Reading in a Recession

Industries react to economic recessions in different ways. Spending at the box office might go down while movie rentals jump as families look for less expensive entertainment. Dining out tapers, but bars are still hoppin’. And books, well… “they” say (you know, THEY, those people your mother quotes who always seem to have the answers if you’d just follow their sage but unattributed, unproven advice? Yes. THEM.) that when times get tough, adults stop buying books for themselves before sacrificing their teens’ and kids’ reading needs. It’s one possible reason why sales for middle grade and young adult fiction sometimes remain stable or even increase while adult fiction drops, even as we’re teetering on the edge of collective financial ruin.

Reading — not necessarily book-buying, but actual reading — can skyrocket during a recession because:

  1. It’s a great way to escape, especially when we’re feeling stressed or sad. Science fiction and fantasy titles do especially well here.
  2. Reading can be relatively cheap compared to other forms of entertainment. Sometimes it’s even free.
  3. Reading is shareable, reusable fun. One book can benefit an entire household or group of friends or work buddies.

Writers as Readers

As an author, I’m constantly reading (currently on the nightstand: RED GLASS by Laura Resau and ONE WISH by Leigh Brescia). I read to keep up with market trends, to see what all of you are reading and blogging about these days. I read to get new ideas, or to see new twists on old ones. I read to analyze the craft and talents of my fellow authors, hoping that some of their elusive magic might rub off the pages into my fingers. I read my friends’ work, like the wonderful new books of the 2009 Debutantes. I read because I love words and language and all the crazy beautiful ways they come together. And sometimes, I forget all the author / bibliophile stuff and read just as I always have, hoping to fall headfirst into a story that carries me far away and stays with me long after I’ve turned the final page. Those are the best books, aren’t they?

But all this reading can get costly. I like to think that I’m doing my part in staving off the next Great Depression by keeping both my fellow authors and Mr. UPS in business, but that’s not the smartest strategy. Amazon just makes it all too easy to click-click-buy, click-click-buy… they’ll even tell you what you should buy based on stuff you already bought! Frightening, huh?

Reading and Book-Buying Habits

I’m at a point in my life where I read more than I ever have before, for both work and fun, but I’ve made some changes in the way I get my books. I used to order (click-click-buy!) any book that sounded remotely interesting or even tangentially related to something I might like, but now I’m more careful:

  • I visit author Web sites to read chapter excerpts of books I’m considering.
  • I check out review sites like GoodReads or scan Amazon’s customer reviews.
  • I ask friends for recommendations, or chat with the bookseller if I’m in a store.
  • I read one or two books by an author before purchasing her entire backlist.
  • I visit the library (*heart* libraries!), especially if there’s a book I’m interested in but not sure I’ll love or want to read more than once.

Sarah's TBR PileTruth is, I rarely read a book more than once, even when I enjoy it. I have so many unread books on my to-be-read pile (only partially shown here!), it seems criminal to dive back into something I’ve already experienced. But still, I like having them. I like looking at them. I like to know that I can reread them, even if I don’t want to. I suppose it’s the last bit of consumerism I’m still holding on to. I don’t have a shoe thing or a bag thing or a clothes thing. I hate shopping, hate malls, hate trying stuff on or looking for something on a rack or shelf, hate returning things that just don’t work, hate feeling pressured to buy things just because everyone else thinks I should. And I hate accumulating stuff in my home that I don’t absolutely need or love.

But books, well, I love them. I really do. They’re the boxes I’ll always cart with me, every time I move, everywhere I go, every new place I set up shop. I’ll always have my books, always add to my collection of words and stories, even in a recession. I’m just trying to be better about which ones I collect!

What Do You Think?

Tell me, readers and book lovers, have your reading and book-buying habits changed? Are you reading more, but borrowing from a friend or the library instead of buying? Are you buying as much as ever? More? When you go into a book store, do you pick up something you weren’t planning on, just because the cover or back copy looks good, or are you only getting things you’ve researched or already heard good things about?

Leave some love in the comments here and tell us how you’re reading in a recession!

4 thoughts on “Reading in a Recession

  1. Well…I guess I am reading more because of the recession, but not directly. Because of the recession I gave up my internet access at home, if I really need it I use my blackberry, work or go to my parents. But because I have given up computer access I have more time on my hands so I read more. Right now I am in the middle of three books, one I’ve read before, one for the book club, and one I picked up in the airport because I forgot to bring something to read. Plus I am bored and lonely a lot when my daughter’s not around and reading helps keep those feelings at bay. So that is my answer.

  2. So what you’re saying is that the next time you move we’ll be not only moving the boxes of books we moved the last time but there will be even more boxes of books?? (Groan!!)

    Lot’s of Love

  3. I used to read a lot of sci fi and fantasy, lots of entertaining silly stuff. Then one day I found myself adding up how much I would spend to buy all 10 paperbacks in a fantasy series I had started but wasn’t really enjoying. (One of my mantras is that I have to start what I finish.) At $8.99 a pop with tax, we’re talking $100 on a series I wasn’t actually enjoying.

    That’s a lot of money in my world. So I began thinking about how I read, what I read, and what I chose to put in my head over my lifetime. Lifetime, people, this is it, your ONLY life. How will you choose to spend it? What will you choose to fill it with? So I decided that every other book I read had to be a classic, something that I may have been assigned to read in school but never was, or something I had to read in school and hated.

    That’s how I discovered John Steinbeck and what an incredible author and person he was. I discovered that I HATED Moby Dick, it took me almost 9 months to plow through that back in 2001, the 150th year of its publishing. (How that book became a legend and is known 150 years later is beyond me.) I re-discovered Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, read “Last of the Mohicans,” “Master of Ballantrae” and a whole host of worlds I would’ve never discovered before.

    I buy books from second hand stores, borrow them from friends and return them to the circulation by passing them on. God knows I don’t have the room to own all the books I want to read, but I have kept every John Steinbeck I’ve read so far.

  4. Christa, good points. I bet a lot of people are in the same situation — cutting down on cable and Internet to save money, finding some extra free time in which to read.

    Dad, yeah, we’ll always grow our book collection but the good news is we’ve greatly reduced our “Other Random Crap” and “Christmas Ornaments Whose Origins We Can’t Recall” collections, so maybe it balances out?

    Jenny, I know exactly what you mean about spending on stuff you don’t really enjoy. While I could never limit myself to only the classics, I do like the idea of reading and acquiring more of those kinds of works. I recently picked up Steinbeck’s GRAPES OF WRATH and though I had to set it down for a while, I am in love with the writing and the story. I also love his TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, and I have I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS on another TBR pile. Sometimes I get so caught up in my YA world that I forget about these important classics. Thanks for the reminder!

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