eNotes’ Great American Read Staff Picks

If you’re not up-to-date on current happenings in the literary world, then you should definitely be in the know about PBS’s The Great American Read. This eight-part television series “explores and celebrates the power of reading.” At the end of the program, they’ll reveal winning book. (You can vote for your favorite book here every day through October 17, 2018!)

We’re all literature lovers here at eNotes, so we thought it would be fun to give everyone in the office the option to write about their favorite book of the original list of 100. In no particular order, here are some of our personal favorite books from PBS’s The Great American Read plus why we think you should read them. Let’s see if any of these make the final cut!

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The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

In The Handmaid’s Tale, readers get to see what Margaret Atwood does best: toy with dystopian ideas and write strong women. Through the narration of Offred, readers come to know the Republic of Gilead, the authoritarian once-was-United States. In this radioactively damaged landscape, Offred—and other Handmaids—are forcibly made to offer the one thing they can: their ability to procreate. Although Offred paints a pretty clear picture of what’s happening in this society, Atwood cleverly writes The Handmaid’s Tale behind this unreliable narrator, causing us to ask questions not only about our own society but also about the history of Gilead.

— Kate Rheta, Marketing Coordinator

The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist has become a novel that I find myself often revisiting, especially when I’m feeling unsure about my current path in life. Originally written in Portuguese, the translated text possesses simple language, can be read in one sitting, and in many ways feels like reading an adult children’s book. Above all, it evokes wanderlust and a desire for self-discovery beyond one’s comfort zone. I think there’s something beautifully relatable about Coelho’s protagonist and his quest for fulfillment. It reassures readers that they are not alone when searching for direction and purpose. Essentially, we’re all just trying to figure it out. While Coelho’s lessons are not necessarily difficult to grasp, it’s the weight of its truth that resonates with me long after I put the book away. Ultimately, I think The Alchemist encourages readers to find what drives you, what gives you life, and your reasons to move forward.

— Savannah Cotten, Marketing Intern

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Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

I’ll be the first to admit that this fierce, humorous, and sharp critique of American society often confused and frustrated me; Ellison’s depiction of a series of events in a young black man’s life reveal the ways in which his race makes him invisible as he repeatedly encounters betrayal, failure, and abuse. Throughout the novel, each incident illustrates how racism has warped the collective American psyche. While Ellison’s novel depicts rage and hopelessness, it transcends mere protest. The narrator learns of his situation over time and maintains an independence that shatters the stereotypical notions of what’s expected of him. In the end, this novel is about looking within for self-definition, about rejecting cynicism in favor of a philosophy of hope—and about how telling your own story is an act of affirmation and celebration.

— Wesley Matlock, Managing Editor

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The Giver, Lois Lowry

The Giver was impressionable to middle-school me in the way, perhaps, the Wizard of Oz original movie was to the motion picture world. What I mean by this is the use of color, or, rather, lack thereof. I initially read this book in fifth grade and couldn’t put it down—mind you, this was pre-internet but post-Gameboy, so our 10-year old attention spans were in the sweet spot of toasted not broiled. All these years later I can still see Fiona’s hair flickering red with as much luster a memory can be, like ruby slippers twinkling on a backdrop of black and white. The book is so tightly written by Lowry that when I visualize this seemingly simple moment, its novel-defining significance hits me all at once. I don’t want to spoil anything else for readers if they haven’t picked this one up yet, and I can’t recommend that they do so soon enough!

— Samantha Burton, Head of Marketing and User Experience

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Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

Revenge tragedy? High-seas adventure? Cetological encyclopedia? Feast of Platonic musings? Shakespeare-tinged fever dream? Quest for a glimpse of God’s face? Poop-deck comedy hour? Novel? Poem? Symphony? All of the above, and more! Come for Ahab’s hunt of the White Whale. Stay for Melville’s prose. His style—musical but marmoreal, humorous but haunted—carries us across the seven seas and to nearly every shelf of the library, too. Ishmael seconds the endorsement:

“By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.”

— Zack Bivins, Associate Editor

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

It is no secret that Ayn Rand lionized businessmen and women, but what often gets overlooked—though she took pains to make it obvious—was that she also knew they could be villains. In Atlas Shrugged, the honest businessman shows integrity by refusing to gain profit through exploitation: by trading value for value with his customers and by refusing to use government and law to line his pockets with other people’s money. The villains do the opposite. They are the “looters” and “moochers” who devise ways to cheat customers out of value, while using the regulatory power of the state to inflate their coffers, draining, by law, the hard-earned wealth of others. This distinction, vividly illustrated by the characterization in Atlas Shrugged, is why Ayn Rand’s opus is more relevant now than when she wrote it. And it is why it remains one of my favorite works of American literature.

— Nicholas Cloud, Senior Developer

Are you following The Great American Read? Have you been voting? Let us know in the comments below which book you hope wins and if you’ll try reading one of our suggestions next!