Poolside books: the other economic indicator

Our vacation is just winding down.  During this time, my husband and I have been hauling around two sorts of baggage.  There’s the bulky but uncomplicated variety encompassing scuba equipment (his) and heels for Formal Night (mine), also the cumbersome should-we-be-taking-a-vacation-in-this-economy? stigma.

Everyone knows that this season is a buyer’s market for cruises and other vacation packages, so why have we felt compelled to extol the fabulousness of the cruise deal we found, rehearsing the fact that “you couldn’t get entertainment, transportation, and food for this price anywhere else”, blah, blah?  Our friends and co-workers are aware that we both work for nonprofit entities and further know that we’re too cheap to pay any interest on our one credit card, so obviously this trip was a bargain.  

Apparently, our fellow vacationers also remain mindful of the economy (except, possibly, the folks with the balconied suites overlooking prime cruising vistas).  The subject arose frequently over dinner, and not just because it’s a safe but guaranteed conversation starter for a group of strangers.  Further evidence of concern was detected by my anecdotal and highly unscientific survey: Data for Reading Inventoried at Poolside (DRIP).

I adopted a simple but foolproof data collection method:  I asked my husband to help me keep an eye out for book titles/authors observed at poolside.  (A book chosen for noisy and distracting aquatic venues is, I feel, particularly reflective of the reader’s interests.)  You can probably guess what we observed during the exhaustive ten-minute canvass: lots of the usual suspects.  James Patterson, Daniel Silva, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Lynsay Sands, Charlaine Harris, Eckhart Tolle, and other heavy hitters were much in evidence.  A bit of variety was provided by my husband’s choice–my copy of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto–and my own pick, Jacqueline Winspear’s Birds of a Feather.

This part was interesting, however: while these books were all (unsurprisingly) paperbacks, in no case did they represent the author’s most recent title available in paperback.  Contrary to the trend I’ve seen previously, backlists were the order of the day, suggesting that more folks are now doing as we do–planning way ahead to ensure a plentiful, low-cost, low-risk vacation library.  Each selection must meet these guidelines:

  • It’s gotta be cheap: copies for which you spend $2.00 or less don’t upset you when an on-flight beverage or chlorine splash engulfs them.

  • Current bestsellers are out–too expensive for travel.  Besides, choosing something not on the top ten list requires more imagination.

  • It’s gotta look good.  Even when I’m rummaging through a garage sale box or a clearance bin, I demand smooth pages, stainless condition, and a pretty cover.  Call me shallow.

For this journey, I purchased our supply from Half Price Books’ clearance section and the Friends of the Round Rock Public Library book sale.  I knew that I’d collected an acceptable number when my daughter inquired whether I planned to do anything besides read the entire week.

Like us, our fellow vacationers are finding small but numerous ways to economize.  And, because everyone is affected in one way or another, it’s helpful to buy even bargain books on home turf in order to support libraries and local vendors.  One last tip:  did you know that, if you contract one of those nasty shipboard viruses and are quarantined to your cabin, your cruise line will probably offer to give you a prorated credit for that time?  Don’t ask why I know that. 

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