Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, April 23, 2018

The Great American Read has a few popcorn page turners on their literary menu

Last week, the upcoming PBS series,The Great American Read, released it's list of a hundred books for it's viewers to consider voting for as their favorite novel with the winner to be announced this fall.

Already, this show is taking a few unexpected twists and turns-for one, the nominees have authors from other countries(the title suggesting that the premise is more about Americans reading than American authors) and some of the selections are quite pop culture friendly.

Yes, there are plenty of classics, from Great Expectations to The Great Gatsby, as well as book club picks such as The Lovely Bones, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Help. However, we also have a good number of genres on deck, from YA(The Hunger Games) to science fiction(Dune), horror(Swan Song) and mystery, to name a handful.

A good many of these books have also been made into movies, making them even more familiar with the general public. Let me highlight a few of them here for your bookish pleasure:

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: If you are going to represent the mystery/thriller genre, it would be a crime to leave the grand dame of that arena out of contention.

Choosing this particular one was smart, as it is a standalone story not featuring any of her famous sleuths(and unlike certain sports teams, sensible enough to change it's culturally insensitive original title). 

The basic set-up has ten strangers brought together to a remote location for some dubious mutually beneficial purpose. One by one, they are eliminated by an unknown person, forced to turn to one another in order to survive. Yet, can they trust anyone around them at all?

Several film versions have been made for both the big screen and the small. I do like this trailer for an early 1970s adaptation, as it looks very old school B-movie in the best sense of the term:

THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR: Now, this one does take me back to those younger reading days of mine. The first in Jean Auel's Earth's Children series introduces us to Ayla, an orphaned young girl in prehistoric times who is raised by a tribe of folk that find her blond hair and blue eyes odd and off putting.

Over time, Ayla manages to find a place with her adopted people but the intended new leader of the clan is determined to drive her out and willing to go to any means to do so.

 Granted, these were books aimed at adults yet a lot of young people read them voraciously(myself included) and in a strange way, Ayla was a forerunner of some of the strong female heroines that we see today, such as Katniss Everdeen and Divergent's Tris Prior.

The one attempt at turning this book into a movie had Darryl Hannah in the lead role and while she did her best, that 1986 film was a major flop. Perhaps the time has come for perhaps a made for cable miniseries to revive this story for a new generation:

FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC: We are seriously into guilty pleasure territory with this infamous modern day Gothic thriller. This is the one that started it all, giving us the scary sad saga of the Dollanganger children, two sets of twins forced to live in their twisted grandmother's attic.

There are too many dark soap opera plot points to cover, so I'll just name a few: poisoned powdered donuts, punishment hair cuts, a mother pretending her four kids don't exist in order to get an inheritance and sibling love that goes way too far.

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that V.C. Andrews did have a flair for strange story telling there. The Lifetime channel did remake FITA(along with original movies of a couple of the book's sequels) but the 1987 Hollywood take on this tale is the one worth checking out, if you ask me:

  THE STAND:  As I stated before with Agatha Christie, it would be wrong not to have Stephen King represented in the horror category and a good majority of his devoted readers do consider this book to be his best work.

Whether in it's originally published form or the later restored cuts version, King's epic chronicle of the world as we know ending with a new one about to arise is an amazing journey to behold.

 From the porch of Mother Abigail in Nebraska to the Las Vegas kingdom that the sinister Randall Flagg sets up for his vicious pack of followers, characters on either side of this apocalyptic chessboard are not merely all good or all bad. Rather, they're people trying to figure out who they really are in the face of the ultimate adversity with some falling far and fast while others are surprised to be where they have landed.

I would like to see a new adaptation of this book, as the 1994 made for network TV miniseries was rather a mixed bag indeed. You could easily turn this into a Game of Thrones type of show(GOT is also on this list,btw) or a grand cable miniseries, the options are wide open there:

The Great American Read will debut on May 22, with a two hour special, and I am so pumped up for this literary conversation. While I was quite interested in this before the list was revealed, seeing this vast and varied selection has increased my excitement tenfold.

Already, there have been some eyebrow raising over some of the titles, with comments such as "How can that book(50 Shades of Grey, Twilight,The Da Vinci Code,etc) be considered great?!" I'm not immune to some of that speculation myself(Left Behind, for one) but I've come to realize that perhaps this show is not simply about promoting the "proper" books for people to read.

Instead, this is an opportunity to show that people read for all kinds of reasons and to not only reach out to diehard readers but to the casual ones as well. We should acknowledge that a book can be read for both art and entertainment and if you're most fortunate, a bit of both.  Granted, not every book on this list will fill those needs for everyone but freedom of choice is what our country values most highly and that should be reflected in our reading.

So, let us be truly open minded and open up to some old and new reads together with this promising PBS series.  Free people do read freely and perhaps the road towards a more united country can start with a few good book recommendations:

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