PBS Great American Read
Fall kick off: Wednesday, Sept. 12, 6:30 p.m., “Who Am I?”
(subsequent showings of PBS episodes will take place on the Wednesdays after they are shown on TV: Sept. 18, Sept. 25, Oct. 2, Oct. 9, Oct. 16, Oct. 24, at 6:30 p.m.)
Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
Free but registration recommended. Reserve seats at Montclairlibrary.org/greatamericanread or call 973-744-0500 ext. 2235.
For more information on the Great American Read, visit pbs.org/-the-great-american-read
#Greatreadpbs. Facebook reading group: facebook.com/groups/greatreadbookclub/
Vote for Montclair’s favorite book at bit.ly/garmontclair, or pick up a paper ballot at the library.
By GWEN OREL
Reading is a solitary activity.
Or is it?
Little is more fun for a reader than talking about books to other readers.
And talking about books and voting on favorites are both goals of the Public Broadcasting
System’s Great American Read (PBS GAR).
The PBS GAR presents 100 of America’s best-loved novels, chosen through nationwide petitions of about 7,200 people. A panel of 13 literary industry professionals oversaw the selection so that authors appeared only once (a series counts as one title, so, for example, “Harry Potter series” counts once.)
Because the list is the “most-loved” books, it includes classics such as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Jane Eyre;” children’s books including “The Chronicles of Narnia;” “Harry Potter” and “Charlotte’s Web;” bestsellers including the Alex Cross mysteries and “Fifty Shades of Gray;” and acclaimed literary titles such as “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Americanah.”
An eight-part television series that examines the books launched in May, but took a summer hiatus, and returns on Sept. 11.
Readers can vote on their favorite books — early and often, there’s no limit to voting — on the PBS GAR site, as well as by texting and calling a toll-free number.
“It’s kind of the ‘American Idol’ of books,” said Montclair Public Library Assistant Director Janet Torsney with a laugh.
Readers can also download the book checklist, and take an online quiz to see how many they’ve read.
The Montclair Public Library is one of 50 libraries chosen to take part in the Great American Read. The library received funding for programming, and will screen each of the episodes the day after they air on television.
Over the summer, Torsney said, the library held some complementary programming connected to the themes of the list, which are“Who Am I?;” “Heroes;” “Villains and Monsters;” “What We Do for Love;” “Other Worlds.”
The library has continued scheduled programming on “Treasure Island,” with the villain Long John Silver, and “The Wizard of Oz,” as an “Other World.”
Programming so far has included screenings of both movies. A “Treasure Island” pirate party will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m. “Oz-play,” a “Wizard of Oz” cosplay and singalong screening will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 2 p.m. Details about these and other events are at montclairlibrary.org/greatamericanread.
“We had to roll the dice,” Torsney said. They created programming before the schedule was announced.
And there will be a big party at the end.
Now, Torsney said, the plan is for the community to watch the episodes together and discuss the books. Montclair Public Library is one the only BCCLS (Bergen County collective) library that has all 100 books, she said. “And we really want to encourage people to vote. Montclair is such a particular community, so diverse, so well-read, so creative.”
Montclair will also have its own vote.
“So we’re going to have Montclair’s top most-loved books, along with the national ones, which I think will be quite different,” Torsney said.
Voting will continue until shortly before the series ends, probably until Oct. 20 or 21.
At the final party, MPL will announce Montclair’s top 10, and the title for its second
This past spring, Montclair held its first-ever community read: “Cheaper by the Dozen,” by
Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Programming included a lecture on by Montclair Historian Michael Farrelly, “An Evening with Peter Gilbreth,” the grandson of Frank and Lillian, the parents of the dozen in the book, and screenings of the movies based on the books.
And the library also gave away copies of the book for free.
“We gave away thousands of books,” Torsney said. “So we are very interested now in community reading, and to really tap into Montclair’s reading life.”
She pointed out that the Montclair Literary Festival, which had its second outing this year, was a big success.
“So [the GAR] was very appealing for us. And we thought, people really like multigenerational programming, so that’s why we like the idea for our doing ‘The Villains’ and the ‘Other Worlds,’ to really bring together different ways for people to address these issues.”
Over the summer, Torsney said, a survey of Montclair readers’ top books from the list were “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Color Purple.”
Torsney, who participates in the PBS Great American Read Facebook group, said that the list has inspired her to revisit some old favorites, including “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. MPL has the unabridged edition written by Shelley that was published in 2008, she said.
When she first took the quiz, she scored in the 60s out of 100. “I wasn’t that good,” she said. “I said, ‘I thought I read some of these books,’ but I hadn’t.”
One of those was “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas.
Now she’s read it.
A British Great Read had two lists, one chosen by industry professionals and the other by the public, but the GAR has only the public one. Some of the books were more popular when the poll was given than they are now, like “Twilight,” Torsney said.
On the PBS website, in the “inside look,” authors answer questions. Authors also weigh in on the Facebook group, Torsney said.
And people in the group also share other books that they are reading. “It’s an online book club,” Torsney said. “We’re really excited about that.”
She said she thinks PBS may do the list again next year, and the library is considering doing its own.
“Charlotte’s Web” is the first book she ever had read aloud: “Miss McLure read it aloud to us one day a week at Mount Hebron,” Torsney said. The book made a big impact on her. “It really makes you think again.”
And her favorite book of all time, Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” made the list. Torsney doesn’t need encouragement to reread it: she does so every year.
But now, she has company.