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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Friday, August 3, 2018

My Own Great American Read

PBS is featuring 100 candidates for "America's Best Loved Novel" as part of The Great American Read, which returns Sept. 11 after a May 22 premiere. People are being invited to vote for their favorite "great American read" and are being challenged to read the entire list on the PBS website. Here's the link:

I find that of the 100--including multi-volume series counted as a single work--I've actually read 16 (Asterisks appearing below indicate "and I've seen the movie" which as we often find, may not be close to the book at all):

1. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
2.  Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
3.  Dune by Frank Herbert*
4.  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley*
5. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell*
6.  The Grapes of Warth by John Steinbeck*
7.  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
8.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
9.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville
10.  1984 by George Orwell
11.  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde*
12.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin*
13.  Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte*
14.  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
15.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
16.  And back in fourth or fifth grade, I read Charlotte's Web by E. B. White--I'm guessing it'd be hard to find someone who didn't.

Now I'll count two more books as "read" because teacher or parent read them to me:
17. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and
18.  (most of) The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Allow me to fall back on that old school-days line, "I've seen the movie" to make my total a little higher (although I don't consider seeing the movie a substitute for reading the book, it does count for familiarity with the story):
1.  The Count of Monte Cristo (TV movie with Richard Chamberlain)
2. Crime and Punishment (TV mini-series with John Hurt)
3. The Help (and it stank)
4.  To Kill a Mockingbird
5.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
6.  War and Peace
7.  The Joy Luck Club
8.  The Little Prince
9.  Rebecca
10.  Little Women
11.  Catch 22
12.  Alice in Wonderland 

There are a few special cases that don't fit neatly into the above:
1.  I tried and failed to read Catch 22, but I found the movie sufficient.
2.  I tried to read Little Women in fifth grade but the school year was over before I finished it.
3.  I haven't read Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but I've twice seen plays based on it.
4.  I haven't read Alice in Wonderland, except for a few parts (including a few children's adaptations) here and there but--I've seen the Tim Burton movie, and a TV musical version, and I've actually been in a stage adaptation.
5.  I skimmed through The Color Purple. It stank.

As I compare my own reading to what's on the list, I question the inclusion of so many children's titles. The line of demarcation is sometimes faint, but I tally 10 and I'm not even counting several YA coming-of-age works:
1.  Charlotte's Web
2.  The Little Prince
3.  Tom Sawyer
4.  The Chronicles of Narnia
5.  Harry Potter
6.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
7.  Anne of Green Gables
8.  The Book Thief
9.  Little Women
10. Where the Red Fern Grows

To be fair, several of these titles are appropriate for all ages, but I question their inclusion on the list, along with roughly 30 foreign adult titles, especially considering so many great American reads didn't make the list at all. I'd prefer the list was limited to adult American works, especially considering it leaves off such landmark American works as William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. To me, great children's works and great international works deserve a program all their own.

So the final question is, am I finding any new reading material? The short answer is, I'm not interested in reading the entire list. I have my reasons for avoiding several of them.
The longer answer:  I'm inspired to move a few novels to my official "to read" list:
1.  Even before The Great American Read debuted on PBS, one of my goals for 2018 was to finally finish Little Women. If I'm not starting it (again) by the end of this month, wake me up.
2.  Since my teens I've been interested in reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it's such a daunting task. I even started Fellowship of the Ring but somehow never made it past the first ten pages or so. I'm thinking that I need to take a full year to read all three books. That year hasn't happened yet. Maybe in 2019 or 2020?
3.  I've read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (which isn't on the list) but I suppose I could check out her Beloved (which is).
4.  From time to time I've considered Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City but I've always been unsure of just how to approach it. It's said to be a series of nine novels, and I'd hate to get roped into reading all nine. (That's a commitment on the level of Lord of the Rings.) I'm not even really sure how to categorize it. Is it a series of nine stand-alone novels? Is it autobiographical fiction, or does it slop over into non-fiction? Is it a series of short stories, or a series of serialized novels--like Dickens' great works--or is it one long narrative that takes nine volumes to conclude? Just how far do I have stick my toe in this pool?
5.  I take one last look at the PBS list, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man jumps out. It's something I may look into--if I have the stomach for it--someday.
6.  Authors are represented on the list by one work apiece, and there are a few (Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, a few others) that I may be interested in reading more of, but not necessarily the titles on the list.

So what's the top "great American read" going to be? I'll vote (I'll keep my votes secret for right now) and I'll watch to find out what the final tally is, come Oct. 23.


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