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Of Recent Note

Your Favorite Thing About the Recession

Times are tight—but must they necessarily be bad? We asked our readers and writers to find the upside to the downturn.

Photograph by John Barton

My favorite part of the recession? Oh, don’t make me choose. Would it be the looming possibility that everyone I know and love will be laid off? Or would it be my newfound appreciation for the gamey flavor of squirrel meat? I can’t really say right now since none of these have yet to happen. Society has yet to completely collapse and the parts that have are a couple of generations removed. I’m still waiting for the catastrophes on the stock market to make their way down to my lowly little corner of the economic spectrum like gangrene. For the time being, I take comfort that the destruction of the financial system as we know it might be a character-building experience. If it’s anything like Studs Terkel’s description of the Depression, this crisis will bring everybody together to learn to appreciate and value all that they have. Just as a high tide raises all ships, a low drought will probably sink most yachts and maybe teach those fat cats on Wall Street a thing or two about the indomitability of the human spirit. Crass consumerism will be a thing of the past and generally unaffordable. A corrupt financial system will be destroyed, and we will return to a post-industrial agrarian society that sits around the fireplace singing “Kumbaya” whether we like it or not. It will be a humbling experience that keeps me comforted when I might have to work three separate minimum-wage jobs to account for the triple-digit Zimbabwean inflation that could be right around the corner. —Llewellyn Hinkes

 

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My favorite thing about the recession is that I’m using all my free time from not going out and spending money on fancy dinners and frilly cocktails (and then a late-night trip to the diner after too many said cocktails) toward something worthwhile: organizing my closets and catching up on all those past Oscar-nominated films I’ve missed over the years. My update: I’ve found hangers I didn’t know I still had and I’m totally bummed that Dances With Wolves beat out Goodfellas for 1990’s Best Picture. —TMN reader Liz Arrasmith

 

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I just love how you can’t say “recession” without thinking about “recess.” And if you’re of a certain age, class, and mindset, this is a lot like recess. There’s not much you can do but hang out with friends, play a little kickball, bone up on that quiz you forgot to study for, and chase girls. But in the back of your mind, you know you need to get back inside and finish what you need to do. You just can’t remember what it is amongst all this “fun.” —TMN reader Tom Keiser

 

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Working freelance means I can’t say I’m “unemployed,” but it’s certainly fair to say I’m “underemployed” right now. Consequently I have some time to devote to other things, things that have long been procrastinated into the background. Decorating the bedroom. Cleaning out the attic. Redesigning the vegetable garden. I started on that last one, thinking it would be good to get it done sooner rather than later, and spent a week in the rain, digging and shifting soil. Then my spine protested with agonizing stabs of pain, and the garden project was promptly abandoned. Now the rain’s gone and the sun is out and I’m not doing much of anything at all, except sitting around waiting for my back to heal. There’s a lot to be said for sitting around in the sunshine. Who knew? —Giles Turnbull

 

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My favorite thing about the recession is acting like there isn’t one. Moving to a new apartment (talked down the rent), dining out (with discounts), getting my hair cut (around the corner). I was raised to be conscious of price points because buying things on sale is just so much more fun—with my friends now aboard the bargain train, I no longer have to worry about a typical night costing too much for my mental faculties to handle. You want to take a taxi? In this economy? You want to live in Manhattan, are you sure about that? You want to pay retail? Please. —Bridget Fitzgerald

 

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What? You mean there’s a place where you can get books for free? Movies for free? Heaven forbid, MUSIC for free? And free internet, too? All of a sudden, people think their public libraries are, like, totally awesome, and they are—they’re community hubs where people will read stories to your kids, teach you how to blog, let your teenagers play video games, help you look for a job, and yes, give you good book recommendations. Why is this my favorite thing about our crap economy, you ask? I’m a library science student. As long as people give vocal support to their local library, my colleagues and I will be able to feed some cash back into the system after graduation. Everyone wins. —TMN reader Amanda McClendon

 

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I’ve been a subscriber to Good magazine for some time now. Every few months it shows up in my mailbox, I lug it home, and then let it get dusty on my dining-room table. There’s just too much good, well-presented, and graphically interested doom and gloom inside: infographics on AIDS rates, interviews with legless Sudanese plumbers, musings on the link between plastic bags and decreased dolphin fertility. Reading it makes my well-fed Western self feel guilty—so I ignore it, and end up feeling more guilty. Well, the last issue came with a notice that due to hard, recessionary times, the publishing schedule will be cut back to four issues this year. I’m still holding out for complete collapse and a free subscription to People. Hooray? —Beth Milton

