MOVING ON: What Will People Be Reading When the Recession Really Ends?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One of my favorite topics of conversation is what I call Oddball Signs of the Recession. A colleague at Good Housekeeping recently told me that dentists see flossing rates drop in a recession, and my 97-year-old grandmother isn't the only one whose noticed the long line at the local library checkout counter. According to a National Public Radio report, Americans smoke and drink less when money gets tight.

How will the recession morph readers? What are the uncommon indicators of the recession -- or recovery from it -- that seem to go unnoticed? The online journal Retail Bulletin has an interesting take on selling in general, arguing that "consumers will move through the recession in three states, not dissimilar to the way individuals cope with grief. Stage One is Acute Distress. Stage Two: Acceptance. Three is Moving On. Where are we on the coping scale now? In September, you could argue from my informal survey of subway readers that at least half of us are still in Acute Distress. Why? Because at least half of all commuters on the subway are reading The Bible or some other form of religious material. I'm serious. (Even my kids have noticed, although I had to explain to my daughter that the man next to me wasn't davening, the subway was simply shaking a bit too much that morning.) Recently, the book selection on the 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains indicates were are moving through the tunnel of acceptance to Stage 3. My uncommon indicator: The number of women reading self-help books. There are a lot of classics like Siblings Without Rivalry and The Path Not Taken; and tons of business book converts, pouring over Big is the New Small and Good to Great.

When consumer behavior morphs, when and how does it return to 'normal'? For the media, there is no normal -- there is only the now and the new. And that, my friends, is called Moving On. One small, happy hints at recovery: Attendees at the September National Book Festival, held in Washington, D.C., hit a record high. Seventy high-profile authors and 130,000 book lovers came to the tented event, despite the rain. (See the full report here.) Yes, big book chains are seeing a decline in foot traffic (anywhere from 6 percent at Barnes & Noble to double digits at Borders, according to Newsweek), but online and electronic sales hold a lot of promise for the holidays. This week, Sarah Plain's Going Rogue hit number one as people who, love her or loathe her, pre-ordered her memoir, due out November 17. Is that a sign that we are at Stage 3: Moving On? Personally, I'm waiting to exhale. We need a few dozen more 'big books' to get us over the hump. For more on that topic, check out The Big Money. Maybe I'll breathe easier when the Ted Kennedy biopic becomes available on in e-book form (although there still is no date). Let's all say a prayer we're still interested in it then.