Fellow readers, the time has come to choose America’s favorite book! This year PBS is launching a months-long campaign to celebrate the wonder of reading and ultimately crown America’s best-loved novel. Choosing from a list of one hundred titles—including everything from Pride and Prejudice to Fifty Shades of Grey—will be a challenge, but we know you’re up to the task.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at a few of the nominees.
(Voting for The Great American Read series has wrapped up. Click here to see the results.)
“Thriller writing doesn’t get any better than this.” —The Denver Post
While in Paris, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is awakened by a phone call in the dead of night. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, his body covered in baffling symbols. As Langdon and gifted French cryptologist Sophie Neveu sort through the bizarre riddles, they are stunned to discover a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci—clues visible for all to see and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.
Even more startling, the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—a secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci—and he guarded a breathtaking historical secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle—while avoiding the faceless adversary who shadows their every move—the explosive, ancient truth will be lost forever.
“This fresh, new translation. . . . provides a more exact, idiomatic, and contemporary rendition of the novel that brings Fyodor Dostoevsky’s tale achingly alive. . . . It succeeds beautifully.” —San Francisco Chronicle
With the same suppleness, energy, and range of voices that won their translation of The Brothers Karamazov the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky offer a brilliant translation of Dostoevsky’s classic novel that presents a clear insight into this astounding psychological thriller.
“Whitehead’s prose is graceful and often lyrical, and his elevator underworld is a complex, lovingly realized creation.” —The New Yorker
It is a time of calamity in a major metropolitan city’s Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. There are two warring factions within the department: the Empiricists, who work by the book and dutifully check for striations on the winch cable and such; and the Intuitionists, who are simply able to enter the elevator cab in question, meditate, and intuit any defects.
Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae’s watch, chaos ensues. It’s an election year in the Elevator Guild, and the good-old-boy Empiricists would love nothing more than to assign the blame to an Intuitionist. But Lila Mae is never wrong.
The sudden appearance of excerpts from the lost notebooks of Intuitionism’s founder, James Fulton, has also caused quite a stir. The notebooks describe Fulton’s work on the “black box,” a perfect elevator that could reinvent the city as radically as the first passenger elevator did when patented by Elisha Otis in the nineteenth century. When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the portions of the notebooks that are still missing and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever.
“Ambitious, earnest and irreverent. . . . Smith has a real talent for comedy and a fond eye for human foibles.” —The Wall Street Journal
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’ s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.
“Below its hilarity, so wild that it hurts, Catch-22 is the strongest repudiation of our civilization, in fiction, to come out of World War II.” —The Nation
Joseph Heller’s masterpiece about a bomber squadron in the Second World War’s Italian theater features a gallery of magnificently strange characters seething with comic energy. The malingering hero, Yossarian, is endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war, and his story is studded with incidents and devices (including the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade and the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule that gives the book its title) that propel the narrative in a headlong satiric rush. But the reason Catch-22‘s satire never weakens and its jokes never become dated stems not from the comedy itself but from the savage, unerring, Swiftian indignation out of which that comedy springs. This fractured anti-epic, with all its aggrieved humanity, has given us the most enduring image we have of modern warfare.