Favorite book ever? It's a tough choice for most ... but not for a Potterphile

PBS' "Great American Read" is an  ambitious project, complete with six specials, a finale, a book and more ... leading to an announcement of Americans' most-loved book. Here is the mainbar in a three-story package I sent to papers. Scroll down and you'll find a profile of two of the modern authors, and then a set of interesting little facts.

By Mike Hughes

Right now, Americans
are busy picking their favorite novel.

They have an advance
list – 100 books, spanning 411 years – from a survey. They can
vote Online, while watching PBS' “The Great American Read.” And
yes, there are lots of opinions; let's try:

-- Meredith Vieira,
host of “Read,” which will announce a winner Oct. 23. She's liked
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” ever since reading it in her early
teens. “It really changed my life and the way I looked at things. I
grew up in the suburbs, I didn't know about racism; I didn't know
about intolerance.”

-- Wil Wheaton,
who's both a sci-fi actor and writer. “Heart of Darkness” and
“Ready Player One” (both of which he praises on PBS) are great,
he says, “but I'm really pulling for 'Dune.'”

-- Nicholas Sparks,
whose own book gets his vote. “Hey look, I'm biased. I like 'The

-- Diana Gabaldon.
She also has a book (a series, actually, “Outlander”) on the
list. But for her vote, “it's a dead heat between 'Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Lonesome Dove.'”

That leaves her
wondering: Could those stories – whimsy about a little English girl
and a dusty tale of old American cowboys – possibly have anything
in common? Gabaldon said they're “what my husband refers to – in
reference to my work – as the one-damn-thing-after-another school
of fiction.'”

Many people, like
Gabaldon, feel torn. Vierra is also fond of “And Then There Were
None” and other mysteries. “I didn't realize 'til I was really
looking at it that I like a dead body. I like murder.”

Even Paula Kerger,
the PBS head and “a very big and voracious reader,” is undecided.
She leans toward “Great Gatsby,” but “at different moments,
different books have had great impact on me.”

Indecision is
understandable, said Jane Root, the series producer. “It's an
incredibly varied list (with) some literary classics” and some
newer books.

Compiled with a few
rules -- one book per author; a series counts as one – it's varied,
indeed. One book (“Don Quixote”) is 413 years old; eight arrived
in the past decade. including “Gone Girl” and “Ghost.”

The choices are
diverse, so many people are undecided ... and all of them are dead
wrong, says Eliyannah Ysrael. There should be only one choice: “Harry
Potter and I are going to take this thing.”

Her enthusiasm is a
beacon for the series: Many people love their books ... but few more
than Ysrael.

This started 14
years ago, when she was 20, a Chicago State University student in her
home town. Her brother, a 6th-grader, had borrowed a
Potter book from a friend. “My mom had some concerns, because she
had heard ... the book may be too dark.”

Since the mom was
busy – two jobs AND college classes – Ysrael volunteered to look
at it.

“To be honest, I
was going to read a few chapters and just kind of fudge the whole
thing and just say, 'Go for it.' And I took it to my college campus.
I started reading at 7 a.m. in the cafeteria and at 10 that night, I
was getting kicked out. I hadn't left the cafeteria. I had missed all
my classes.

“I couldn't stop,
so I drove to an all-night diner and I stayed up until 7 a.m. and
finished the book.”

She associated
deeply with Harry's friend Hermione. (“Obviously, we were identical
twins,” said Ysrael, semi-joking; she's black and American,
Hermione is white and British.) But she's savored all the characters
... as have her two brothers and two sisters. “You couldn't set the
book down, because someone else would take it.”

Today, Ysrael has a
communications degree and Hollywood jobs as a production secretary
for projects. “But they're not my TV show and movies, so they're
not as important.” Most important is becoming a filmmaker ... and
currently making a YouTube series, “Hermione Granger and the
Quarter Life Crisis.”

Yes, it's about
Harry's friend, now cast as a black Englishwoman in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Ysrael rereads all the Potter books, at least once a year.
We're pretty sure we know how she's voting.