If you offer it, they will come

The article also includes the important qualification that cultural offerings still have to be good—indeed, the goodness of Kim or Anna Karenina is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

One of the commonest complaints by cultural doomsayers is that nobody reads good books any more. Yet in the past two years, the Oprah Book Club in America recommended Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and three novels by William Faulkner—good by any standard, and they all made the bestseller lists. This year, Waterstone’s, which owns over 300 bookshops in Britain, asked two celebrated novelists, Sebastian Faulks and Philip Pullman, each to choose 40 titles and write a few words of recommendation. The chain then piled copies of the books on tables next to the entrances of its main shops and waited to see what would happen. Faulks and Pullman hardly dumbed down their choices: they included Fernando Pessoa’s “Book of Disquiet”, Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”, and Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises in Style”. The sales increases for these books over the same period the year before were, respectively, 1,350%, 1,420% and 1,800%—clear evidence of latent demand. If you offer it, they will come.


from “The Age of Mass Intelligence,” by John Parker, More Intelligent Life, winter 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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