Why we want readers to choose the best book of the past 125 years

In celebration of the Book Review’s 125th anniversary, editors have republished memorable reviews of literary classics and interviews with admired authors. The idea of ​​a reader’s vote to name the best book came to Ms. Jordan as she flipped through the first copies of the Book Review.

She discovered that the Letters Page once functioned as an Internet bulletin board — a lively forum “full of clever, funny, outraged letters from readers,” she said. Editors regularly asked questions like, “What do you think is the best short story written in the English language?” invite debate.

She got a sense of those old issues that readers felt involved in. “That’s what we wanted for our game,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the Book Review has anointed a favorite title. In 1996, staff members asked critics and scholars to choose the best novel of the past 25 years. (The winner, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” is also this year’s finalist.) But there was little transparency about the panel’s selection process, Ms. Jordan said, and she wondered what other books were in the mix.

So she decided it was time to ask again – only this time readers would nominate the books.

To reach as many readers as possible, the Book Review enlisted the help of public libraries across the country. Rebecca Halleck, a digital story and training editor at The Times, and Urvashi Uberoy, a Times software engineer, helped compile a list of email addresses for nearly 5,000 libraries in the hopes they would inform their members about their match. The team sent each library a flyer designed by Deanna Donegan, an art director for The Times, and Joumana Khatib, a book desk editor, containing a QR code created by the Interactive News Technology desk. When scanned, it would take people to the nomination site.

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