To Kill a Mockingbird, a coming-of-age story about racism and injustice, overwhelmed wizards and time travelers to be voted America’s best-loved novel by nationwide readers.
Harper Lee’s 1960 book emerged as No. 1 on PBS’ The Great American Read poll, the results of which were announced Tuesday during the show’s finale. More than 4 million votes were cast in the six-month contest that put 100 titles to the test. Books published as a series counted as one item.
The other top five finishers in voting order were Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series about a time spanking love; JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Boys Wizarding Stories; Jane Austen’s romance Pride and Prejudice; and JRR Tolkien’s fantasy saga The Lord of the Rings.
Turns out the match was a runaway Mockingbird.
“The novel started at number 1 on the first day of voting, and it has never wavered,” said series host Meredith Vieira.
Writer Aaron Sorkin, whose adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird begins Broadway previews next month, joined her to sing the praises of the book, and cast members. Sorkin (of The West Wing and The Social Network fame) said reading Lee’s novel was his first brush with “amazing writing.”
“There is a crushing injustice in this book that still exists,” he said. “And in the center, morality, decency and what it is to be a person catch our eye.”
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who plays Calpurnia in the play, marveled at Lee’s performance.
“I was most impressed that a woman wrote that way” at the time, the actress said, and that Lee was so “deeply involved on the right-hand side.”
Lee’s sleek, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel proved durable enough to conquer the popularity of hefty epics adapted as blockbuster movie franchises (the works of Potter and Tolkien) or for TV (Outlander). Even Pride and Prejudice, the 200-year-old inspiration for countless TV and film versions and with an army of Janeites devoted to Austen and her work, couldn’t top Lee’s novel.
Debbie Ford of Orion, Illinois, an Outlander fan whose love for the books was shown on an episode of The Great American Read, was disappointed they didn’t win. But she loved the attention they got—and the joy of reading—they got.
“I believe this PBS series has reminded some of us that reading is important, and it has exposed us to books that we normally don’t pick up. And that is so nice!” Ford said in an email on Tuesday, adding a friendly plug: “So please go read a book you haven’t read before — especially if you haven’t discovered Outlander yet!”
To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains a staple on school reading lists. The 1962 film adaptation won three Oscars, including a Best Actor trophy for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of the heroic Atticus Finch.
Set in the 1930s, the book is about attorney Finch and his young children, daughter Scout and son Jem. When Finch defends an African-American man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman, the trial and its consequences 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 To Kill a Mockingbird, but is essentially a sequel. After the author put it aside, it was rediscovered and released in 2015. Lee died the following year at age 89.
The list of 100 books that readers voted for was based on an initial survey of about 7,000 Americans, with an advisory panel of experts organizing the list. Books had to be published in English, but not in the language, and one book or series per author was allowed. Bookworms could vote for their favorite work once a day.