When one has a small bookshop, special orders for customers are a daily occurrence. No matter how carefully the planned ordering is done, there is not space for everything. Requests from shoppers are one of the ways I find out what our community wants; the New York Times Bestseller List is good, but the books listed are not necessarily the most desired in our town. Every bookseller has to both keep up with large trends and keep in touch with the local world. Even if a special request is not for something I think will be widely popular, it leads me to books of interest I might otherwise have missed, and I frequently order a few extra copies knowing I have customers with similar tastes.
Last week one of my “regulars,” an avid crime fiction fan, asked me to order two books with which I was unfamiliar: The Secret Garden and The Enchanted Forest,
both by Johanna Basford. I thought perhaps she was moving on to another genre, until I looked them up. Well, yes, they are in a different category from her normal Scandinavian whodunits. They are coloring books – for adults. And thus my introduction to a phenomenon I had missed completely.
Both books are out of stock at the publisher, as is every other adult coloring book I was able to identify. Apparently they were the bestselling books on Amazon until the publisher ran out; so I and the big guy both wait patiently for some reprinting. In the meantime, I decided to look a little deeper into this sudden popularity of what was once considered childhood entertainment.
Unlike the books we remember filling up with our crayons, the adult versions are extremely detailed and complex, and are printed on high quality paper to allow for use with markers, pencils, Sharpies, or any other method the would-be artist chooses , without bleeding through. Basford’s books have hidden details, such as butterflies or squirrels, and a list in the beginning pointing out what to look for. According to one review, there are also clues to a puzzle to solve at the end.
This trend apparently started in Great Britain, where Basford’s books have been bestsellers for over a year. When published here in March, they sold out within two weeks. As I asked more and more people if they were aware of adult coloring books, I found that those who have been lucky enough to get these volumes love them. The most frequent description I heard was “relaxing.” Friends troubled with insomnia find that a few minutes of coloring leads to a good night’s sleep. Those stressed at the end of the workday find that taking out the markers and coloring book lowers that old cortisol level almost immediately.
There are various theories about why this activity is so relaxing. Some say that it’s an appeal to nostalgia, that it takes us back to a simpler time in our lives when someone else worried about the mortgage and the food shopping. Some say that we all are aspiring artists, but that being confronted with a blank page is too frightening. Having the pictures already drawn, and using our own creativity with color to complete the work, is an outlet for that desire. Others claim that the appeal is in the sense of accomplishment: having a finished work of art is satisfying in a world where most of our labors are on recurring tasks (everything from housework to running a business falls here for me).
More complicated analyses of the coloring book craze involve “digital detox,” mindfulness, meditative benefits, and the connections between use of our hands and certain centers in the brain. Whatever the cause of the peace and contentment that coloring is bringing to the grownup world, there’s no denying its popularity. Everyone wants to try it, including me. Whenever those backordered books finally come, I have one reserved for myself. I’ll let you know if it’s as relaxing as they say – unless I’m too unwound to write.