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Essays that touch the heart

Readers tired of their hectic lives take comfort in warm words

 

2019.07.08

 

Emotional essays that touch and 'heal' readers have seen no end to their popularity over the past several years. Works of writing that spell out everyday experiences and emotions in simple sentences as well as essays that provide comfort via narrators that are well-known animation characters have found immense demand from young readers in South Korea. 2018, in particular, was truly a year for these emotionally touching essays.

 

도서1

Pooh Bear, Happiness Happens Every Day, Every Moment Was You, Temperature of Language

 

According to 2018 bestseller data from online bookstore YES24, Pooh Bear, Happiness Happens Every Day (RH Korea) was the bestselling book last year. Two places behind this book was Every Moment Was You (Wisdom House) and in fifth place was Lee Ki-joo's Temperature of Language (Malgeulteo). Jeong Mun-jeong's How to Respond Smiling to a Rude Person (Gana) and Kim Su-hyun's I Have Decided to Live as Me stood at sixth and seventh place, respectively. In 10th place on the annual bestseller list was Baek Se-hee's I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Ttukbokki (Heun), making it six essay publications among the top bestselling books of 2018.
When readers were categorized by age, women in their 20s to 40s were found to have sought out essay books the most. Purchasers of the Winnie the Pooh essay collection were predominantly female, with women outnumbering men 8 to 2. By age group, readers in their 20s made up 22.4 percent of purchasers, while those in their 30s accounted for 34.1 percent. Those in their 40s took up 31.4 percent.
The reason behind this fervent demand for essays by readers in their 20s to 40s is thought to be the power of comfort and understanding the books carry. Readers found comfort and were moved by a familiar animation character, Winnie the Pooh, which they knew from a young age. This animation character, cute and familiar, offered words of comfort to readers who were tired of their hectic lives through the book. Prior to this trend, words of wisdom or advice usually came from books written by religious practitioners or members of academia. According to analysts, this recent shift towards more familiar voices reflects readers' needs for publications they can flip through for as short as 5 minutes to be comforted by words and illustrations in their lives, made difficult by volatile economic situations and high unemployment rates for South Korean youth. One such observer from YES24 says up to 7, 8 years ago, famous celebrity mentors like Kim Nando's Youth, It's Painful (Sam & Parkers) or Buddhist monk Hyemin's The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down (Sam & Parkers) were popular among readers with their insight into life in general. However, now readers want books that lend words of warm consolation like a friend would, asking how their day was.
Choi Kyung-min of RH Korea who planned the Winnie the Pooh essay series said, "We were looking for animation characters women in their 20s to 40s would likely have grown up with because they are the target customer base for essay collections". "In our search, we believed Disney's Winnie the Pooh best fit that criteria and started planning the series," Choi said, adding, "I think readers were drawn to phrases like 'don't mimic the happiness of others', 'cherish the road you are currently on' and 'it's OK if you go slow' because they are things that seem simple, but you want to hear them. The books likely saw help from the recent trend in which people seek out surefire happiness even if it's from something very small."

 

 

This fervent demand for essays by readers in their 20s to 40s is
thought to be a result of the power of comfort and understanding the books carry.

 

 

On social media platforms, readers of the Winnie the Pooh essay series uploaded excerpts from the books like 'special people are always inside our hearts', 'people who are happy for your good times are your true friends', 'my road can only be decided by me' and 'bodies don't lie; a weakened heart leads to weakened health'. The book saw much love on social media with readers hash-tagging the book and its warm words of advice.
Piggybacking on the success of the first book in the Winnie the Pooh essay series, the second installation in the series, Winnie the Pooh, It's OK Even if You Don't Hurry (RH Korea) was also loved by readers. South Korea's culture scene saw a Winnie the Pooh boom for a while as the publication coincided with the release of a Pooh movie, “Christopher Robin”. As readers snapped up Winnie the Pooh books, they were also drawn to animation character-led books featuring the likes of Bonobono, Doraemon, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Mickey Mouse, Peter Rabbit and Pororo.
Last year, readers also enjoyed reading self-reflective essay collections that give raw portrayals of everyday experiences and conflicts difficult to voice. Baek Se-hee's I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Ttukbokki saw immense popularity as she detailed the conversations she had with her physician while she was going through treatment for dysthymia, a persistent mild depression. At first, only a small number of copies was published, but after word of mouth spread, the book ended up being one of the top 10 bestselling books of last year. This book too was mostly purchased by women in their 20s to 40s. By age group, 19.5 percent of readers were in their 20s, 23.8 percent were in their 30s, and 21.9 percent were in their 40s.

 

도서2

I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Ttukbokki, To You Like Me, I Am Slightly Depressed But I am a Normal Person

 

As the Winnie the Pooh series fueled the publication of similar books, so did I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Ttukbokki. After this particular book was published, books like As I Send off My Depression (Mujintree), The Fall (Isup), To My Dear Self (Gufic), To You Like Me (Harmony Book) and I Am Slightly Depressed But I am a Normal Person (Nol) spilled out onto the shelves of bookstores.

 

 

This trend is essays that focus on the ‘self’.
Readers who feel they are losing themselves amid complicated
interpersonal relationships while becoming hurt have turned to essays
that focus on the ‘self’ rather than other people.

 

 

도서3

How to Respond Smiling to A Rude Person, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I Accidentally Worked Hard at Life

 

One other observation that has been made regarding this trend is that the essays focus on the ‘self. Readers who feel they are losing themselves amid complicated interpersonal relationships while becoming hurt have turned to essays that focus on the ‘self’ rather than other people. How To Respond Smiling To A Rude Person and Conversing So People Don't Take You for Granted (Hongik Books) in addition to The Distance Between You and I (Maven), I Have Decided to Live as Me (Maumsup), I Have Decided to Live Desensitized (Dasanchodang) all saw success through essays that focused on rejecting unfair requests from others and protecting oneself in relationships. Readers also adored books that told them to live their lives for themselves, like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Galleon) and I Accidentally Worked Hard At Life (Woongjin Jisikhouse). These books managed to capture the hearts of young readers not by drawing them away from goal-oriented lives but rather by nudging them towards happiness and protection against words that are hazardous to one's mental state, and that could stem from unjust treatment or excessive interference from others.
How to Respond Smiling to A Rude Person advises readers on how to speak to rude people readers can run into in their everyday lives. The book also explains how people have different perceptions of personal space and helps readers to react sensibly to rude people firmly with no emotional turmoil. I Have Decided to Live as Me advises readers to take time for themselves to look back on who they are. The book tells readers they need not fret over other people's social media accounts, and there is no need to make efforts blindly because they are anxious. As a result, this book found high interest among adult readers who have yet to discover who they truly are, despite their age.

 

도서4

I Like Myself the Way I Am, There Was Never a Day I Didn't Love You, I Will Embrace Your Heart

 

Although the following books are seeing less popularity this year, publications written by social media influencers were popular among female readers in their 20s and 30s in 2018. Ha Tae-wan's Every Moment Was You and Cho Yu-mi's I Like Myself the Way I Am (Hummingbird), Kim Jae-sik's There Was Never a Day I Didn't Love You (Sam & Parkers), Kim Ji-hoon's Because It's Special You (Jinsimeuikkot Hansongi) and his I Will Embrace Your Heart (Jinsimeuikkot Hansongi) all stayed on the bestsellers list for long periods during 2018. These books, featuring short stories of love and special people, were seen to have moved the hearts of female readers thirsty for emotional content.

 

 


Written by Yeon Seung (Reporter at Seoul Economic Daily)

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Yeon Seung (Reporter at Seoul Economic Daily)

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