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The “Healing Fiction” Fever

Trending: Fiction With the Theme of Healing Space




Because I work in a book review team in a press agency, I meet dozens of books every week. And, recently, novels with similar designs and colors caught my attention, and I collected them on one side of the office. Then, one day, one of my colleagues from another team came to say hello, saw the stacks, and asked, “What are they? Are they a series?” Oh, yes. They may appear to belong to the same series, as they are so similar - in terms of atmosphere, not context. Every book seems to be indistinguishable from the others. Their warm color tone, and the “thing.” They all have some “house” drawn on their covers. So, even though people say that this is the generation of non-book-readers, I thought that it was worthy enough to write an article about this phenomenon as there must be a reason for their commonality.
In fact, articles about this trend have been around since last spring. Some examples are: “Conditions for Becoming a Best seller? Healing, Safe Space, and E-books (Hankookilbo, February 10, 2022),” “The Covers Tell You – the Secret is ‘Pictures’ (Donga Ilbo, March 16, 2022),” “Five Twins? Books with a Lightened-up Bookstore Drawn on the Cover Go Best seller (Maeil Business, September 2, 2022),” “A Must-have for a Best seller (Chosun Ilbo, September 2, 2022),” and “The Backlash to Uncanny Convenience Store (Newsis, September 14, 2022).” Just look at the titles, and you will be able to analyze the market. In short, there are so many novels featuring an ordinary place around us, such as a convenience store, bookstore, library, and department store, and they are proved to be popular among readers, ultimately becoming best sellers. Also, such a success story has even led to similar novels pouring into the market. As I looked deeper into the current trend in the market, I found out that they have become a new type of “genre.” A new genre of “healing fiction.”


The so-called “healing novels” featuring ordinary places around us are being loved by
Korean readers as a new “genre.”


It’s the way the markets have been. Books are no exception. If there is a successful book, you can soon find “followers.” But, what exactly is “healing fiction”? How can the modifier “healing” be attached to novels? This is the most interesting point. And how did this “healing fiction” become the no.1 seller in bookstores?


“Healing fiction” heals your mind


“Unharmful novels” are usually referred to as “healing novels” among the readers. These novels are those that you can read comfortably without having to consume much energy while reading. They are also comforting and invigorating. Free of any difficult or complex plot, these “healing novels” are about empathy, healing, comfort, courage, and solidarity. The characters would come together in places like convenience stores or bookstores and tell their stories. They do not oblige readers to concentrate on certain characters, so it is fine to start reading from any part of the book. As people read the characters’ personal stories and become familiar with their backgrounds, they are slightly encouraged and feel empathy. However, for such a structure to be constructed, the novel needs a certain place where the characters gather, which is why there is a picture of a building on all the book covers.
Some of the common features that the covers of these “healing novels” have are dark nights, a building with low light flowing from the window, and above all, a store. Some say that the trend began with Keigo Higashino’s The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, but among the books written by Korean writers, the book Dallergut Dream Department Store (Sam & Parkers) by Lee Mi-Ye sparked the craze. Also, Midnight Library featuring a library, drew popularity at the same time, which marked the beginning of other similar types of novels published in the market.





Dallergut Dream Department Store, Uncanny Convenience Store, and Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong



This year, Kim Ho-Yeon’s Uncanny Convenience Store (Namu Bench) was at the center of the trend. It features a story about a man, formerly homeless, having the opportunity to work part-time at a convenience store owned by an old woman to whom he returned a wallet he picked up from the street. The man, who has lost his memory to alcoholic dementia, begins to restore them as he interacts with customers with various backgrounds and stories. The guests, who were initially wary and suspicious of the man, find comfort and courage through him. The most dramatic scene is when the man working at this “uncanny” convenience store recovers his memory by living regularly, quitting alcohol, and realizes his identity. Although there are not many great narratives or elements of tension in general, it has been chosen as the ‘Book of the Year’ by various bookstores just by word of mouth. It is said that its first volume sold 700 thousand cumulative copies, followed by its recently released sequel, which has already sold 100 thousand copies in the only first edition.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 44 – Go to the interview with writer Kim Ho-Yeon


Alongside Uncanny Convenience Store, there’s another book leading the “healing novel” frenzy – writer Hwang Bo-Reum’s Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong (Clay House). There was also a time when both books fought for first place on the best seller list. A convenience store and a bookstore are both familiar places for us. The book’s cover was also drawn by illustrator Ban Ji-Soo, who designed the cover of Uncanny Convenience Store. The book Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong revolves around a small, ordinary bookstore open in a residential neighborhood. The protagonist, who quit working at an office and opened a bookstore, feels like the persona of writer Hwang Bo-Reum who is said to have left her job to write novels. The writer said she wanted to write a novel that starts with the letter “hyu (休; to rest).” The book is also famous for its “legendary myth,” where it was first serialized on a writing platform, then published as an e-book, and made it to official publication as a paper book following readers’ explosive request. The bookstore described in the book is a place organized by the protagonist, “Youngjoo,” who is worn out to her soul. As she runs the store with her philosophical values, Youngjoo interacts with her neighbors and builds solidarity.
Both books, Uncanny Convenience Store and Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong, have also changed their cover, which is generally considered the privilege of “hit” books. Unlike the initial cover characterized by the twilight evening and the warm light coming from the store, the special edition came with a new cover, including cherry blossoms on a spring day and the freshness of the green forest. The two books were ranked 1st and 9th, respectively, in Kyobo Bookstore’s total sales in the first half of 2022. There were five novels among the top 10; Pachinko (8th) - the Apple original, Dallergut Dream Department Store (6th), and Midnight Library (10th) are examples. If we take out Pachinko, the rest are all “healing novels.”


