Both good news and bad news has flowed from the current recession that's struck America.
You can prove it with a single trip out to Barnes & Noble on Olive Avenue in Merced.
OK, I know -- if you've lost a job and are fighting just to pay the mortgage, you don't need a bookseller to tell you about the downside of a recession.
But there really are more ways to look at this thing, if you listen to Vicki Bailey, the general manager at Barnes & Noble.
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First, the bad news ...
"We're seeing a lot more self-improvement books than ever," Bailey says. "And we've added all the 'New Age' and religious titles into that same section. It's huge."
Bailey cites a company rule that prevents her from disclosing revenue figures, but publishing industry analysts suggest that sales of books claiming to make you feel better or rebuild your life are up around 25 percent.
Many of these, despite their titles, are depressing simply because common sense says the reader is going be disappointed.
Books like "Feeling Good" and "10 Days to Great Self-Esteem." both written by Dr. David D. Burns, aren't going to change anything quickly except the money in your pocket.
Ditto for: "Sort Your Life Out," by Pete Cohen; "Learned Optimism," by Martin Seligman; "Control Stress: Stop Worrying and Feel Good Now,"" by Paul McKenna; "59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot," by Richard Wiseman; and the ultimate con job, "The Secret," by TV producer Rhonda Byrne.
You've probably heard of "The Secret," since it got a turbo-boost from happiness guru Oprah Winfrey -- and sold a zillion copies.
The general theory in "The Secret" has something to do with what Byrne calls the "law of attraction," which generally means that if you wish hard enough for something, you'll get it.
Oliver James, himself an author who has written books on human behavior like "Affluenza," finds the premise espoused by Byrne and others outrageous -- and an insult to people seeking some stability in a crazy world.
"It's snake oil," James said in an interview, "and I explicitly reject it. Positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy, and the idea that anybody can be anyone, are American ideas involving what's basically sort of magical thinking.
"The purest example is 'The Secret,' which is a disgraceful book. It's just wicked, really. It doesn't have any kind of basis whatsoever.
"It says: 'If you want something you just have to wish for it, like my 4-year-old does. It's kind of psychology for toddlers.'"
That's a strong condemnation, despite the fact that James and others in the field do encourage optimism and hope -- and concede that an upbeat outlook can have some positive effects on day-to-day life.
But the rush to self-help books in general?
Fortunately, Bailey is seeing another side of the recession among book buyers, and it pleases her.
And that's the good news.
"Since the start of the recession, we've found we're selling a lot more children's books," she says. "I like to think that people who've found their budgets are now limited might be rejecting other purchases -- trips, dinners out and so forth -- to keep the focus on their families.
"That's encouraging. I hope the trend continues."
Bailey also has noticed that schools are ringing Barnes & Noble to request appearances by the store's "costume characters."
"We're hearing from them more often than ever," she says. "Maybe it's because there's a cutback in funding and they want help in presenting books to kids."
I'd like to believe that the recession has, however accidentally, nudged families closer together.
Bailey's experience seems to point that way.
If it's true, let's hope that some of the simple, basic values we've rediscovered in a time of financial stress are still around when times improve.
I'd rather believe that than imagining a society full of people reading "The Secret" and wishing for new refrigerators.
Steve Cameron is a freelance columnist for the Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.