Everything else may be in decline, but American library loans are at their highest for 25 years.Even those most suspicious of his honeyed oratory had to admit that the 44th president’s inaugural address was unexpectedly more «nose to the grindstone» than «head in the clouds». But as the mood of grim practicality spreads from Washington across the world, the doomy economic clouds have afforded a glimpse of silver lining: crashing markets are, it seems, good news for fiction, specifically the library-borrowed kind.

America’s National Endowment for the Arts recently announced that the number of novels borrowed from US libraries is the highest it’s been for 25 years. Even more hearteningly, the demographic that has experienced the biggest increase in literary reading (which appears to mean fiction, drama and poetry in the NEA’s terms) is the oft-despaired-of 18-24 year old bracket.

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