To Kill a Mockingbird was just named the best book of the past 125 years. what does that mean? –Chicago Tribune

Following a completely unscientific process, readers of The New York Times Book Review voted To Kill a Mockingbird “the best book of the past 125 years.”

As for the final pick for the Harper Lee classic, we shouldn’t be surprised, as it was previously the 2018 PBS Great American Read choice. Earlier, I listed it as a favorite in my Biblioracle Recommends newsletter.

A critique that the process is unscientific is not a critique of The Times Book Review. No scientific process can give a definitive answer to the question of the best books of the past 125 years, because fortunately, there is no universal, codified approach to the impact of literature on readers. There are too many books. As human beings, we are too diverse.

I voted “Charlotte’s Web”, “Catch 22” and Tony Morrison’s “Beloved” books that have deeply influenced me as I read and have since Shaped my view of the world.

May we disagree for a long time!

This is what makes reading and discussing literature endless. A self-selected panel of approximately 200,000 readers selected the best books from 25 finalists previously selected from the same general readership, enough to draw some interesting conclusions from the results.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that has an immediate emotional impact on readers, while also addressing important social issues. It was a novel that was racially progressive at the time, and some reader reviews shared by The Times Book Review suggest that some readers have a warm nostalgia for the book’s awakening to the issue of racial prejudice.

Based on simple demographic probability, we can guess that most of the participants in the Times survey were white readers within my 10-year-old (51).

Our voices, whether white, middle-aged or older, are always amplified to the greatest extent possible through these processes. However, it is a mistake to confuse the majority with the universal default.

One of the most fascinating aspects of art and literature is that it is not fixed in place at the time of creation, the response and interpretation of the work changes over time and depends on who is doing the interpretation.

That’s why I can at the same time respect the collective judgment of Time Book Review readers and be a longtime fan of Disrupt Texts, an organization started by four women (Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena Germán, Kimberly Parker, and Julia Torres). They ask us to look at these classic books with fresh eyes.

For example, writing about “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the Disrupt Texts website, German points out that in a book about race, black characters are marginalized, talked about or talked about, not given to Voice and agency. They don’t make sense in the story. This is not to say that Harper Lee should have done something different, but that as we read the book, we can gain a deeper understanding of the full meaning of the text by recognizing its limitations.

None of this is intended to remove “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the curriculum or to censor any text. This is the opposite of the goal of destroying text. Looking at literature with fresh eyes and showing you something you might not have noticed is a gift, not something that should be avoided.

John Warner is the author of Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Essentials.

Twitter @biblioracle

Book Recommendations from Biblioracle

John Warner will tell you what to read based on the five most recent books you’ve read.

1. “Story” Richard Powers

2. “Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan

3. “Let the big world spin” By Collen McCann

4. “Dear Edward” Annapolitano

5. “Where Crayfish Sing” Delia Owens

—Maria B., Raleigh, NC

I recommend this book to at least one reader a year, so I might as well start early: Kathleen Rooney’s “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” is a fascinating journey through one woman’s life and the history she went through .

1. “Family” Naomi Krupitsky

2. “Queen Tuesday: The Lucille Ball Story” Darling Strauss

3. “Santa Suit” by Mary Kay Andrews

4. “When the Ghost Returns” by Willie Cash

5. “Lincoln Freeway” by Amor Towles

— Amy G., Eagle, Colorado

“Such Interesting Times” by Kiley Reid will be a fascinating read for Amy.

1. “Gloss” Raven Leilani

2. “Leaving the World” by Ruman Alam

3. “Searchers” by Tana French

4. “The last thing he told me” by Laura Dave

5. “Girls” Alex Michael Reeds

— Linda T., Chicago

Lauren Groff’s “Fate and Fury” has the kind of compelling drama that I think will appeal to Linda.

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