Get your book fix on the cheap at the library

For those of us who love to read, books offer a welcome escape from the stress of our pitiful economy - unless, of course, you're reading a book entitled "Our Pitiful Economy: A Primer." I think it's by the same guy who wrote "Ponzi Scheme: If the Government Can Do It, Why Not You?"

The problem, though, is that reading can become an expensive habit, especially if you devour 50 or 60 books a year, as I do. OK, I don't actually devour them, but once bailout-induced inflation starts driving up the price of groceries, I may start.

Anyway, if you read as much as I do, you may be looking for an inexpensive way to feed your addiction. Fortunately, we're blessed here in Gwinnett County with a fine public library system.

I don't actually use libraries much, because I have an unsavory reputation for not returning books. Librarians tend to frown on that. Heck, the last time I tried to use my library card, the lady at the desk cut it up and then called the police, who took me down to the station and - wait for it - booked me.

In any case, I've had to develop other strategies for acquiring books, such as swapping out old paperbacks at my local used book store. (What the heck, I'll give them a plug: it's Books for Less on Buford Drive.) This makes my wife happy - fewer books stacked in the pantry - while providing me with adequate reading material at a reasonable price.

Another strategy I've hit upon is what I call my "Dollar Book Club," because it involves books I, um, bought for a dollar.

You see, my wife loves to frequent dollar stores, and I often go with her because, let's face it, it's a cheap date. However, I'm not much interested in looking at cooking utensils or picture frames, so I usually find myself in the book section, which is stocked mostly with remaindered copies of old Irving Shaw novels.

Surprisingly, I often find something worthwhile. So far I've bought four dollar store books, on topics as diverse as NBA basketball and the Green River Killer, and they were all pretty good reads. And did I mention each book only cost a dollar?

My ultimate strategy for enjoying great books while coping with the recession, though, is to raid my own bookshelves (or pantry, as the case may be). I've found that every few years I can revisit some of my favorite tomes and enjoy them all over again. Indeed, re-reading "The Lord of the Rings" or a Dick Francis thriller is like visiting old friends, which is especially nice since I don't actually have any old friends.

Whatever you do, don't let a little downturn in the economy prevent you from enjoying books. Remember that if things get bad enough, you can always eat them.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.