 

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As much as I’m thankful for my steady job and my lack of a mortgage or substantial credit-card debt, my favorite thing about the recession is learning to repair things. Sure, bike mechanics need to pay the bills too, but I’d rather hang on to a few bucks and fix my own brakes. I’m finally conquering a lifelong aversion to sewing machines to mend the ripped seams in some shirts, and one of these days I’ll take a stab at darning some socks. It’s encouraging to know that, if things really head south and we all revert to bartering for everything, I’ll have at least one skill to trade for my food and shelter. —TMN reader Erin Watson

 

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For years I’ve shopped at thrift stores, preferring the ‘50s day dress with holes to the Forever 21 babydoll that will develop holes the first time it’s washed. I visit the Salvation Army near my dormitory so often I’ve become friends with the management. They say their coterie of vintage-seeking devotees is expanding, that new faces come in every day on their first thrift store visit ever. There’s even a brand-new “SHIFT TO THRIFT” sign displayed outside their door. It’s not a bad idea: You’ll not only save money, but you’ll never worry again about someone wearing the same top at a party. —Nozlee Samadzadeh

 

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I tried to do my bit to repair the world’s failing economy recently by emptying my savings account (which was earning me practically zero interest) and living life in the red for two weeks as I undertook the road trip of a lifetime in the good ol’ U.S.A. I might very well have done this if an economic crisis hadn’t occurred, but the feeling of reckless spending in this moment of frugal belt-tightening felt liberating. As Andy Warhol said, “Wasting money puts you in a real party mood.” By the time I got to the last stop on my trip—Austin, Texas for SXSW—I was definitely ready to party like there’s no tomorrow. —TMN reader Steven Turner

 

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Cheap good things are good. Take this tale: I recently redeemed the Thank You points on my credit card for a $200 Visa gift card. Despite being generally prudent on the money side of things, I decided to use it for frivolities—albeit ones that would get a lot of mileage. What does $200 buy you now? It buys you an ABS dress, a fancy-schmancy Via Spiga down coat, and one third of an Andrew Marc purse. Loads (megagigs, even) of regular sites are cheaper than eBay now. This is bad for eBay but good for humans who still occasionally attend parties, go outside in winter, and carry stuff. —Lauren Frey

 

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After my job and I parted ways, I had time for a project. My husband had the idea to publish an online, Creative Commons-licensed anthology of short sci-fi stories—especially ones too offbeat for the big mainstream magazines. I read hundreds of submissions, wrote personal rejections and critiques, and commissioned art. Thoughtcrime Experiments is coming out in April or May. At least I’ll have something to point to, something I helped make during that long financial winter. —TMN reader Sumana Harihareswara

 

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Finally, my natural frugality is about to become fashionable. The couture lovers used to overlook my style because I didn’t wear Prada; now they’ll be coming to me, asking for tips on how to wear the same pair of pants two days in a row. “What if you drip ketchup on them?” they’ll say, and I’ll demonstrate licking one finger and rubbing away the offending spot. Now, instead of wondering why I haven’t eaten yet at the hot new restaurant, foodies will admire my decision to make that pot of chili stretch for another meal by adding two cups of frozen corn. My talent for cutting my own hair will be worth profiling in Vogue. And finally—after years of never going to see the movie of the moment—there will be oohing and aahing as I reveal that yes, you can bring home DVDs for free if you have a library card. —TMN reader Cat George

 

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While the polite answer to the question is “I still have a job,” if I’m being perfectly honest, my favorite thing about the recession is schadenfreude.

I don’t have any money. I’ve never had any money. This is not only because I don’t know how to get any, but because every time someone tries to explain to me how I could potentially get some, my eyes kinda glaze over and I start fantasizing about unicorns mud-wrestling or something fun like that. I went to a dinner once, a business dinner of my father’s, and I’m pretty sure I was sitting at the same table with money, but I spent most of the night flirting with one of my dad’s associates because her dark eyes and distinctly Central American accent were way more interesting, and given the recent global economic collapse, rightly so.

Some people had money, and now they don’t. How awesome is that? All these slick business-school types were kneeling at the altar of Capital, and they got their false-god-worshipping, goldbricking asses handed to them. I know this won’t change much in the pecking order, and that any scarcity at the top is going to be visited tenfold on those of us here at the bottom, but it feels shamefully good to know that some people out there lost fortunes, whereas I—with no investments, savings, or stocks—will leave this recession the same way I came to it: piss-poor. —Erik Bryan

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers