PBS "The Great American Read" revolves around a long list of classics with quite a few tomes with Irish titles but what are they?
We all know one of the great joys of summer is spending a lazy day at the beach, toes in the sand, drink in one hand, book in the other.
But then Labor Day rolls around, and it’s as if the sand and the surf vanish.
Guess what? The beach is still there in September and even October. Whether it’s global warming or not, we all know that September has pretty much become an extension of August, with temperatures regularly hitting the 90s, even as the kids tearily crawl back to school.
And in case you needed more motivation to extend the beach-reading season, PBS is about to air a new series called The Great American Read, which not only revolves around a long list of classics you may never have gotten to, but includes quite a few tomes with Irish ties.
The Great American Read introduced viewers to all of its titles back in the spring, with host Meredith Vieira exploring the authors, and many famous and not-so-famous talking heads explaining how and why certain books changed their lives. After an extensive survey of over 7,000 Americans, show producers narrowed a list down to 100 books. Fiction from all over the world was eligible, so long as it was published in English.
Beginning on Tuesday, September 11, PBS will dig deeper into many of these beloved books and authors, while also allowing viewers to vote for what they will term “America’s best-loved book.”
Let’s state right off the bat that “great” is a term that can very much be debated in terms of this literary contest.
You’ve got unquestioned masterpieces like Toni Morrison’s Beloved and George Orwell’s 1984. But you’ve also got E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and James Patterson’s I, Alex Cross.
Popular? Without question. “Great?” Hmm.
But while it’s easy to mock the writing, uh, styles of scribes like Patterson and James, we also have to acknowledge that one reason many folks haven’t picked up a book since they read Catcher in the Rye in high school (yes, it’s on the list) is because bookish types often turn reading into the mental equivalent of eating vegetables. Who cares if you like it! You should do it because it’s good for you!
Sure, James Joyce’s stately, plump Ulysses is “great.” It’s also largely unreadable. Blessedly, it is not on the PBS list.
What books with Irish ties are on the list?
There’s John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans comedy classic A Confederacy of Dunces, which has influenced a wide range of comedians and comic actors. For decades, filmmakers have tried to bring the adventures of Ignatius J. Riley to the big screen, but the closest anyone has come seems to be the forthcoming Butterfly in the Shadow, which is about how Toole (who died tragically young before the book was even published) and his struggles to write and publish the book.
One beloved book that became a classic movie, also on the PBS list, is Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, about an Irish father and Austrian mother struggling to raise their children Francie and Cornelius “Neely” Nolan. There is Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone With the Wind, about the Southern Irish O’Hara clan, and (from a very different kind of Irish American writer) Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October.
Scott Fitzgerald avoided his Irish background when he wrote The Great Gatsby (on the list), though Gillian Flynn made quite a bit of husband Nick Dunne’s Irishness in her infamous marriage novel Gone Girl (also on the list).
Two Irish-born authors even make the list: Jonathan Swift for Gulliver’s Travels and Oscar Wilde for The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Of course, there will be endless debates about what should and should not be on such a list. (No James Joyce at all? Maeve Binchy? Alice McDermott? Colum McCann?)
But why quibble? The Great American Read winner will be announced October 23rd.
My vote is torn between Where the Red Fern Grows (which I loved as a kid) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which I love now and regularly teach).
Grab any one of these books and head down to the beach one more time before then.