To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was named America’s Best-Loved Novel during the series finale of The Great American Read on Tuesday, October 23, which was a celebration of authors, novels, and, most of all, reading.
Lee’s gripping, heart-wrenching classic, first published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. in 1960, received the most votes from readers around the country, who chose from a crowdsourced list of America’s 100 best-loved novels by either casting their vote online or voting via text.
To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than 40 languages, sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, served as the basis for the popular 1962 film, and is one of the best novels of the 20th century according to librarians across the country. It is a coming-of-age tale set in a South poisoned by prejudice, that views the world in all its beauty and terrible inequities through the eyes of a young girl, Scout Finch, as her father, local lawyer Atticus, risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of rape.
The Great American Read eight-part television series, hosted by television personality Meredith Vieira, aired this fall and featured different celebrities, authors, and readers discussing their favorite novels from the top-100 list. During the finale, which was taped at PBS studios in New York City, Vieira announced the top four finalists in front of an audience of literary experts, librarians, booksellers, authors, and celebrities who appeared on the show, as well as assorted book fans.
The book with the second most reader votes was the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon; third was the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; fourth was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; and fifth was the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. Young reader Molly Hill revealed Mockingbird as the top book at the close of the show, which Vieira told the audience was her personal favorite as well.
According to Vieira, Mockingbird started out at the number-one spot on the first day of the vote and never wavered from its place. “To Kill a Mockingbird is a mirror of who we are in all our complexity,” she said. “It shows us at our worst and it ends tragically. But it also offers a way forward. For this honesty and hopefulness, the book is and deserves to be our very best-loved novel.”
Gabaldon was present at the ceremony to accept her honor and to talk about the Outlander series with Vieira, while the cast of the new Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird and its writer, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, came to discuss that book. The finale also featured actor and author Wil Wheaton, who discussed the importance of The Lord of the Rings’ message of hope, while actress and author Ali Wentworth spoke with Vieira about her love of Pride and Prejudice. In addition, 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shana Peeples and Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis creator Eliyannah Amirah Israel came on the show to talk about the joy and magic of Harry Potter.
American readers cast more than four million votes over the course of the competition, which kicked off May 22, and while they agreed on the very top books, Vieira said, there was lots of diversity in the 60 or so spots below those, reflecting local history, culture, and regional pride. However, she said, To Kill a Mockingbird was voted the top book in every single state except for North Carolina and Wyoming.
In addition to all of the activities associated with The Great American Read, including events sponsored throughout the summer by local PBS stations and a Facebook book club that garnered more than 50,000 members, the campaign was also an opportunity to do good: as part of The Great American Read, children’s literary nonprofit First Book donated 350,000 books to PBS member stations, which will be given to students from pre-K through high school.
The top 100 books were announced on the show in groups of 20 by five pairs of authors and celebrities, including author Robert McCammon, whose novel Swan Song made the list at #94, and Wentworth; associate director of the rare books school at the University of Virginia Barbara Heritage and The Schomburg Center director Kevin Young; author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan (#42) and author of The Shack William Paul Young (#57); Literaryswag creator Yahdon Israel and author Marie Arana; and Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief (#14), and 60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl.
The full list of the top 100 books in order can be found here, and previous episodes of The Great American Read are available to view on the PBS website.