Best-loved novels

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This combination photo shows J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings," series in 1967, left, and J. K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series at  the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" Broadway opening in New York on April 22, 2018. The effort to discover America's best-loved novel - and promote reading - will end with the winner announced on Tuesday's finale of PBS' "The Great American Read." The series profiled the contenders and let bookworms, famous and not, advocate for their pick. (AP Photo)

This combination photo shows J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings," series in 1967, left, and J. K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series at the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" Broadway opening in New York on April 22, 2018. The effort to discover America's best-loved novel - and promote reading - will end with the winner announced on Tuesday's finale of PBS' "The Great American Read." The series profiled the contenders and let bookworms, famous and not, advocate for their pick. (AP Photo)

Rowling, Tolkien, Austen novels vie for bragging rights


AP Television Writer

Tuesday, October 23

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The results are in for an impassioned national election that put the popularity of candidates Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling on the line.

The effort to discover America’s best-loved novel — and promote reading — ends with the winner announced on Tuesday’s 8 p.m. EDT finale (check local listings) of PBS’ “The Great American Read.” The series profiled the contenders and let bookworms, famous and not, advocate for their pick.

More than 4 million votes were cast over six months, PBS said, with Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series and Rowling’s “Harry Potter” saga making the top 10 on an alphabetical-order list that was released as voting wrapped last week.

The other front-runners were “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White; “The Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis; “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell; “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte; “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott; the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon; and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

“Harry Potter” was among the multivolume series that counted as a single entry. Given its hold on the modern imagination on the page, screen and stage, it might be the obvious winner.

Eliyannah Yisrael, who discovered Rowling’s magic touch about 15 years ago as a Chicago State University student, was among its vocal boosters on “The Great American Read” and beyond.

“Listen, me and ‘Harry Potter’ are going to take this thing to the end. I want to be victorious,” Yisrael told a TV critics’ gathering last summer.

Series host Meredith Vieira didn’t spill the beans in a recent interview. But she was glad to tout the initiative’s ripple effect, including a nearly 50,000-member online book club and more than 5 million views for series-related video content across PBS platforms, Facebook and YouTube.

“We forget the power of a book, not just on individuals but on groups of people. There’s something wonderful about sitting down with your friends and talking about a book,” Vieira said. “And ultimately with these novels you learn something more about yourself. They force you to question who you are, your values as an individual, your values as a society.”

About a fifth of the 100 books were provocative enough that they’ve been censored in some manner, said series executive producer Jane Root, who called that number “astounding.”

“We were expecting it to be two or three. But a huge number of books, I think because of their potency and the power of the relationship that you have with a really great book, they upset people,” she said. “They disturbed the waters. They make people fearful.”

Some popular books simply have a whiz-bang story to tell, with top 100 titles “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Da Vinci Code” making the point.

The list was based on an initial survey of about 7,000 Americans, with an advisory panel of experts organizing the 100-contender list. Books had to have been published in English but not written in the language, and one book or series per author was allowed.

A fair amount of regional partisanship emerged. Louisiana voters were alone in ranking native son John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces” in the top 10, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was No. 6 in New York and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” was a front-runner with readers in his home state of Missouri.

Voters also went big for sci-fi and fantasy both past and present, with representatives including Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” epic.

The point of “The Great American Read” initiative has been made no matter what work ends up as No. 1, Vieira said.

“Getting people to vote in a way is a gimmick,” she said, a way to reinvigorate the love of reading and to foster discussions about why and how certain books resonate with people.

But while readers’ passions may run high, she said, the divisiveness so rampant in politics is happily absent.

“It doesn’t matter where you fall. People I’ve spoken to who liked books I didn’t have inspired me to take second look at them, like ‘Game of Thrones,’” Vieira said. “I don’t leave a project like this and not feel optimistic.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of author Diana Gabaldon’s first name.


Lynn Elber can be reached at and on Twitter at .

The Conversation

Australian literature’s legacies of cultural appropriation

Updated October 22, 2018

Author: Michael R. Griffiths, Lecturer in English and Writing, University of Wollongong

Disclosure statement: Michael R. Griffiths does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Wollongong provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

Non-Indigenous Australian writers face a dilemma. On the one hand, they can risk writing about Aboriginal people and culture and getting it wrong. On the other, they can avoid writing about Aboriginal culture and characters, but by doing so, erase Aboriginality from the story they tell.

What such writers are navigating is the risk of cultural appropriation: the often offensive taking of another’s culture. It is particularly problematic when the appropriator is in a dominant or colonising relationship with a culture’s custodians. Australian literature has a long history of appropriating and misrepresenting Aboriginal culture.

