What Is America’s Favorite Novel?

John L. Wellington, “Woman Reading a Book”


My cousin Rick Neumann alerted me the NPR list drawn up to determine America’s favorite novel. According to the NPR website, 100 titles “were chosen by the American public in a specially commissioned, demographically and statistically representative survey conducted by public opinion polling service YouGov.”  Book lovers can vote daily up until October to choose a winner.

A quick perusal of the list indicates that “favorite” is not the same as “best” since there are some execrable books on the list, including Atlas Shrugged, Twilight, the Left Behind series, and Da Vinci code, a book with plot holes so large one can drive a mack truck through them. But I’m not complaining since readers’ love affairs with certain novels are often as mysterious as love affairs generally. As Bottom would put it, “reason and love keep little company.”

Still, I would have liked to see my own favorite novel on the list, which is The Brothers Karamazov (Crime and Punishment is there instead). I also can’t believe that Tom Sawyer, good though it is, has replaced Huckleberry Finn. George Eliot is missing (Middlemarch anyone?), as are novels for 18th century Britain (I’d take either Tom Jones or Moll Flanders). If I have to select from the options available, however, my top ten (in order) are:

War and Peace
Jane Eyre
Pride and Prejudice
Alice in Wonderland
Gulliver’s Travels
Catch 22
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Invisible Man

I will be depressed if the following books make it into the top ten (and suicidal if one of them wins it all):

Atlas Shrugged
Hunt for Red October
Clan of the Cave Bear
The Godfather
Da Vinci Code
Game of Thrones

Jurassic Park
Left Behind

I’ve read 60 of the 100 novels and, unlike with Rory Gilmore’s list, don’t feel guilty for not having read more. But the fact that I want to quarrel and advocate is part of the value of the exercise. Anything that gets people talking about literature, even bad literature, is a good thing.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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