The new nostalgia

<p>Shoppers may just get a sneaking feeling of d&eacute;j&agrave; vu when buying books this Christmas. Titles about reclaiming one&rsquo;s childhood, repackaged annuals from the 1970s, and children&rsquo;s books from yesteryear will sit alongside conventional Christmas big hitters like celebrity biographies and cookery books.</p>
<p>&ldquo;This Christmas in particular is the one for nostalgia books en masse,&rdquo; says Caroline Mileham, Borders books category manager. &ldquo;As we had miscellany in the past, this year we seem to have nostalgia.&rdquo;</p>
<p>The ubiquitous <i>Dangerous Book for Boys</i> by Conn and Hal Iggulden, perhaps the most successful example of retro publishing so far, stormed the bestsellers lists when it came out in June last year. Its infectious guides to skinning a rabbit, playing Dungeons &amp; Dragons, identifying clouds, and other such childhood ephemera proved such a hit that other publishers were&mdash;in the time-honoured way of publishing&mdash;swift to jump on the bandwagon.</p>
<p>Venetia Butterfield, publishing director at Viking, which published <i>The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls</i>, believes the book industry is lagging behind a wider societal appetite for all things retro, pointing out the success of old-school Adidas trainers or the quirky Cath Kidston range of kitchenware as two examples. &ldquo;Often people don&rsquo;t know there&rsquo;s a demand for various types of books until there&rsquo;s one big success,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s that that creates an entire genre. <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys</i> triggered it all when it came out last year.&rdquo;</p>
<p>People want respite from our fast-moving, sometimes chaotic modern livestyles driven by technology, Butterfield adds. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a reaction to the complications of our lives,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s looking back with an idealised view of the past where we thought life was simpler and we had more time for family and enjoying the great outdoors. There is a desire at the moment for the simple life when we had the time to make cup-cakes or climb trees.&rdquo;<br />
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<b>Glorious old days</b></p>
<p>Carlton Publishing was perhaps first off the mark, with a range of titles coming from Prion, its humour and nostalgia imprint. Piers Murray Hill, Carlton editorial director, says its first major success was <i>The Best of Jackie Magazine,</i> which came out in 2005. The success of Jackie was matched by reprints of the old Commando comics, 1970s children&rsquo;s magazine Look-in and the pocket comic <i>War Picture Library</i>, which Hill describes as &ldquo;the daddy of them all&rdquo;.</p>
<p><img width="124" vspace="10" hspace="10" height="177" border="1" align="left" alt="Jackie Annual" src="/documents/UserContributed/image/Bookseller%20Images/Jackieannual.jpg" /></p>
<p>&ldquo;A lot of this stuff hasn&rsquo;t been seen in years and people who had read it back then are surprised and de&shy;lighted to see it again now,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They also want to show to their children what they enjoyed when they were kids.&rdquo;</p>
<p>This when-I-was-young mentality could be behind the success of <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys,</i> which has inspired several spin-off titles and a forthcoming movie adaptation, as well as a multitude of books.</p>
<p>&ldquo;The reason <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys</i> worked was that you can tell it was written from the heart and was full of the passion of two men,&rdquo; Susan Watt, HarperCollins publishing director, says. &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t commissioned and it wasn&rsquo;t a publisher&rsquo;s idea either. It came from their own instincts and passions. It was Conn and Hal feeling that they wanted to share the activities and pastimes they had enjoyed as boys. And you can feel that in every page of the book.</p>
<p>&rdquo;Viking&rsquo;s Butterfield is effusive about <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys</i>. &ldquo;I loved it,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I bought it for numerous people and wondered why there hadn&rsquo;t been anything for girls.&rdquo; A manuscript then crossed her desk from authors Rosemary Davidson and Sarah Vine&mdash;<i>The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls </i>was the book she was looking for. Davidson had seen the potential in nostalgia publishing, having originally acquired <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys</i> when she worked at Bloomsbury as an editor; it subsequently moved to HarperCollins.</p>
<p>&ldquo;I met Rosemary [Davidson] and she struck a chord with me. Our childhoods were very similar, we both had a lot of sisters and loved the country and spending time making things. We were both parents and I was personally into the whole retro thing. The book was hugely commercial and I thought it would work.&rdquo;<br />
<br />
<b>Gift of Christmas past</b></p>
<p><i>The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls</i> is expected to be among the popular retro titles being bought as gifts this Christmas. Mileham at Borders says that nostalgia books work particularly well for retailers because they appeal to two different markets. &ldquo;The likes of the <i>Dangerous Book</i> . . . or <i>Glorious Book</i> . . . typically have a higher quality and r.r.p., and can both be bought as either a self-purchase or for a gift,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Books like A &amp; C Black&rsquo;s recent Dos and Don&rsquo;ts for Husbands and Wives have sold in great quantity for us at Borders. They have a lower r.r.p, and they&rsquo;re small, humorous and perfect impulse buys.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Watt at HarperCollins says that <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys</i> was very much designed with an eye to the gift market. &ldquo;We wanted the cover to be as high in terms of quality as the content inside it,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;The quality of the production was very important because we wanted readers to feel like they were buying something of a very high standard.&rdquo;</p>
