“The Great American Read” Fall Season Kicks Off

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The fall kick-off of PBS’ The Great American Read (TGAR), an eight-part television series designed to generate a country-wide conversation about reading, premiered Tuesday, September 11, with television personality and series host Meredith Vieira introducing the new season from the halls of the Library of Congress.

TGAR logoOn each episode, The Great American Read invites different celebrities, authors, and readers to discuss their favorite novels, choosing from a crowdsourced list of America’s 100 best-loved novels, which includes everything from classics such as Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to contemporary bestsellers like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Vieira started off Tuesday night’s episode by recapping this past summer, which saw readers in communities across the country attending TGAR events at libraries and bookstores, going to events sponsored by their local PBS stations, and continuing to vote for their favorite novels on the list of 100 books. According to Vieira, who also hosted the program’s 90-minute launch special in May, the top 100 list was compiled from a nationwide survey of thousands of American readers accounting for age, gender, and region. The final list of books, said Vieira, included 51 books set in the U.S., 64 books written by Americans, 70 published after World War II, nine Pulitzer Prize-winning books, and one written by a former head of state.

The September 11 episode served as a “revved-up review” of some of the books voters have picked so far and featured appearances by Dr. Carla Hayden, whose vote went to Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; George R.R. Martin, who boosted J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; Lesley Stahl, whose top choice was War and Peace; Baratunde Thurston, who stood up for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; and Gayle King, who chose Little Women as her favorite. The show will continue for the next six weeks with episodes that dig deep into the themes of the novels trending in the competition, said Vieira.

Following the screening, authors Kim Van Alkemade, Justina Ireland, and Kerry Wright appeared on a panel to discuss the premiere.
Following a preview screening at Midtown Scholar, authors Kim Van Alkemade, Justina Ireland, and Kerry Wright appeared on a panel to discuss the premiere.

This first episode features several segments profiling readers from around the country, including Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and was inspired by Harry Potter to create and direct her own web series, Hermione Granger and the Quarterlife Crisis. The show also took viewers to Albuquerque to discuss Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima with Amanda Gallegos, who, after neighboring Arizona’s legislature passed a ban on Mexican American studies in schools, including this novel, was among the students who protested and organized until a federal judge struck down law as unconstitutional.

Other guests who appeared in the fall kick-off episode were Sarah Jessica Parker, John Green, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Venus Williams, Henry Louis Gates Jr., David Baldacci, Jason Reynolds, Gillian Flynn, Diana Gabaldon, Lauren Graham, Armistead Maupin, Cynthia Nixon, and James Patterson.

Several bookstores are staging events to celebrate the return of The Great American Read this month, like Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which hosted a preview screening at the store on September 10 in partnership with local public broadcasting company WITF, which produced two of the features on the night’s program: one highlighting the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning Pennsylvania author John Updike and the other profiling children’s book author and Penn State graduate Jean Craighead George. After the screening, readers could stay for a talk-back session with local authors and professors.

Next week, Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colorado, will be co-hosting viewing parties of the September 18 episode in partnership with the Sie FilmCenter in Denver and the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton.

Going forward, booksellers who are looking to promote this nationwide event can take advantage of the downloadable assets available on the PBS website, including the list of 100 featured titles, logos and e-mail signature images, shelf-talkers, bookmarks, and more.

Readers also continue to have the opportunity to vote for their favorite book from the list. After registering with PBS, voters can choose their top picks through the app on the Great American Read website or by posting an original post to Facebook or Twitter. U.S. citizens can also text their favorites to the Great American Read SMS short code 97979. Complete voting instructions can be found on the PBS website. The winner will be announced during the series’ grand finale, which will air on October 23.

Learn more about The Great American Read here, and watch Bookselling This Week for updates.