I’ve worn a lot of hats to get a paycheck, but “trend forecaster” was undoubtedly the most unique. In my 20s and 30s, I worked for different companies predicting trends in the beauty and fashion sphere, with a little overtime in tech.
Sometimes the work was glamorous: oyster and champagne lunches to choose the new face of a major brand, or sniffing tonka beans and tangerine slices to map the next trend in perfume. And sometimes it wasn’t—all-night PowerPointing, working for label hounds who considered hand-me-downs a paycheck—but it was thrilling to have a job that kept my six senses engaged.
These days, I’m happier receiving a 1099 for writing about futurists than being one myself. It’s a tough time to be a trend forecaster! In education, the environment, civil rights, reproductive rights, things look pretty grim. Happily though, there’s one area where I think we’ll see a lot of positive growth in the near future, and that’s in books.
Here’s good news for publishing: printed objects offer time away from the news cycle, a hot commodity these days. Compared to pricey floats in a sensory deprivation tank or self-led meditation sessions where you usually end up making grocery lists rather than taking deep breaths, books offer an affordable and easy escape from reality, including the unsavory one unfolding on our touchscreens.
That’s not to say that digital publishing won’t continue to prosper—people aren’t ready to say sayonara to their screens—but rather that it’s going to become a status symbol of mindfulness to be seen reading a book.
If humanity is the remedy for inhumanity, community-building and in-person contact will be touchstones in the years ahead. Independent bookstores have long been the oasis of communities, and today they’re poised to thrive. Just as dedicated foodies are willing to cycle across town for an artisanal jar of mayonnaise, so too will many people opt to buy a special book in an actual book shop, where actual people work.
Giving books as gifts will also make a comeback (’cause we all have enough scented candles by now, right?), with cookbooks, feisty memoirs, and essay collections being especially popular. But you know what else is going to start moving off shelves? Poetry. Verse compositions with super concentrated language and the suggestive power to launch a thousand ships. Remember poems?
After slow food and slow goods, I predict that the next big thing will be slow communication. And what’s slower than the mail? Bookstores should start beefing up their stationery selections, because we’re about to see a rising interest in letter writing again. And in order to write letters, you have to know how to properly manipulate a writing instrument, a skill that many of us are losing as our digits fuse together from years of swiping left and right. I can easily envision handwriting classes becoming part of the event lineups at bookstores across the country, perhaps with the participation of local small-batch stationery brands.
Speaking of events: expect bookstores to become even more important community hubs than they are now, with political discussions, open mike nights, body language seminars, and meet-your-neighbor evenings complementing the more traditional author events and signings.
Trend forecasting is largely a game of opposites. In fashion, if this summer is about deconstruction, jagged edges, and bared shoulders, next summer will have those shoulders covered up. Trends in publishing have a longer life cycle—about two years, to fashion’s four months—but the rule that each swing of the pendulum prompts interest in its opposite holds true even in the land of books. Given the geopolitical reality of this (hopefully temporary) new America, readers will be clamoring to hear the voices some politicians are trying to suppress.
Happily, that means more female-powered alternative revenge stories (think The Vegetarian by Han Kang, or Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum), inclusive sci-fi and superhero fiction (Marvel Comics’ World of Wakanda), gutsy feminist memoirs (Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body), and epic works about the refugee experience that both terrify and inspire (Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen). Although it seems a perfect time for American readers to open their eyes and hearts to literature in translation, that hideous platform sneaker of yesteryear will probably make a comeback first.
Courtney Maum is a novelist and professional namer whose latest book, Touch, will be published on May 30 by Putnam.