By MARSHA MERCER
A young woman walking in my neighborhood the other morning had her eyes not on her phone, playing Pokémon Go, but on the page of a book.
“Must be a good book,” I said as we passed, catching a glimpse of the cover. “Oh, it is!” she assured me.
It was a romance novel – but no judging. It cheered me immensely to see a millennial so engrossed in a physical book that she couldn’t bear to put it down.
Evidently, she’s not alone. There’s good news, finally, about books. We can stop writing the obituary for the physical book.
Retail sales at bookstores were up 6.1 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the first six months of last year, according to the Census Bureau.
And 2015 was healthy too, with bookstore sales up 2.5 percent over 2014, the first annual increase since 2007, Publishers Weekly reports.
Spurring sales in 2015 was the No. 1 bestseller “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee’s first book since “To Kill a Mockingbird.” People had been waiting 55 years.
This year’s presidential election has juiced bookstores with political tomes. The top four non-fiction books on this week’s New York Times best seller list are anti-Clinton or anti-progressive.
Physical books outsold ebooks last year for the second consecutive year, with revenue from hardbacks up 8 percent, the Association of American Publishers reported last month in its annual survey.
People are also listening to more books. Revenues from downloaded audio books have nearly doubled since 2012, the publishers’ survey found.
Even more surprising in the era of modernistic temples to Apple: Dusty, used bookshops are a hot new retail venue. Among the cities where used bookshops are making a comeback are New York, Washington and Richmond, Va., according to news reports.
“There’s a used bookstore renaissance going on in New York City right now,” Benjamin Friedman, co-owner of a bookstore café in Queens, told The Wall Street Journal, whose reporter Anne Kadet last month counted more than 30 used bookshops in the city, and more than 50 when she included rare-book dealers.
For me, few pastimes are more enjoyable than browsing books, new or used, in bookstores. I recently was in a used bookstore in Staunton, Va., where an old – make that classic -- jazz record was playing on a turntable. Perfect!
If “vinyl” can be cool, why not books with paper pages? The White House said President Barack Obama took five books with him on vacation.
For the first time, The New York Times devoted a special section of the full-sized paper to an excerpt from the acclaimed new novel, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, and said it was the first of an occasional series of long excerpts from new books.
“Though we are excited by innovations like virtual reality and digital storytelling, we also recognize the lasting power of the broadsheet,” the editor wrote. The section was “a special ink-on-paper product, one not available in digital form. It is finite and tactile; to read it you must have gotten your hands on the Sunday paper.”
Think about that. The Times made something available only in the newspaper, making paper more valuable than digital. Brilliant.
Here’s another bit of good news about books: People who read books live longer than those who don’t, a Yale study reports.
The study of 3,635 people 50 and older over 12 years found that book readers lived longer than non-book readers. Those who read books for three-and-a-half hours a week or more – half an hour a day -- lived on average almost two years longer than those who didn’t read books or just read newspapers and magazines.
Reading books promotes “deep reading,” engaging the brain more than newspapers or magazines do, and can foster empathy and other traits that lead to greater survival, Avni Bavishi, Martin D. Slade and Becca R. Levy wrote in their study, “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity.”
“We also found that any book reading gives a survival advantage over no book reading,” Levy, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale, said in an email.
There’s never been a better time to crack open a book – and you may live longer to read more.
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.