“Healing novels” and changing trends


The places featured in the recently released “healing novels” have started to diversify. Yet, they are all places that we see every day and visit often. Whether it is a convenience store, a bookstore, a photo studio, a sauna, a pharmacy, or a lunch box shop, these are familiar places, even though some have fantasy elements. Now, there must be readers that instinctively pick up books if they have some “place” drawn in the center of the cover. These settings and covers must have a reason for being a “condition for a best seller.” So, let’s look at some of the recently released “healing novels” and their covers.
Kim Ji-Hye’s Books’ Kitchen (Sam & Parkers) is mainly about the protagonist wrapping up her life in the city and opening a nice reading place in the suburbs. The basic setting is quite similar to Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong. Published in May, this book has been steadily loved by readers, as can be seen from its 20th place on the best sellers’ list for fiction announced by Kyobo Bookstore. On the cover, you can see a two-storey building in a lush forest, which is the perfect representation of the typical “healing novel.” Other similar cases are Heo Tae-Yeon’s Hakuda Studio (Noll) which has a photo studio on its cover, and Lee Sun-Young’s Botero Family’s Love Pharmacy (Clay House), which has a pharmacy in the place.





Books’ Kitchen, Hakuda Studio, and Botero Family’s Love Pharmacy



There’s also another interesting phenomenon happening in the market – Japanese fiction has joined the “healing novel” competition! The book Going to Gobayashi Bookstore Again Today, which has already become a best seller for fiction after it was published in August, is just about the same book as Uncanny Convenience Store and Welcome to Bookstore Hyunamdong. You can get a glimpse of this by looking at the publisher’s quote, “The warmest neighborhood bookstore that gives comfort and hope for a new way forward.” Also, This is Custard, We Sell Special Lunch Boxes, and Strange Sauna are all written by Japanese writers, each with a lunch box shop and a sauna drawn on the cover. These are common spaces, but they have something special and suspicious. Also, the mysterious “luck” that people visiting those places get is another condition that they meet as a “healing novel.” Oh, there’s another book, which features a place that might not exist in reality but seems as if we can bump into it in our neighborhood. It is Face Rental Shop. Let’s look at how the publisher introduces it. “The one and only healing novel that will heal your wounded spirit in the tough world.” “Welcome to the transformation mask rental shop.” Oh, aren’t these familiar? And most of the books I have introduced just now are ranked within the top 100 for fiction.
The publishing industry analyzed that more publishing houses looked for novels in a similar mood after the book The Miracles of the Namiya General Store. Such a move affected Korean fiction as well. But now, with the success of Uncanny Convenience Store, the publishing companies are even combing through Japanese fiction, looking for similar books. As the statistics say that there are almost 50 titles with similar covers and titles following Uncanny Convenience Store, maybe the rumor is not that groundless. Perhaps, “healing novels” are flooding the market because the generation is in need of courage, consolation, and healing more than ever. But, was there a time that did not need them?
Every time humanity went through hard times, “devices” to encourage them were newly born. Maybe “healing novels” are part of that. Or, perhaps the role of novels and what the people pursue in them have changed. Novelist Franz Kafka once said, “A book must be an axe that shatters the frozen sea inside of us.” Maybe fiction can no longer be “the axe.” Modern people, surrounded by all the “good stuff” displayed on Social Media and plenty of video content, are busy and fatigued without doing anything. This means that they do not have the energy to expect dramatic fun in novels or pursue artistic values. The “healing novels” are enough for them, who yearn for slow stories and calm emotions that just tell them that they are doing good, and everyone is experiencing pretty much the same thing.


The novels that readers want change in various ways reflecting the different trends.


Feminism and queer literature have become mainstream in Korean literature, and with Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny (Arzak) becoming the final nominee for the Booker Prize, Sci-Fi and thriller have also joined the mainstream. However, considering commercial achievement, there’s no “trend” that has had a massive influence with a big market like “healing novels.” If we look at the craze and popularity in the market, the “healing novel” fever is likely to continue in the near future. So, even though it might not be easy for the existing literary circle to criticize them based on literary values, the publishing industry, including literary publishers, will not be able to turn a blind eye to this trend.
Still, one day people will grow sick of these endless “healing novels,” and desire to read the opposite type of novels that smash our hearts like an “axe.” There are already voices that carefully argue that they are tired of seeing similar stories with similar covers. Thus, as trends lead to other trends, novels will lead to other novels, creating new pathways. Oh, before that, I hope people buy more books. Whatever it might be. I hope the era of novel-lovers is back once and for all. Perhaps then comes the birth of a masterpiece or a failure.





Written by Park Dong-Mi (Journalist at Munhwa Ilbo)



Park Dong-Mi (Journalist at Munhwa Ilbo)

#Healing Fiction#Uncanny Convenience Store#Trends#Healing Space#Dallergut Dream Department Store
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