LOS ANGELES – “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a coming-of-age story about racism and injustice, overcame wizards and time travelers to be voted America’s best-loved novel by readers nationwide.
The 1961 book by Harper Lee emerged as No. 1 in PBS’ “The Great American Read” survey, whose results were announced Tuesday on the show’s finale. More than 4 million votes were cast in the six-month-long contest that put 100 titles to the test. Books that were published as a series were counted as a single entry.
The other top-five finishers in order of votes were Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series about a time-spanning love; J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” boy wizard tales; Jane Austen’s romance “Pride and Prejudice,” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” fantasy saga.
Lee’s slender, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel proved enduring enough to overcome the popularity of hefty epics adapted as blockbuster movie franchises (the Potter and Tolkien works) or for TV (“Outlander”).
Even “Pride and Prejudice,” the 200-year-old inspiration for numerous TV and movie versions and with an army of “Janeites” devoted to Austen and her work, couldn’t best Harper’s novel.
It’s been more than five decades since the film based on “To Kill a Mockingbird” debuted, winning three Oscars, including a best-actor trophy for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of attorney Atticus Finch.
The book has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains a fixture on school reading lists. Set in the 1930s South, it centers on 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 repercussions open Scout’s eyes to the world around her, good and bad.
Besides the TV series, “The Great American Read” initiative included a 50,000-member online book club and video content across PBS platforms, Facebook and YouTube that drew more than 5 million views.
The 100-book list voted on by readers was based on an initial survey of about 7,000 Americans, with an advisory panel of experts organizing the list. Books had to have been published in English but not written in the language, and one book or series per author was allowed.