Clas­sic tops PBS sur­vey

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird voted best-loved novel by Amer­i­can fans

Calgary Herald - - YOU - LYNN ELBER

LOS A NGELES To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, a com­ing-of-age story about racism and in­jus­tice, over­pow­ered wiz­ards and time travellers to be voted the best-loved novel by U.S. read­ers na­tion­wide.

The 1960 book by Harper Lee emerged as No. 1 in PBS’s The Great Amer­i­can Read sur­vey, as the re­sults were an­nounced Tues­day on the show ’s fi­nale. More than four mil­lion votes were cast in the six-month-long con­test that put 100 ti­tles to the test. Books that were pub­lished as a se­ries counted as a sin­gle en­try.

The other top-five fin­ish­ers in or­der of votes were Diana Ga­bal­don’s Out­lander se­ries about a time-span­ning love; J.K. Rowl­ing ’s Harry Pot­ter boy wiz­ard tales; Jane Austen’s ro­mance Pride and Prej­u­dice; and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings fan­tasy saga.

The con­test was a Mock­ing­bird run­away.

“The novel started out at No. 1 on the first day of the vote, and it never wa­vered,” se­ries host Mered­ith Vieira said.

Join­ing her to sing the book’s praises was writer Aaron Sorkin, whose adap­ta­tion of Mock­ing­bird starts Broad­way pre­views next month, and cast mem­bers. Sorkin (The West Wing, The So­cial Net­work) said read­ing Lee’s novel was his first brush with “as­ton­ish­ing writ­ing.”

“There is soul-crush­ing in­jus­tice in this book that still ex­ists,” he said. “And at the cen­tre, moral­ity, de­cency and what it is to be a per­son strikes us.”

LaTanya Richard­son Jack­son, who por­trays Calpur­nia in the play, mar­velled at Lee’s achieve­ment.

“I was most im­pressed that a woman wrote that way” dur­ing that era, the ac­tress said, and that Lee was so “deeply in­volved on the right side of right.”

Lee’s slen­der, Pulitzer Prizewin­ning novel proved en­dur­ing enough to over­come the pop­u­lar­ity of hefty epics adapted as block­buster movie fran­chises (the Pot­ter and Tolkien works) or for TV (Out­lander).

Even Pride and Prej­u­dice, the 200-year-old in­spi­ra­tion for nu­mer­ous TV and movie ver­sions and with an army of “Janeites” de­voted to Austen and her work, couldn’t best Lee’s novel.

Deb­bie Ford of Orion, Ill., an Out­lander fan whose love of the books was show­cased on an episode of The Great Amer­i­can Read, ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment they didn’t win. But she de­lighted in the at­ten­tion they — and the joy of read­ing — re­ceived.

“I be­lieve this PBS se­ries has re­minded some of us again that read­ing is im­por­tant, and it has ex­posed us to books that we may not or­di­nar­ily pick up. And that’s such a good thing!” Ford said in an email Tues­day, adding a friendly plug:

“So please go read a book that you have not read be­fore — es­pe­cially if you haven’t yet dis­cov­ered Out­lander!”

To Kill a Mock­ing­bird has sold more than 40 mil­lion copies world­wide and re­mains a fix­ture on school read­ing lists. The 1962 screen adap­ta­tion won three Os­cars, in­clud­ing a best-ac­tor tro­phy for Gre­gory Peck’s por­trayal of heroic At­ti­cus Finch.

Set in the 1930s South, the book cen­tres on at­tor­ney Finch and his young chil­dren, daugh­ter Scout and son Jem.

When Finch de­fends an AfricanAmer­i­can man falsely ac­cused of as­sault­ing a white woman, the trial and its reper­cus­sions open Scout’s eyes to the world around her, good and bad.

Lee’s sec­ond pub­lished novel, Go Set a Watch­man, was writ­ten in the 1950s be­fore Mock­ing­bird but is es­sen­tially a se­quel.

Af­ter be­ing put aside by the au­thor, it was re­dis­cov­ered and re­leased in 2015. Lee died the next year at age 89.

Be­sides the TV se­ries, the Great Amer­i­can Read ini­tia­tive in­cluded a 50,000-mem­ber on­line book club and video con­tent across PBS plat­forms, Face­book and YouTube that drew more than five mil­lion views.

The 100-book list voted on by read­ers was based on an ini­tial sur­vey of about 7,000 Amer­i­cans. Book­worms could vote once daily for their favourite work.


Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mock­ing­bird beat out Diana Ga­bal­don’s Out­lander se­ries, J.K. Rowl­ing’s Harry Pot­ter books and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prej­u­dice, among oth­ers.

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