When There are No Blockbusters

Oh the places you'll go

This is an interesting season in bookselling. There are no blockbuster bestsellers like The Martian or The Girl on the Train (still selling well). So you know what has been on the top of the bestseller lists lately? None other than Dr. Suess’s Oh! The Places You Will Go! a graduation gift favorite. Actually, his Green Eggs and Ham also made the top 20 in print sales this year.

adult coloring book fractalsWhat else is selling well right now? Well, adult coloring books continue to lead sales growth, though not at last year’s pace. My son has even gotten in on the action with his Adult Coloring Book: FractalsColoring books continue to lead the way in non-fiction sales, although self-help and religious books and Bibles also saw healthy increases. Currently Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is number 2 in Bookscan’s Top 20 Print Books. It is curious to speculate on what the combination of these trends means. Is life sufficiently stressful that the diversion and mental engagement of coloring, the quest for spiritual understanding, and caring for our own nests are our ways of responding? Or, apart from the tidying up aspect, are we attempting some kind of return to childhood? Maybe Marie Kondo is kind of like the voice of our mothers getting us to clean up our rooms!

It is interesting that during periods when there are no blockbusters that back list books appear or re-appear. For example, Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages was originally published in 1995 (I remember discussing this in a church small group around that time!). It has been re-packaged and re-published more recently. Tom Rath’s Strength Finders 2.0 also continues to sell well, perhaps due to its popularity among professionals in helping them identify the things they want on their resume’s. Several books with Harry Potter tie-ins are also in Bookscan’s Top 20. The only new work with significant sales is Paul Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air, the story of a neurosurgeon in training diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, who must reassess the meaning of his life as death approaches.

The big drop has been in the fiction category. No new book by Harper Lee or movie tie-ins like Andy Weir’s The Martian is driving sales. The closest thing is Jo Jo Moyes Me Before You, a love story that has been turned into a motion picture. The other fiction works are backlist from previous years. On the other hand, both juvenile fiction and non-fiction saw growth, led by the “holidays/festivals/religion” category.

One wonders with all the terrible world events and turmoil at home whether there is indeed some form of turning to spiritual values or turning inward. It is interesting even in the adult fiction categories that religion, science fiction, and graphic novels showed the greatest growth. Are we giving more time to contemplating dystopian futures or looking for some place to find hope?

Maybe I’m reading between the lines too much. It’s clear that in adult fiction, nothing has come along in terms of great writing or on popular themes similar to books in the recent past. Maybe this is a good occasion to catch up on some of the classics we’ve been meaning to read or re-read. I’ve noticed you can always find these at any good bookseller and they would be glad to help you find something good!


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