Dick would never have made it in a million years.
Some genres only had token representation despite being generally popular — mystery and horror spring immediately to mind, and some — like those aforementioned English Lit classics that were sheer drudgery for modern audiences to get through — were very heavily represented.
I guess the most important thing in these exercises is for people to read, and to talk with others about what they’ve read: what they liked, what they didn’t like, favorite authors and genres, and so on. Lists like these are easy to criticize for what they do or don’t include: what’s important is that we continue to read and to discuss books, and the ideas within, and in that, these sorts of lists have value. Books are an important and valuable resource, and we need to encourage everyone to read a book — just for fun — to keep language, ideas, and the written word alive and well.