Take anthropologist A.P. Elkin and his associate W.E. Harney. These white men collaborated in the 1940s on a book translating Aboriginal songlines into anglophone ballads.

In “Our Dreaming”, a dedicatory poem to the resulting collection Songs of the Songmen, the pair open with a self-aggrandising appropriation. This opening text emphasises their ownership of works that they are merely translating.

Together now we chant the ‘old time’ lays,

Calling to mind camp-fires of bygone days.

We hear the ritual shouts, the stamping feet,

The droning didgeridoos, the waddies’ beat.

An unpublished 1943 revision by Harney, altered by Elkin, even more noticeably emphasises the two authors’ claim on these songlines. The poem is titled “To You My Friend” and the first line reads, “To you my friend I dedicate these lays,” as though Harney is bestowing this culture on Elkin directly.

The pair claim to write:

not of their huts, the bones, the dirt,

Nor the strange far look in a native’s eyes,

As he looks to his country ‘ere he dies.

Rather than this vision of the apparently doomed “native”, Songs of the Songmen would purport to extol the romantic figure of the noble savage. The poem continues:

Tis not of these we muse today:

For the ‘Dreaming’ comes, and we drift away

Into myth and legend where we’ve caught

The simple grandeur of their thought.

The pair’s poetry claims in this way to be able to salvage and recapture the “Dreaming”, represented as no longer accessible to Aboriginal people themselves.

This example shows how appropriation, far from innocent, is bound up with attitudes such as the idea of a “doomed race”. It can also be connected to such projects as assimilation and child removal; Elkin advocated both.

The Jindyworobak group

The most famous literary movement in Australia to be engaged in appropriation formed in the 1930s. They were the Jindyworobak group, their founder Rex Ingamells drawing the word from his friend James Devaney’s book The Vanished Tribes, which included a Woiwurung word list.

Jindyworobak means “to annex” or “to join” in Woiwurung. The practices of its writers were, however, more annexation of Aboriginal culture than any inclusive joining together.

Ingamells’ knowledge of Aboriginal culture came from white translators and not from Aboriginal people themselves. He visited Harney on several occasions. The Jindyworobaks both believed in the myth that Aboriginal people were doomed to extinction and advocated the appropriation of Aboriginal culture.

Another writer who found Harney to be a useful source was Xavier Herbert. Herbert drew on Harney’s notes on the Yanyuwa kinship system (Harney spelled the name Anula) and turned skin names into character names in his 1976 epic Poor Fellow My Country. He had Harney’s permission but not that of the Yanyuwa themselves. Herbert’s novel arguably offers a distorted view of Aboriginal kinship.

Contemporary currents

Some of Les Murray’s verse can be read as inheriting from Jindyworobak and its legacy of appropriation – notably his 1977 Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle, which presents a non-Indigenous family holiday as sacred to the equivalent of an Indigenous song cycle. Murray’s poetry is often innovative, but its progenitor is also famous for positing a near equivalence between non-Indigenous and Indigenous belonging

Murray has lent his name and ability to publications such as Quadrant, whose editors famously denied the existence of a Stolen Generation. Even where the poetry might be compelling for some, Murray’s reputation is nonetheless associated with Quadrant’s dismissal of Aboriginal perspectives on history and self-representation.

This history of appropriation is dispossession, using another’s culture for gain and without their permission. Yet some have been calling recently for Australian literature to return to and revive these legacies.

Read more: Read, listen, understand: why non-Indigenous Australians should read First Nations writing

Critic and poet R.D. Wood has rhetorically asked, in the context of a discussion about the translation of song-cycles, “what might a Jindyworobak project for the 21st century look like?”. Such a project augurs poorly as a means of engagement for non-Indigenous writers.

South African-born, Western Australian poet John Mateer has used Noongar words in poems such as In the Presence of a Severed Head. The Western Australian poet John Kinsella has contextualised Mateer’s poetry thus:

In Kayang and Me, Kim Scott strongly objects to Mateer’s poetic use of Nyungar language at a reading from one of Mateer’s poems when they were both performing at an event in Canada. Scott speaks of the distress he felt at hearing a language that is only just being reconstituted and reclaimed by Nyungar people themselves, being spoken by, as he says, a white South African. There are important issues in this. First, Scott as a Nyungar is in a position to critique what he sees as an inappropriate usage of a language that has been placed under massive pressure by the machinery of colonisation.

