The Great American Read – Yeah….

PBS has a new program on entitled “The Great American Read” where PBS, supposedly via poll but I suspect something other than that, selected the 100 best-loved books we Americans read. Having read a few novels in my time, I found their list a little lacking even though they generously did have a few of the great novels of our time. It also tossed some out, including anything from William Faulker. The were kind enough to include Dickens’ “Great Expectations” which is a story of “Pip”, but left out one of my favorites which was first published today in 1859, “A Tale Of Two Cities”.

This is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to life in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met; Lucie’s marriage and the collision between her beloved husband and the people who caused her father’s imprisonment; and Monsieur and Madame Defarge, sellers of wine in a poor suburb of Paris. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.

So let me start….

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Pretty nice why to start a story that is eternally relevant to all us. A Tale of Two Cities has been cited as one of the best-selling novels of all time. It has been stated to have sold 200 million copies since its first publication,though this figure has been dismissed as “pure fiction” by Oxford University’s Peter Thonemann.

But let us take a look at what they did chose.

1984” by George Orwell. 1984 is a dystopian novel published in 1949. The novel is set in the year 1984 when most of the world population have become victims of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation. In the novel, Great Britain (“Airstrip One”) has become a province of a superstate named Oceania. Oceania is ruled by the “Party”, who employ the “Thought Police” to persecute individualism and independent thinking. The Party’s leader is Big Brother, who enjoys an intense cult of personality but may not even exist. The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a rank-and-file Party member. Smith is an outwardly diligent and skillful worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother. Smith rebels by entering a forbidden relationship with fellow employee Julia. Personally I thought it was a good choice since It was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 13 on the editor’s list, and 6 on the readers’ list. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 8 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read. Hard not to have this one on the list.

A Confederacy of Dunces by American novelist John Kennedy Toole. The book became first a cult classic, then a mainstream success; it earned Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, and is now considered a canonical work of modern literature of the Southern United States. It is not listed in the top 100 Best Novels. The book’s title refers to an epigram from Jonathan Swift’s essay, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Its central character, Ignatius J. Reilly, is an educated but slothful 30-year-old man living with his mother in the Uptown neighborhood of early-1960s New Orleans who, in his quest for employment, has various adventures with colorful French Quarter characters. Toole wrote the novel in 1963 during his last few months in Puerto Rico.

For a complete list of books listed by PBS see here.

 

%d bloggers like this: