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!


Adult Coloring Books

Adult Coloring Books

The current top-selling adult coloring book

OK. I didn’t see this one coming. Do you know what the category was that saw the greatest increase in book sales this past year? It was art/architecture/photography and the increase of 60% over 2014 was driven by…adult coloring books! Many of these feature geometric patterns or intricate pictures that can be colored with pencils, ink, even crayons! Here is a sample, drawn from Amazon’s current best sellers in the category of coloring books for grownups.

Julie Beck wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic on “The Zen of Adult Coloring Books“. She describes her own discovery of these and why she thinks they have become the rage. Two things stood out. One was that they are huge stress-relievers. She writes:

“Coloring offers that relief and mindfulness without the paralysis that a blank page can cause. It’s easier in the way that ordering from a restaurant with a small menu is easier than deciding what you want at Denny’s, where you could eat almost anything. This is the paradox of choice, and it’s been well-studied—too many options is overwhelming. But with coloring, you know what you’re working with. You just choose how to fill it in.”

She also remarks that it is great to have something to do with one’s hands while watching TV. She confesses that a life of multi-tasking makes it difficult to devote all of one’s attention to what’s on the screen:

“In part, it’s because I feel a little less lazy if I’m making something while I wile away the hours with Friday Night Lights. But also, I’m watching TV in the first place to relax, to quiet my mind, and often my mind is loud enough that it shouts over Coach Taylor. I really do think that a lifetime of multitasking has left me occasionally incapable of subduing the entirety of my mind with one activity. If the front of my mind is occupied by the show, and the back is focused on picking colors and staying in the lines, there’s not room for much else. It’s a sort of mindfulness that’s more like mind-fullness.”

I found this last quite interesting. I wonder about this habit of multi-tasking and what it means for us that we don’t have pursuits to which we give our full and undivided attention. In later life I’ve become more engaged in artistic endeavors from painting and drawing to choral singing and writing. What I’ve found in all of these is that they require my full attention (maybe that reflects an aging brain!). And when I engage in such activities I truly feel more aware, more attentive.

I really don’t want to sound like an old crank, and I can see how coloring books can fill the time while watching a show, or waiting in an airline terminal–some activity that requires a certain amount of attention but not our complete attention. What I wonder is how long will this activity of filling in geometric shapes and mazes and figures occupy our attention? I wonder how many half-colored books we’ll see turning up in garage sales? Will used bookstores sell partially colored books?

I’d be curious what others think about this. I have to admit I haven’t tried this so I can’t write from the experience. I’d enjoy hearing from others, both those who tried adult coloring books and then put them down, and those who love these. When do you like to color and what does it do for you?