On the other hand, his isolating Mateer’s South African origins does not take into consideration that Mateer is, both poetically and in terms of self-identity, as much a part of ‘Western Australia’ as of his birth land.

Mateer in his book Loanwords utilises borrowings and usages from a number of languages in order to reconstitute their original implications, while also building in the agency of new meaning in the language in which they are being deployed. This transnationality is the main drive of his work. Mateer meant no disrespect, I believe, but the issues are at the core of contemporary poetics. What is and is not available to the poet in creating a poetic language that carries its own intactness and its own implications for reading?

As Kinsella also argues, this is exactly where we need to be careful. While such transnational borrowings can enrich the English they emerge in, what is the effect on the speakers of the original language who are still recovering their culture in the face of colonisation?

Kim Scott has said in relation to Mateer’s work:

… there are very few forums for Noongar people to come to terms with the ideas of their ancestors … so it can feel doubly wrong when recent arrivals use those representations for their own purposes.

Others, more globally, have taken umbrage with critiques of appropriation. Kwame Anthony Appiah, for instance, has recently suggested that the idea of cultural ownership is vested in the commodity and not useful for thinking about cultural borrowing. Yet, he does not consider the numerous ways in which Indigenous culture is non-transferable – because it is a form of property grounded in kinship and Country.

Some poets who engage ethically with Aboriginal ways of writing and using language include Phillip Hall and Stuart Cooke. Hall engages with the same Gulf of Carpentaria Indigenous people, the Yanyuwa, from whom Herbert stole, but he does it through a reciprocal and ethical engagement. Hall has permission to write about these relationships. Cooke’s work includes translations of song cycles from the West Kimberley, for instance one written with the permission of George Dyunjgayan.

Non-Indigenous writers, if they wish to engage ethically with Indigenous culture, must learn to respect it as a form of property grounded in kinship and Country.

Michael Griffiths is the author of The Distribution of Settlement: Appropriation and Refusal in Australian Literature and Culture (UWAP).

Opinion: Recognizing Grizzly Bear’s Recovery in Yellowstone Will Spur Further Conservation Efforts

By Jonathan Wood

When Lewis and Clark encountered the grizzly bear, they described it as a “most tremendous looking animal” but also a terrifying one. To this day, Americans marvel at the bear’s majesty — but preferably from a safe distance.

Tragically, the United States’ rapid western expansion caused a significant decline in the bear’s population, both due to hunting and fear of the bear’s appetite. Since 1975, the species has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. At that time, there were only about 136 grizzlies left in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Fortunately, things have dramatically improved since then. In 2016, the Obama administration proposed delisting the Yellowstone population, which now numbers 700. The grizzly would become only the 39th U.S. species delisted under the ESA due to recovery (out of more than 1,500 that have been listed). Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, describes this accomplishment as “a true American conservation success story.” Many environmentalists agree.

But the view is not unanimous. And the story took a dramatic turn when a federal court struck down the delisting on behalf of dissenting environmental groups. Many will cheer the decision because it stops a planned hunt, which the state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Idaho adopted as one of several management tools for the growing population.

But, regardless of how many of us feel about hunting, we should pause to consider the consequences of keeping recovered wildlife on the Endangered Species List. Failing to acknowledge and reward recoveries can undermine the incentives to recover other species. And the strict regulations needed to prevent a species’ extinction generate lots of conflict and, consequently, are a poor means of spurring ambitious and collaborative conservation efforts.

For instance, one of the challenges faced by the grizzly is that it is fractured into several populations with no ability to interbreed. One solution to this challenge would be to encourage the creation of migratory corridors connecting the populations. Unfortunately, keeping the bear listed poses a significant obstacle because many of these corridors would have to cross private land.

By making a rare species’ presence a liability rather than an asset, an Endangered Species Act listing can undermine the incentives for private landowners to accommodate species. So long as the bear remains listed, property owners face burdensome regulations if grizzlies migrate through their land — not to mention the other costs and challenges predators like grizzlies present for ranchers and other property owners.

Delisting the species would make it easier to overcome these hurdles, allowing migratory corridors to be provided more amicably. For instance, government and environmentalists could incentivize property owners to accommodate migratory bears, as American Prairie Reserve’s Cameras for Conservation program does by paying ranchers for the presence of wildlife documented by camera traps. Environmentalists could also reimburse ranchers for any lost livestock, an approach used successfully for gray wolves.

Incentive-based schemes such as these aren’t prohibited by the Endangered Species Act, but the law’s punitive approach makes it more difficult to recruit landowners where such schemes concern listed species. Many landowners fear that their cooperation will ultimately expose them to intrusive federal regulation. Additionally, the Endangered Species Act issues frequently devolve into conflict between regulators, landowners and conservationists, which is antithetical to such compromise efforts.

