Saturday, 7 July 2012

Recommending Books for Grown-Ups - Cathy Butler



Here at ABBA we usually talk about children’s books, and sometimes about children. But what about adults? Not many people realise that adults have books written especially for them, too, and that it’s a thriving market. In order to learn about the world of adults’ books, I’ve asked Moira Skidelsky of The Square Grey Bookshop in Hampstead, a shop specializing in books for grown-ups, to say a few words about the often-mysterious world of adults and their reading...


Buying books for adults – it can be a puzzle, can’t it? Adults have such strange, changeable tastes. Things that seem hugely interesting to you may be matters of indifference to them, and vice versa. They’re passionate about the LIBOR rate one week, and before you know it they’ve moved on to the next “very important subject”. No wonder, then, that when it comes to birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I have so many children consulting me about what and how to buy.

The first thing to remember is that adults are at an age when they’re trying to establish and maintain their own place in the world. They may like to give the impression of  being independent and mature, but they always have one uneasy eye on what the next adult is doing, scared of standing out (too much!) from the crowd. So, it's a good idea to find out about the latest buzz books amongst the adults around you. Take a peek at what your adult’s friends are reading, or look at the posters in bus and railway stations. A word of warning, though. Crazes can be very intense, but they can also disappear with baffling rapidity, never to be seen again. Your adult won’t thank you if you buy them The Bridges of Madison County or The Da Vinci Code when the “in” crowd is reading Fifty Shades of Grey!

One question I always ask customers is: are you buying for a man or a woman? It’s important to understand that men and women like quite different things, which is why in my shop I have separate sections marked “Books for Men” and “Books for Women” – just as children's publishers sometimes have separate lists of Books for Boys and Books for Girls. Naturally, the Men’s section features a lot of guns, cars, money and sex; while the Women’s section is dominated by clothes, make-up, sex and money. Sometimes a child will complain to me about “reinforcing tired old gender stereotypes”, but believe me, I’ve been working in adults’ books for many years now, and you can’t fight nature. It’s just the way God made them! Vive la difference!

Occasionally children say to me: “My parents are in the middle of a messy divorce”, or “My godfather has just lost a close relative – what books can you recommend to help him understand and cope with the unfamiliar emotions he may be feeling?” Well, I believe there’s no more noble or worthwhile use for literature than as a form of amateur psychotherapy, and to this end I have compiled lists of books to meet most of the common adult dilemmas and crises. For adults dealing with issues of infidelity I always keep some handy copies of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. For those struggling with the loss of a parent, what could be more helpful than Hamlet? While those facing issues of self-worth or pressure at work will no doubt draw immense comfort from reading Death of a Salesman or Glengarry Glen Ross.

The last thing I’d stress is that every adult is a unique individual. It’s easy to lump all adults together and assume they must have similar tastes and ideas, simply because they are at the same "adult" stage in their lives. In fact, however, the problems of a twenty-five-year-old are quite distinct from those of someone aged seventy, while an adult living in an affluent Surrey suburb may have a very different experience of the world from one living in a small village in Mali. Every adult, rich or poor, man or woman, has their own hopes, dreams – and, increasingly, regrets. And that, as I always say, is what makes working in adults' books such a rewarding and interesting specialism.


28 comments:

Penny Dolan said...

Not even 7am and I'm smiling. This is just brilliant, Cathy!

Stroppy Author said...

Brilliant! Spot on. Thank you :-)

Polly said...

fantastic.

Joan Lennon said...

Wise words - maybe we should see about some legislation insisting that every adult gathering place has its own bespoke library? No action is too unimaginable to protect this vulnerable group.

Catherine Butler said...

Thank you, Penny, Stroppy and Polly!

Joan, I agree. There is a reading crisis amongst today's adults. When compared to the rest of the population, adults read very few books indeed. I don't know whether there is an easy answer, but I feel increasingly that the time has come for the Government to appoint a Tsar to tackle the situation head on. That should sort it.

Penny Dolan said...

As long as those readers are tested first and understand apostrophe's?

(Yes, it's a deliberate mistake.)

Susan Price said...

Cathy - so funny! Thank you!

Farah Mendlesohn said...

ROFWL!

Have tweeted this.

Sheenagh Pugh said...

I love your irony, but would like to bet that many of our dear fellow-citizens will take it in earnest...

Vanessa Harbour said...

Just wonderful, a perfect read to make you smile on a really soggy day. Thank you

Keren David said...

Brilliant! Love it..

frances thomas said...

Great post, Cathy

Miriam Halahmy said...

Well said that writer!!!

Tam said...

Excellent stuff! On the subject of a Reading Tsar - not Gove...anyone but him...

Maria Nikolajeva said...

Great! I usually say something like this when asked silly questions during drink receptions and table conversations. Especially about Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. I also use King Lear for those suffering from age anxiety. Will pinch some fo your wording. Thank you

Clémentine Beauvais said...

Absolutely wonderful, thank you!

Moira Butterfield said...

Ha ha1 Love it. A perfect blog.

Emma Barnes said...

And remember, it doesn't matter what they read as long as they are reading. Try offering them a car maintenance manual...or the Argos catalogue...

Sue Purkiss said...

Great!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Powerful and funny; brilliant!

Meg Rosoff said...

Cathy, you are a genius. And I don't say that very often.

Meg Rosoff said...

Cathy, you are a genius. And I don't say that very often.

Catherine Butler said...

Thank you all for your kind comments! I'm only glad to have been able to bring this neglected group of readers to wider attention.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Absolutely brilliant. Thank you Cathy.

John Dougherty said...

This is possibly one of my favourite posts ever. Marvellous.

Linda Strachan said...

Excellent!

Naomi Wood said...

I am so glad to see someone attending to the reading needs of this neglected group; so many adults watch TV, play video games, or surf the net instead of reading. Have you considered a career in journalism? -- Thanks for the laugh, Cathy!

Naomi Wood said...

I am so glad to see someone attending to the reading needs of this neglected group; so many adults watch TV, play video games, or surf the net instead of reading. Have you considered a career in journalism? -- Thanks for the laugh, Cathy!