Times are hard. People are out of work. A worldwide financial crisis is scaring the pants off of a lot of us. How can we possibly fix that? We feel helpless, so we look for escape. A novel about some other world, where imaginary people have even worse problems, but somehow manage to get through them and emerge in shining glory.
I'm so there. Reading to escape stress and fear has always been a part of my life. I pick up a book by an author I know and trust (Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Dick Francis, Janet Evanovitch, Carrie Vaughn, etc. etc.) and I feel safe again. I doesn't even matter if I've read the book before. I want comfort, and I trust the novelist to give it to me.
Here's something else—I also escape the world's woes by writing. In a world that I've built, I know all the rules and control the outcome. (I don't claim to control the characters—often they tell me in no uncertain terms that I'm full of it.) I can play there, have wars, torment my characters, and I know I'll always come out safe at the end.
Now, some people look down on escapism, and say we should spend our time trying to solve the world's problems instead of running from them. I agree that we can't always run, but I believe a certain amount of escape is healthy. We need down time to recover from daily stress. Without it, we get sick, plain and simple. I like C.S. Lewis's comment, that that the usual enemies of escape are jailers.
So pick up a book and get away for an hour or so. You have my permission.