Teach Them Well and Let Them Lead the Way

By Neal Comment

dave-eggers-headshot.jpgEsquire recently named David Eggers to its list of the most influential people in the world, and now they’ve gone and asked “one of the most ambitious and activist literary figures of his generation” about the rumors of literature’s impending doom, talk he finds “goddamned dangerous”:

“When we assume, as most adults do, that kids are less literate, less interested in books, than ever before, it involves a willful kind of ignorance, and it imperils how we educate young people. Few if any of these dire assumptions—that no one under 18 reads, that all books will be obsolete by 2020—are borne out by any proof whatsoever.”

Eggers also reminds us that, in the last six years, “juvenile book sales have shown compound annual growth of 4.6 percent for hardcover books and 2.1 percent for paperbacks… but still we cluck with acknowledgment when some pundit tells us that books are being crushed by an all-powerful digital junta. It must be true, we think—just yesterday I saw some kid on the bus, and he wasn’t reading a book!” You think he’s exaggerating, but substitute “subway” for “bus” and it’s practically a manifesto from former National Book Critics Circle poobah John Freeman.

Even if the nattering nabobs of negativity were right, and the market for books was somehow drying up, well, lately every time we hear such complaints we’re reminded of the story about the two shoe salesmen who go to a remote jungle village where everybody walks around barefoot. The first guy sends a telegram back to his boss: “No opportunities. Nobody wears shoes.” The second guy sends a different message: “Great opportunities. Nobody’s wearing shoes.” Of course, people are “wearing shoes” when it comes to books, and they’ve been buying shoes at a stable clip (with modest deviations up and down), but we think you see our point.