The Whiteboard Jungle: Show’s list of favorite books should have leaned more toward those with staying power

Ask professional basketball fans to name the best player ever and chances are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan would appear at the top of that list.

Meanwhile, Wilt Chamberlain, who put basketball on the map, recedes further into oblivion. People who remember him playing are dying off; footage of him playing is usually in blurry black-and-white film clips.


Too often people don’t consider history before they were born. This pitfall can be seen with PBS’s “The Great American Read,” an eight-part series that encourages viewers to vote for their favorite book of all time based on a preselected list of 100 books.

Last week, in the opening episode, host Meredith Vieira informed the audience that the list was based on a survey by YouGov that accounted for “gender, ethnicity, age and region.”


It is that preselected list that is troublesome.

Here are some eye-openers about the Yelp-ized list.

While 16 out of the 100 books were published before the 20th century, 18 were published in the 21st century, seven in the past nine years (one from 2016).

Many recent titles were made into movies including the “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” series. So did those who listed these books actually read them or did they just see the films?

The most dubious selection: “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

Surely, the producers could have set some ground rules for the list such as a book has to have been published at least 50 years ago to ensure the title has lasting power.

While Mark Twain’s ”The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” made the list, the more adult “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” did not, though it is often referred to as the greatest American novel ever written.

One could argue that as long as people read, it doesn’t matter what the book is. But it actually does.

If all we wanted was to get people reading, they already do that via tweets, Yahoo headlines and Facebook posts. However, the physical act of looking at words is not the same as reading well-written books that require concentration and often rereading, works whose authors took time to craft.

A Pew Research Center survey in January revealed that 24% of all U.S. adults did not read a book in any format in the past year.

Usually, the only opportunity for people to read classic books is when a teacher assigns one for a class. And even then, too many young people bypass the actual text for websites that provide short summaries of chapters.

On the show, many people interviewed said that a book meant something special to them because a character or situation mirrored their lives. Women gravitated toward books written by women about women.

However, one does not have to find a book that is an exact replication of one’s life in order to find it relatable.

When I first read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I connected with Atticus Finch, even though I was 15 years old, not a father and not from the South. It was his moral core that resonated with me.

In “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” I was with Maya Angelou emotionally when she described the pain she felt when a dentist refused to treat her because she was black, even though I am not African American, female, and have not felt the indignities of racism.

If we all just choose to read books written by people with the same race, religion and age, we are just like those who only watch and hear programs that espouse their own political views.

Not long ago, Angelenos participated in a Big Read of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Such a citywide undertaking united people in the goal of reading the one book.

And that is truly the power of a writer when you can see yourself in an Oliver Twist or a Ma Joad, a person unlike you who is human like you.