Getting Real (A Little Too Real?) With Coloring Books Intended For Adults

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If you’ve visited our bookstore lately–or any bookstore for that matter–you’ve probably noticed that we are carrying a ton of coloring books intended for grown-up people. Paisley prints, urban scenes, weird animals, intricate mandalas–we’ve got it all displayed on two of our three floors. It’s possible you’ve read about the persistent publishing trends underlying the presence of adult coloring books in bookshops across the nation, and about the psychological studies in support of the mental health and wellness benefits that might be attributed to the activity of coloring inside the lines. And perhaps you’ve read the snarkier skeptics of the trend also. (To which I sorta shrug and go, “Don’t tell me what to do; I’m grown.”)

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At Literati, we are pretty uniformly in favor of following your joy. So here’s a public service announcement: If you’re a grown adult and you want to color, we are not going to shame you for it. We shall applaud you for getting your coloring on. You do not have to casually throw in your Enchanted Forest coloring book in a pile of Hannah Arendt and the first three volumes of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. We know you’re grown. We know you are for real. We don’t really care if you are coloring to calm yourself, or in the name of making art, or because you’re simply charmed by the well-ordered black and white drawings of kitchenware on the pages of the Secret Paris coloring book. Do you. Get yours.

But here’s some undeniable truth-telling: “People are stressed and anxious all the time.”

(Is that the realness or is that The Realness?)

Our world buzzes incessantly. There’s joy, sure, moments of connection, meaning, and bliss. But then there’s the other stuff, the daily fie, that which distracts, controls, threatens, paralyzes us with what philosopher Deleuze and fiction writer Veronica Gonzalez Peña call “the sad passions,” or frightens us. The large and small horrors, such as: credit card debt, illness, illness without health insurance, childhood sorrow, risk, heartbreak, loss, violence, student loans, unkindness, public speaking, scraping the windshield after wintry mix, war, exes on the internet, recession, crappy jobs, hair loss, weight gain, online dating, family psychodrama, insomnia, regret, shame. (Whew, I’m exhausted.)

We often feel powerless before these scary vacuums. It can seem impossible to make the correct choice in these situations. Often, we take too many naps or stare at our phones too long in order to cope (or to simply avoid that powerless feeling). But what we’re often seeking is that sense of flow, of immersion. And sometimes it’s a good idea to step away from the vortex, and only have to choose between purple and red in order to fill in the translucence on the feathers of a Parisian pigeon.

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I’ll leave you with the words of this New York Times writer: 

“My longest stretch coloring was an hour while awaiting delivery of time-sensitive documents that I feared were lost. Coloring distracted me from worrying about something I couldn’t control or fix. I channeled the book’s subtitle, “Color Your Way to Calm,” and could feel anxious thoughts waning as I concentrated on the picture. Coloring required just enough attention to disrupt the obsessive loop playing in my mind. It wasn’t so much relaxation as immersion in something else.”

Sounds nice. And more satisfying than chewing on my fingernails and weeping after getting off the phone with my student loan consolidation service. (Ha. Ha. Kidding. Sorta.)

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