In the 1990s, for instance, the National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife worked with the timber industry on a plan to reintroduce grizzlies to the Bitterroot ecosystem in central Idaho and western Montana. In talking to loggers, the environmental groups learned that the loggers’ biggest fear wasn’t having bears in their midst but the federal regulations that would accompany them. That dialogue led to a proposal for a locally driven management plan for a reintroduced population, which the U.S. Department of the Interior endorsed in 1997.

But the compromise plan was promptly attacked from both sides. Idaho sued, citing concerns that reintroduction would eventually lead to extensive federal regulation, while some environmental groups attacked the plan precisely because it didn’t include enough burdensome federal regulation.

Twenty years later, there’s still no grizzly population in the Bitterroot, thanks to this interminable conflict. Similarly, keeping the Yellowstone population on the endangered species list, despite its recovery, threatens to keep that population mired in conflict, too. That’s a shame because, for the grizzly bear population to continue flourishing, what we really need is creativity and collaboration.


Jonathan Wood is an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation and a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. He wrote this for

Being Trans in America Was Already Scary. Now It’s Terrifying.

A new federal order wouldn’t just deny civil rights protections to trans people. It would deny we exist altogether.

By Robin Carver | October 24, 2018

I’m a trans woman, and I’m terrified.

Already, on any given afternoon, I’m regularly and publicly catcalled, mocked, laughed at, and treated as an object of social disgust. Trans women are one of the most assaulted and murdered demographics in the United States, especially when they’re non-white.

We’re the frequent and favorite target of even liberal-leaning culture outlets like Saturday Night Live. Even Democratic darling Kamala Harris repeatedly fought to deny life-saving medical treatment to incarcerated trans women when she served as California’s attorney general.

Even lesbian, gay, and bisexual advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign took decades to support trans activism.

Worse still, in 29 states we can be legally fired or evicted from our homes simply for being trans. And a recent Department of Health and Human Services policy allows any medical provider to deny trans people care of any kind, even in emergency rooms.

Some small progress came with the Obama administration, which updated guidelines for changing the sex marker on important ID documents. The Obama-era Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and several others began adopting more inclusive terminology that expanded already existing civil rights protections to trans people.

In May of 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch sued North Carolina over its controversial “bathroom bill.” In a speech delivered at that time, Lynch said, with specific reference to the trans community, “This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise. … It may not be easy, but we’ll get there together.”

That promise is gone.

The New York Times reports that the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services is working across multiple agencies to establish an official definition of sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

The memo continues, “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

This definition goes to absurd lengths to define broad swaths of trans people as explicitly belonging to the sex they were coercively assigned at birth. It flies in the face of the broad consensus of the medical community that treats trans people and worldwide standards for trans health care.

It’s a fundamental denial of our most basic and important claim: that our sex and gender cannot be accurately identified at or before birth, and they are not sufficiently explained by a binary of female/male, woman/man, or XX/XY.

It’s the policy equivalent of telling trans people that we don’t exist. It’s flatly absurd.

This policy, if put into effect, would expose trans children to violence and psychological trauma at school. It would deny trans adults critical access to appropriately gendered homeless shelters, prisons, and restrooms. It would specifically eliminate the basis on which we could make any case for discrimination of any kind at the federal level.

Even worse, Congress has no say over the implementation of this policy. In theory, it could be overturned in the courts, but a conservative majority there is unlikely to support trans rights.

Even when Trump leaves office (whether after 2020 or 2024) the next president would have to undo two to six years of precedent to get us back to where we are now — which they could only do if the right-wing Supreme Court doesn’t strike a blow in the intervening time.

Being a trans person in America was already scary enough. Now it’s downright terrifying.

Robin Carver is a development assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by

This combination photo shows J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings," series in 1967, left, and J. K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series at the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" Broadway opening in New York on April 22, 2018. The effort to discover America’s best-loved novel – and promote reading – will end with the winner announced on Tuesday’s finale of PBS’ "The Great American Read." The series profiled the contenders and let bookworms, famous and not, advocate for their pick. (AP Photo) combination photo shows J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings," series in 1967, left, and J. K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" series at the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" Broadway opening in New York on April 22, 2018. The effort to discover America’s best-loved novel – and promote reading – will end with the winner announced on Tuesday’s finale of PBS’ "The Great American Read." The series profiled the contenders and let bookworms, famous and not, advocate for their pick. (AP Photo)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports