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February 22, 2022

My Top 25 Reads of the Past 125 Years #25BetterBooks


Please Note: I’m caring for a loved one receiving treatments (read about it here), so my replies to comments and return visits to bloggers will be delayed. I will get to it eventually, though. Promise. Thanks for your understanding! 


October 2021, the New York Times Book Review staff asked their subscribers to help them choose the best book of the past 125 years. In order to do that, thousands of nominations came in from their subscribers. Then the staff picked 25 finalists and announced them in December.

How exactly did their staff narrow submissions down to 25 finalists?

That’s not entirely clear.

1) They only allowed one book per author to be a finalist and 2) Only 31% of their readers' nominations made it to their list.

Even without those full details, we can still recognize that the results are biased.

Why do I say that?

Because nominations petitioned to a specific set of readers (i.e. their subscribers) will only reflect the likes and interests and reading habits of those readers, especially of the groups that make up the largest percentage of their subscribers’ demographics (age, race, gender, orientation, nationality).

And if the majority of the readers are not reading widely, or don't read current releases (i.e. they favor the classics), if they don’t read from diverse authors, if they read books written mostly by men, or books published or set exclusively in America, then that will come across in the results.


THE RESULTS:

The results shine a light on a clear problem in the publishing industry when it comes to a lack of diversity, from the authors who get published and the kinds of books that get published to the publishers themselves and even the reviewers/influencers who receive books from publishers (or in the case of the Book Review, which books get chosen to be reviewed and ultimately how a book with diverse representation is viewed by the reviewer), as well as what books get featured, displayed, recommended, etc.

Not to mention the horrid push to keep diverse authors and stories out of schools and libraries (namely Black literature and LGBTQIA+ literature, which are the two most challenged/banned categories of books), as well as the effort to keep BIPOC authors from receiving equal footing, awards, and recognition.

(There is a divide in publishing. MANY divides, in fact. There is bias in favor of whiteness and masculinity and heterosexuality. There is racism. There is transphobia. There is Islamophobia. There is Sinophobia. There is antisemitism. There is sexism. There is ableism. There IS a problem.)

 

From what is publicly known about the authors whose books comprised the top 25 list, this is what we know:

  • 21 of the 25 books were written by white authors (let that sink in)
  • while only 4 of the books were written by BIPOC authors
  • 18 of the books were written by men 
  • and only 7 were written by women  
  • 18 of the 25 authors were over the age of 50 
  • 20 of the authors were based in the US 
  • just one identified as having a learning disability 
  • ZERO publicly identified as physically disabled 
  • and ZERO publicly identified as LGBTQIA+


The NYT’s list doesn’t really reflect 125 years of literary history, which isn't just about the classics but books published a year ago. That's literary history, too.

And it’s not as diverse as they claim it is. 

NOTE: This is NOT me saying that the books that make up their 25 finalists, which I chose not to list here, did not shape literature or us as individuals, although there is one book on it that I detest with every fiber of my being. lol

 

#25BETTERBOOKS:

After this list came out Ad Astra (check out their interview on my blog HERE and also check out their Instagram posts HERE and HERE where they spoke so much better on this topic than I can) encouraged us to create our own #25BetterBooks list to demonstrate that:

  • a “best book” list will always be subjective
  • countless diverse authors have shaped us, as well as global literature
  • that the NYT’s list solely reflects their subscribers’ and staffs’ interests
  • and that picking a single book as the ultimate winner for any period of time is unnecessary when so many books are important to us individually and collectively and when so many are worthy of the title. (After all, avid readers know how hard it is to name just one book as their favorite.)


MY LIST:

In that spirit, I had fun creating my own list.

NOTE: I'm late to share my list because I wanted to read some books to see if they’d make it, which is why I’m posting about this in February 2022. lol

My list is not perfect, and I’m not claiming it is. Although it is perfect for ME because I’m not representing anyone else but myself. As such, my list will look different from yours, which is as it should be. 

At the time of posting this, there are COUNTLESS books I hadn’t read yet (or I don’t plan to read). I figure there’s books I’ll be reading this year that could make this list. Thus, this list is not set in stone.

Without further ado, here’s my #25BetterBooks list!


My Top 25 Reads of the Past 125 Years:


1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker


2. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 


3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson


4. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang


5. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


6. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi


7. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


8. Pea Soup Disaster by Elaine Kaye



9. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei


10.  March by John Lewis



11. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert



12. The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang



13. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang


14. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green



15. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero



16. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan



17. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 


18. Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord



19. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech



20. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


21. Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts


22. Holes by Louis Sachar


23. Leaves of Fall by Patricia Lynne


24. Liftoff by Tyrean Martinson


25. Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane

These are all books I’ve continued to think about long after having read them.




QUESTIONS: Do you have an idea of a book (or books) that’d be on your own personal #25BetterBooks list (your top 25 books of the last 125 years)? Have you read and loved any of the books on my list?



12 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chrys - to read is one of my major goals this year ... I have just acquired The Colour Purple from the Migration Museum here ... and have two two of their books both relating to the refugee crisis that is found in the Mediterranean ... Greece, Turkey and Cyprus ... they tell stories, remind us of history, offer up recipes from their homelands ... very thought provoking - very! As one of the author's notes: "It's a book about the resilience of the human spirit" and is dedicated to all migrants.

Thinking of you - cheers Hilary

Chrys Fey said...

The books about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean sound amazing, definitely important reads. Thanks for sharing, Hilary! And thank you for visiting and commenting! :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Your stats are very revealing. And you're right that what makes it on the list is very subjective. Thanks for sharing your list. And hope your mom is doing okay.

Chrys Fey said...

They are revealing. I have to thank Ad Astra for most of those stats and for their message that got me to really ponder this.

Thank you for asking about my mom. She’s doing well. :)

Liz A. said...

I would not even dream of making a top 25 list. I don't feel I read widely enough to attempt it. The NYT is problematic on a lot of fronts. I think the big issue is one of privilege. To become a journalist working for the NYT, a certain amount of luck and a lot of systemic support had to be in their background. (Poorer people can't take low paying or no paying internships.) And that reflects in the types of takes they're putting out there as of late.

As for your books, I've read a few of them.

Chrys Fey said...

Your own top 25 list would be just for you, but I understand what you mean.

That’s an excellent point about privilege playing a huge role behind who works for the NYT. Privilege for sure is a factor, from wealth privilege, male privilege, and, of course, white privilege. I hadn’t thought of the wealth aspect, but you’re right that that would contribute greatly to who could work/intern there, and thus contribute articles addressing issues important to marginalized communitie, as well as review books with more diverse representation. People from marginalized communities would unlikely be able to apply, land the position, or make it work on a low salary or for no pay at all.

M.J. Fifield said...

You have some of my favorites on this list, and a lot of titles on my TBR list.

I started to think about what I might include on such a list, but was soon swarmed by thoughts about how I haven't read ALL the books in all the world, so how could I possibly make such a list (which I am sure I have made in the past)? Interesting to think about, though. If my brain ever calms down (ha), I'll have to give it a try. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I can understand that thought when it comes to making up your own list. That’s why I had tried to read certain books beforehand (at first, I struggled to come up with 25) and why I said my list isn't set it stone. If I had to recreate it, it’d change slightly each year. I did have fun coming up with mine, though. 🙂

But that’s a great example of why it was unnecessary for the NYT to create such a list, or want to name “the best book” of the past 125 years, in the first place; there’s so many books that it’s impossible to read them all to make that decision, and there’s no point in doing so when so many are great to us individually and collectively, as Ad Astra had pointed out. That’s what our own personal lists demonstrate…that although we may not have read ALL the books in all the world, or we may think we don’t read widely enough, there’s countless books out there that we have read that we believe deserve the honor. And that each of our lists would be vastly different from the next because of how subjective such a list like this naturally is.

Aside from our own lists demonstrating all that and being a fun project and insight into ourselves, our lists also act as a wonderful way to recommend books to others. I ended up reading a handful of books I saw on other peoples’ lists on IG to see if they’d make my own list. (And three of them did.) Sharing our favorite books, whether it’s a list like this or not, is how we can encourage others to read more diverse books.😍

I’d love to know which books make it on your (non-permanent) list. 😀

And gosh that was a long reply. lol I’m very chatty right now, I guess. And I love this discussion. Plus, I knew you wouldn’t mind a lengthy reply (if you see it). ❤️

Annalisa Crawford said...

Not to dismiss your personal list, I think the idea of conflating many people's list into one - especially one as narrow as 25 books!! - is a waste of time. I couldn't even begin to remember all the books I've read that have meant something to me at the time. In fact, I look through my Goodreads list and don't remember reading half of them.

Chrys Fey said...

I agree. The NYT taking thousands of random nominations and figuring out how to conflate those into a single list as narrow as 25 books was a waste of time, especially given how problematic the list turned out to be. The only motivation that they shared was to celebrate their 125th anniversary, which they could’ve done in many ways. If they wanted to highlight books, they could’ve looked at their past reviews and had staff pick their favorites, and not asked readers. It wouldn’t have solved the diversity issue as they had chosen the finalists, but at least it would’ve only represented the staff instead of them using readers’ initial nominations to do that. They also could’ve upped it to the top 125 books to really honor 125 years. Or they could’ve published ALL the readers’ nominations (minus books that got only one nomination) in a three or four-part series.

Thank you for commenting!

Jeff said...

I've read one from your list and have another in my TBR pile (Their Eyes Were Watching God). I've read five of the NYT list, but knew of most of them. However, I didn't think there list was ver inclusive of the past 125 years. And then, are we looking for the best books (which is very subjective) or the book had the most impact? If the later (which would be more of my direction. I would like to see books like Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle;" James Baldwin, "Go Tell it On the Mountain;" Flannery O'Conner, "Short Stories;" John Hersey, "Hiroshima;" Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring," Orwell, "1984;" Alan Paton, "Cry, the Beloved;" Erich Maria Remarque, "All Quiet on the Western Front;" Hosseini, "The Kite Runner;" Wendell Berry, "The Unsettling of America;" Edward Abbey, "Desert Sojourner," something by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Graham Greene, Herman Hesse, China Achebe, Rabindranath Tagore and probably Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book"

Chrys Fey said...

I agree, their list wasn't very inclusive. Thank you for sharing your list with me. Those are some very inclusive and impressive titles/authors.