Sunday, October 15, 2023

What Kind of Book is This?

One of the perks of my job is the number of books publishers are willing to send for review - we get a lot turn up and a lot we can choose to request. The expectation is that we'll review them on the company website in more or less glowing terms if we like them, and probably keep quiet about it if we don't. It's work for sure, but a nice part of it, and encourages me to take chances on books I wouldn't normally pay much attention to. Recently it's also thrown me a couple of things I don't know how to classify, but which look very much like an emerging trend. 

I'll write about both these books at more length later on, they both have plenty to recommend them, but I don't really understand what they are and I think that's an issue when I'm expected to sell them. Rebel Folklore might just about be a coffee table sort of book though initially, I assumed it was aimed at teens. DK publish a lot of kids reference books and the graphics did nothing to really dispel the image. Its designated home is actually in Myth and Spirituality, the forewords are serious and so is the treatment of the various Spirits, Witches, and other Misfits it looks at. And yet. 

It doesn't quite feel like a reference book, it isn't obviously for younger readers - though from what I've read so far it's entirely appropriate for younger teens and onwards. Melissa Jarram's illustrations are appealing but not coffee table impressive, and the format means it isn't really a book to curl up with - it's a bit too big to carry around or read easily in a chair.

We Are All Witches baffled me even more. It's meant to sit in History and Politics but its contents are fictionalized accounts of real women tried and convicted of witchcraft in Scotland. It's a serious subject that's had some serious attention in the last few years - I could, and possibly have, built a small library on the topic. The stories I've read definitely seem aimed at an adult audience, but the graphics, multi-coloured pages, outsize magazine-style quotes in a variety of not always easy to read fonts, and the reading group style prompts after each chapter make me think of school workbooks. Again the size and weight of it are awkward and it seems kind of a mess to me. I'm really enjoying the writing, but I have no idea who I'm meant to sell this book to, or how to pitch it. 

I'm annoyed because these are books I'd like to be more enthusiastic about but the format is holding me back, and concerned that the look of them is dictated by the possibility they'll be Instagram or tik tok friendly accessories for younger women. Maybe they will be and god knows I'm a fan of a pretty book and a stylish sprayed edge - but these aren't stylish enough in my opinion, and particularly for We are all Witches the initial overall impression is of dumbing down. Do adult women really want something that looks like a kids collection of fairy tales on the shelf? Is someone meant to read them to us at bedtime? Or are we to sit quietly at a table with our pretty books about witches and rebels performing an acceptably cute version of feminism?

It'll be interesting to see how they sell, and to who - maybe my assumptions are all off. 


  1. Oh that is interesting! I wonder what they're going for. Perhaps they're just pretty enough to be given as gifts by people who don't know the recipient super well.

    1. I really like the writing in both, and the format works better for Rebel Folklore - there's a few myth and spirituality books that lean this way, but We Are all Witches feels like a bit of a mess to me. As a paperback collection along the lines of Amy Jeff's Storyland I feel like it would be an easy sell, but as it is my guess is it'll miss its market. I hope I'm wrong, because I think the quality of the story telling is excellent.