Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
So what about books? Does the same rule apply? Probably so. Herman Melville's Moby-Dick drew scant attention when Melville was still alive. Today it is regarded as a classic. Meanwhile, most bestsellers fade from view within a few years. Does anybody still read The Bridges of Madison County?
Yet I am not so sure "the democracy of time" is always right, any more than the democracy of the ballot box or the bestseller list is. Sometimes outstanding books are ignored when they are first published and are still ignored 50 or 100 years later. Some books that are bestsellers today may deserve to still be bestsellers decades from now.
Abbey himself seemed to be of two minds on this question. In the same book he writes, "Books are like eggs -- best when fresh," suggesting that new books, not those that have stood the test of time, are the ones to read. He also wrote, "Most of the literary classics are worth reading, if you've nothing better to do," suggesting that those books deemed great through "the democracy of time" aren't really all that great.