Last year mustered in a new president, a sad economy, and plenty of unemployed people.
As a writer, I'm self-employed and living creatively close to the poverty line. The idealistic days of soulful writers in Parisian garrets, swigging cheap wine and pounding out the Great American Novel are gone with Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
Modern writers once worried people would stop reading altogether. The success of Harry Potter defied that theory. The public willingly paid money for books again, making J.K. Rowling a very rich woman. However, with a changing economy, books are now a luxury and not in the budget. You can't eat a book, fill your gas tank with pages or pay your mortgage with paperbacks—believe me, I've tried. I'm this close to standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign saying, “Will write for change.”
Where does that leave emerging authors? Do we lay down our pens (computers) and call it a day? What started with oral histories, clay tablets, papyrus, and the Gutenberg press has evolved to e-books, audio tapes and hand-held electronic readers. While individual writers may not be important unless they're on Oprah or the best seller list, as a group we are still the recorders of society. Words on paper don't die.
Maybe, in the downward spiral of the economy, people will turn to books for cheap entertainment and hours of escape. Most of us have books collecting dust on bookshelves and stored in closets. Time to share the wealth. Stop hoarding and swap out novels with friends. Your favorite read might become someone else's treasured book.
Libraries are also being hit by the economic downturn. Library books sustained me as a child in a Navy family. I'm a author today because I had access to books my family couldn't afford. The library is once again back in my life. I can request bestsellers (I'm #156 on the list for Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict). I can read magazines when I can't afford subscriptions. I walk past shelves as if I own the books, grateful that someone else has the task of keeping them orderly.
In this economy, you can't find a better bargain.