This past summer, I was completely captivated by the PBS television program, “The Great American Read”.
The PBS Web Site describes the show as: “THE GREAT AMERICAN READ was an eight-part series that explored and celebrated the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey). It investigated how and why writers create their fictional worlds, how we as readers are affected by these stories, and what these 100 different books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience.”
I am certain I am not the only reader who scanned each title on the list (…a few times!) to see how many I have read over the years.
I was most delighted at discovering that two of the titles on the list were part of my high school experience: “1984” by George Orwell (which I absolutely loved, especially since I read it in 1983) and “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier.
There were a few others that I had read later in life for the fun of it, like “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks and “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.
And there were many stories for which I hadn’t read the books but I knew well from the cinematic versions, such as “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, “Gone With the Wind”, “The Help”, “The Great Gatsby”, and “The Color Purple”, to name a few.
I really enjoyed the PBS program because in each episode, teachers, authors and celebrities would speak about the books, offering their opinions as to what they enjoyed, what they got out of it and what resonated with them.
Some of their opinions were so passionate, in explaining how pivotal those books were, how well-crafted they were, and how the books were a reflection on society. I was in awe at the parallels in relevance not only for time that they were written but for our changing times as well.
As a result, my bucket list of books started to grow. I had to add extra shelving to my bookcases to accommodate the novels that were landing in my mailbox or following me home from the bookstore.
In some ways, I wish that my high school curriculum took that approach to studying books. If we had spent more time discussing books in the way that “The Great American Read” did, awakening our natural curiosity by describing the story at a high level, by asking what it meant to us as teenagers in the 1980’s, by sharing different points of view, and by offering pointers to draw our own conclusions as to why it should be important, I think I would have read more novels just for the fun of it.
Our curriculum’s overanalyses of symbolism and foreshadowing as well as dissecting figures of speech until we were blue in the face did not do much for me to encourage a love of reading. However, I’ll never forget that if there is a mention of a crow in a story, it could mean bad times ahead for one or several of the characters.
But just the same, I remained an avid reader over the years, when the time and the headspace permitted.
While watching “The Great American Read” I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to some of the other classics that we studied like “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, and “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding.
I feel a great sense of gratitude that novels like these were part of my school years, even if I perhaps didn’t have enough life experience to fully appreciate their significance. I am very curious to read them again through the eyes of a man in a much different phase of life.
In addition, for an aspiring writer like me, whether my path takes me down the road of novelist, screenwriter or something else, I believe that this is an opportune time to reconnect with the classics, to get the creative juices flowing and to understand what makes a story personally enjoyable, enduring and maybe a little ahead of its time.
I think the best part of “The Great American Read” is that it helped me feel connected to other readers who felt so passionate about their favourites. It also helped me feel normal in realizing that we weren’t the only ones reading some of these titles (that, to a teenager, may have seemed like odd choices), and that they were enjoyed by millions of students worldwide.
When a story can connect so many of us on a human level like that, isn’t that what makes it a classic?
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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,