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!