The Great American Read

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
The Great American Read TV Poster Image
Series spotlights best books, celebrates joys of reading.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Celebrates the educational, creative, transformative nature of reading. Celebrities, other guests discuss how their favorite books have influenced them. Overarching theme is that reading is a pastime that knows no boundaries of age, race, gender, or creed, and that even though literature affects different people in different ways, it can inspire new ideas, new perspectives. Some synopses refer to mature subjects of some book list selections, including rape, racism, sexuality.


Positive Role Models & Representations

Every guest interviewed is passionate about reading in general and one or two books in particular. While they often encourage audience members to vote for the book that's their favorite, the broader push is for reading in general.



Some of the titles are books with explicit sexuality, including The Color Purple and Fifty Shades of Grey. While the details aren't discussed in the show, these and other titles aren't meant for younger audiences.



Many reminders for viewers to visit the PBS website to learn more about the novels and to vote "early and often" for their favorites. The series also has a presence on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are mentioned repeatedly.


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Great American Read is a PBS series that introduces a multiplatform, nationwide contest to identify America's favorite novel of all time. The show starts with a pool of 100 fictional works and introduces them in thematic groups, giving a brief synopsis of each story and inviting guests to discuss why certain ones are their favorites. Celebrities like Morgan Freeman, George R.R. Martin, and Sarah Jessica Parker join other avid readers in sharing their passion for their favorites and encouraging viewers to submit votes online; the PBS website, Facebook, and Twitter are frequently mentioned in this context. While the show itself isn't provocative, some of the titles on the book list have content that's iffy even for teens, so it's important to oversee what titles they might choose from the show.

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What's the story?

THE GREAT AMERICAN READ aims to identify American readers' all-time favorite novel as decided by online votes over the course of the show's airing. The project launches with a list of 100 titles compiled by public opinion polling and literary professionals, who whittled down the selected titles to meet the project's criteria. Host Meredith Vieira introduces the titles in groups of shared qualities, such as books that have been banned at some point, works of female authors, and novels written outside the United States. Avid readers, celebrities, and authors weigh in on their favorites and discuss the positive impact of reading in their own experiences, and viewers are urged to vote for their favorites online.


Is it any good?

This unique eight-part series is a lengthy celebration of the joy and value of reading and the diversity of the rich works of fiction on the 100-book list. The chosen titles include children's classics like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, science fiction greats like A Game of Thrones, and modern best-sellers like Looking for Alaska and Twilight. They comprise humor, drama, historical fiction, and the relatively new genre of young adult literature, all on equal footing in this one-of-a-kind contest for bragging rights.

For book fans, The Great American Read is a delightful way to revisit old favorites and learn about some new titles you may want to try, within the context of a nationwide literary popularity contest. Even if your favorite title isn't in the running, chances are there are others on the list that you'll want to root for, or perhaps you will discover a new number one based on the compelling book reports offered by celebrities and other avid readers. The Great American Read is a worthwhile family series that will inspire some good conversations, but given the mature nature of the content of several of the featured titles, it's best shared among teens and adults.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of reading. How do books inspire creativity in a way that TV series and movies can't? What genres of literature are your favorites?

  • How are we affected by fictional characters we admire (or don't)? Are the best characters the perfect ones or the ones who are most flawed? How does that compare to your experience with people in the real world? What traits do you most admire in your favorite characters?

  • Families can use The Great American Read to inspire joint reading efforts. Which books would you recommend to your teens, and them to you? Pick a title none of you have read to enjoy together, and discuss it afterward.

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love reading

Themes & Topics

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