“America Reads,” which opened yesterday in the Southwest Gallery of the Jefferson Building, is possibly the first sequel exhibition at the Library of Congress. It follows the institution’s popular 2012 exhibition “Books That Shaped America,” which displayed 88 books by American authors “that had a profound effect on American life.”
For this exhibition, the books were chosen differently — the 65 volumes were selected by the public, as a result of a survey on the Library’s website while the 2012 exhibition was on display. Of the 65 books in “America Reads,” 40 are the public’s top choices. An additional 25 titles were chosen by the public from the “Books That Shaped America” list.
At the top of the top 40 is Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” a book that has as many fans as it does detractors. “Roots,” Alex Haley’s novel that sparked legions to become part-time genealogists, was the sixth choice. John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Milton Friedman and Rand occupy 10 of the 40 titles, with each having two books on the list.
The exhibition features some of the rarest and most interesting editions in the Library’s collections, including an 1855 edition of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman, an 1899 edition of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin, an 1851 edition of “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville, and an 1830 edition of “The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, Upon Plates Taken form the Plates of Nephi” by Joseph Smith Jr.
“The fact that the vast majority of the books are works of fiction speaks to the power of the imagination—both of the authors who create these stories and to the members of the public who open their minds to these new stories,” said Guy Lamolinara, co-director of the Library’s National Book Festival.