The Great American Read

Janet Clapp

Lists are fun in today’s world of listicles, online quizzes, and top tens. My favorites are booklists, which are abundant in the forms of bestseller lists, award winners and more. Because the selection of best books is subjective, the inclusion or exclusion of titles can lead to interesting discussions. Now PBS brings us The Great American Read consisting of “America’s 100 most-loved books,” according to the website ( Go there to see the list or take the quiz to see how many you have read. The eclectic fiction varies from the classic “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes to the beloved children’s book “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, to the popular vampire series “The Twilight Saga” by Stephenie Meyer. Here are four of the 100 novels.

The Book Thief

by Mark Zusak

“It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:

  • *A girl
  • *Some words
  • *An accordionist
  • *Some fanatical Germans
  • *A Jewish fist fighter
  • *And quite a lot of thievery”

Narrated by Death with regular asides to the reader, this is the story of Liesel, a girl in Nazi Germany who steals books. “The heat was still strong enough to warm her when she stood at the foot of the ash heap. When she reached her hand in, she was bitten, but on the second attempt, she made sure she was fast enough. She latched onto the closest of the books. It was hot, but it was also wet, burned only at the edges, but otherwise unhurt.” Through his characters and writing, Zusak conveys the power of words.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

by Jean M. Auel

“It was not an animal that had drawn the voracious birds. It was a child, a gaunt, strange-looking child!” When Cro-Magnon Ayla’s people are destroyed in an earthquake, she is adopted by the Neanderthal Clan of the Cave Bear. Raised among them, Ayla learns their ways but never fully fits in. “The Clan lived by unchanging tradition. Every facet of their lives from the time they were born until they were called to the world of the spirits was circumscribed by the past. It was an attempt at survival, unconscious and unplanned except by nature in a last-ditch effort to save the race from extinction, and doomed to failure. They could not stop change, and resistance to it was self-defeating, antisurvival.” Auel delves into the detail of life in a prehistoric world.

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

“My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago. My father thinks she was killed by her own thoughts.” Woven together are the stories of four Chinese women, who immigrated to San Francisco in 1949, and their adult daughters, born in America. “These kinds of explanations made me feel my mother and I spoke two different languages, which we did. I talked to her in English, she answered back in Chinese.” Tan provides a fascinating portrayal of generations of Chinese-American culture.

The Martian

by Andy Weir

“I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crew die of old age. I presume they got back to earth all right. Guys, if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do. In your position, I would have done the same thing. I don’t blame you, and I’m glad you survived.” When a dust storm kicks up on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is left behind, presumed dead. In a conversational style, his log describes the extraordinary things he does to keep himself alive. “I summoned up the courage to return to the Hab. Once I got there, I felt a little more confident. Everything was how I’d left it. (What did I expect? Martians looting my stuff?)” Combining science and suspense, this is a gripping read.

The Rutland Free Library has the books above and many others on The Great American Read list. Happy reading!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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