Thursday, 1 August 2013

Chicken Soup For The Soul 20th Anniversary Edition (Canfield, Hansen and Newmark [eds])

--The blurb--
"The twentieth anniversary edition of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul is brimming with even more hope and inspiration - the stories you’ve always loved, plus bonus stories, plus 20 bonus stories from today’s thought leaders. Twenty years later, Chicken Soup for the Soul continues to open the heart and rekindle the spirit. Celebrate the twentieth anniversary with the classic book that inspired millions -- reinvigorated with bonus stories of inspiration! You will find hope and inspiration in these 101 heartwarming stories about counting your blessings, thinking positive, and overcoming challenges."

--The review--
It could be argued that America invented the self-improvement genre as we know it today, especially thanks to pioneers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (who used the term 'self-help' in his 1841 essay, Compensation), Dale Carnegie (who wrote the ever-successful How To Win Friends And Influence People in 1936) and Napoleon Hill (author of Think And Grow Rich, penned in 1937). Today the industry is worth around $9 billion; and now with around 500 million Chicken Soup for the Soul books now having been sold worldwide, it's fair to say that they are one of the biggest self-help series around. And that's before you even count the revenue made from the brand's forays into other sectors: as just a few examples, you can buy Chicken Soup for the Soul DVDs, board games, greeting cards, puzzle books, dog food (yes, really), and - of course - soup. This all clocked up $2bn in retail sales in just ten years. So now that it's been twenty years since the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book hit the shelves, how does this new collection celebrate? What can it possibly add to a clearly already thriving brand?

Existing fans of the series will already be familiar with several of the stories the anniversary edition contains - but rereading these is like catching up with an old schoolmate and being pleased to see them, rather than being bored by them and feeling like they should just finish up their coffee and leave. New stories have also been added, which fit in seamlessly with the tone and style of the old. As Chicken Soup for the Soul is an international series, it was equally encouraging to see a few UK-based stories added to the collection, rather than the compilation being wholly rooted in the US. With luck, this is something that will continue to improve about the series: while many of its readers are from America, the brand's founders are quick to acknowledge its worldwide readership, so to see more stories from readers from these countries would be more representative.

Stories from great thinkers of our age, such as Deepak Chopra, have also been included in this edition. While it's a good way to recognise the brand's success, it also highlights why the at-times criticized homogeneous style in which the stories are written is in fact used. Even though some readers may be pleased to see writers' individual styles take on a more significant role, as variation in style is always welcome, this new approach is also in fact the anniversary edition's downfall, as not all of the luminaries the editors have chosen are actually able to write clearly and in a way that's meaningful and practical.

However, none of this stops the collection from doing what it ultimately sets out to do: proving that it's still as relevant to readers as it ever was. The stories, even if they are overly saccharine at times, generally continue to surprise, move, and provoke thought. The ever-expanding collection of titles (now numbering over 200) also continues to accompany readers throughout their lives: readers of the teen and kid series ten years ago may now be looking for a book to appeal to their hobby, birthplace, profession, or status as a new parent (hear that, Duchess of Cambridge?). Introducing the series to a new generation of readers is just one of the important roles that the brand has in keeping people positive and inspiring them to overcome new challenges - and those things will never get old.

For a full list of Chicken Soup for the Soul titles, see the official website.

No comments: