Sometimes I feel like a schoolgirl who gets so hooked on a story that she stays up half the night, disregarding the curfew, just to finish the book she has been reading or what she has been watching on some electronic device. The only difference is that my curfew is self-imposed so it’s easier to disregard. One of the most enticing places that calls to me is our Public Broadcasting System. PBS always has something to offer when nothing else suffices.
Last night, after an obedient nod to the clock, I went to my bed, turned out the light and proceeded to try all my usual tricks to fall asleep when my brain won’t give in and stop thinking. I finally gave up the effort and did a rare thing for me: I got up again and clicked on what would have been a wonderful program if I had found it in the afternoon. It was a two-hour PBS offering – most likely from a previous summer – called The Great American Read. Meredith Vieira led the way to a search for the best American novel ever written. Canvassing the country, speaking with authors and readers who gave her their choices of a favorite book, her task was to amass a list of 100 novels from which all comers could vote for the best one. I only got through the first half of the program; by then it was 1:30AM!
What was engaging and uplifting for me was the diversity of the choices and the willingness for whoever had made the rules of the process to accept any novel ever written that was published in this country as a valid entry. From Charlotte’s Web to The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter to A Prayer for Owen Meany, the books were not only named but touted as the best with lines like: “that book saved my life” or “I learned to delight in the magic” – and passionate explanations that made me want to stop all other activity and just read for the rest of my life! (That isn’t really a stretch for me; I come from a family of readers.)
I will have to return to hear the rest of the listed choices and hear the excitement of those interviewed about their choices – like all the people whose favorite activity is reading to their children or grandchildren, or the group of six year old girls who were so articulate about Charlotte’s Web or the woman who has sailed the oceans all her life and revels in the pages of Moby Dick…And then, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to know the winner.
Today I am grateful for those who taught me to read, those who give me the opportunity to lose myself in the occasional novel and for intelligent and interesting efforts like the Great American Read that remind us what richness is ours if we take the time to pick up a book. Most of all I am grateful for literacy volunteers who open the world to the eyes of people who do not know how to read, and for those who record books for the blind to do the same.