<p><img width="141" vspace="10" hspace="10" height="177" border="1" align="right" src="/documents/UserContributed/image/Bookseller%20Images/adventurouschapsbookcover.jpg" alt="The Outdoor Book for Aventurous Chaps" /></p>
<p>Mileham also suggests that Summersdale&rsquo;s illustrated hardcover editions of the Janet and John books, which taught generations of children how to read, and <i>Boys and Girls: A Ladybird Book of Childhood</i>, are perfectly marketed towards Christmas success. &ldquo;These are books that many people aged 30 or above will remember learning to read with,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;There is great warmth and also humour in them now as you look back and see how things have changed so greatly.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Prion is releasing more in its War Picture Library series, including titles such as <i>Death or Glory</i> and <i>Unleash Hell</i>. &ldquo;Top Gear&rdquo; co-host James May has also produced the foreword to a collection of art from old war comics entitled Aarrgghh: It&rsquo;s War! &ldquo;He told us when we approached him: &lsquo;You are going to make so many men over 40 very happy&rsquo;,&rdquo; Hill explains. May says in the foreword: &ldquo;It may be the most important art book of the century.&rdquo; Interest in wartime publishing from yesteryear also continues to buoy the Bodleian Library&rsquo;s Instructions for Servicemen series.<br />
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<b>D&eacute;j&agrave; vu all over again</b></p>
<p>Nostalgia has affected publishing across other genres, too: Butterfield highlights Rose Prince&rsquo;s <i>New English Kitchen</i>, published by Fourth Estate, as an example of where a passion for all things vintage has influenced books. &ldquo;In many ways, she&rsquo;s going back to a traditional strand of cooking&mdash;making a chicken last a week, for example.&rdquo; Mileham perceives also that parents buy for their children the books that they remember from their own childhoods, such as <i>Alice&rsquo;s Adventures in Wonderland</i> or <i>Dr Seuss</i>.</p>
<p>Watts argues that there has even been a trend for nostalgia among fiction buyers in recent years; for example, with the continued success of authors such as Ken Follett, Clive Cussler, Bernard Cornwell&mdash;masters of the escapist, swashbuckling tale, some of whom rose to fame during the 1970s.</p>
<p>Another author whose retro touch has helped his popularity is Alexander McCall Smith. &ldquo;His books have a comfortable feel and his style of writing is delightfully old-fashioned,&rdquo; Butterfield says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s non-threatening, and it&rsquo;s part of his success. The world seems a simple place where wrongs are righted. There&rsquo;s good and bad, but good always wins. There&rsquo;s a real thirst for books like this.&rdquo;<br />
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<b>Plenty more mileage</b></p>
<p>How long will this harking back continue? Butterfield believes that the current trend is in part a counterpoint to the popular science boom at the turn of the millennium. &ldquo;There is an interest in how the world was, not in how it will be,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;But these trends are all cyclical.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Publishers, though, are hoping that the enthusiasm for nostalgia will continue for a little while longer, and are preparing for other gift occasions in 2008: Prion will publish <i>Valentine Picture Story Library: True Love </i>in early February to coincide with Valentine&rsquo;s Day. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s comic strip stories based on popular songs of the 1950s and 1960s,&rdquo; Hill says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s wonderfully cheesy.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Butterfield believes there are at least another 18 months of strong sales ahead, before the market becomes bogged down under the weight of its own memories. &ldquo;When there are a bunch of rip-offs, with too many publishers jumping on the bandwagon, that&rsquo;s when the vogue will move on. But nostalgia will last a while.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Watt predicts it will be at least another several years before the trend starts to wane. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll go retro for five or 10 years&mdash;and then it will be all things futuristic.&rdquo;</p>
<table width="273" height="804" cellspacing="5" cellpadding="5" border="0" bgcolor="#cce6ff">
<caption>
<p><i>BOOKS: BETTER THAN THEY USED TO BE?</i></p>
</caption>
<tbody>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td width="50%" height="40">
<p>The Bachelor Girl&rsquo;s Guide to Everything</p>
</td>
<td width="50%" height="40">
<p>November (Oneworld)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td width="50%">
<p>The Best of &lsquo;June&rsquo; and &lsquo;Schoolfriend&rsquo;</p>
</td>
<td width="50%">
<p>September (Prion)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td width="50%">
<p>Boys and Girls: The Ladybird Book of Childhood</p>
</td>
<td width="50%">
<p>October (Frederick Warne)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td width="50%">
<p>The Bumper Book of Look and Learn</p>
</td>
<td width="50%">
<p>September (Century)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td width="50%">
<p>The Dangerous Book for Boys Yearbook</p>
</td>
<td width="50%">
<p>September (HarperCollins)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>Eagle Annual of the 1950s</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>October (Orion)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>Eating for Victory</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>September (Michael O&rsquo;Mara)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>The Good Wife Guide</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>November (Cider Mill Press)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>Hopscotch and Handbags: The Essential Guide to Being a Girl</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>August (Review)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>Jackie Annual: All Your Favourites</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>September (Prion)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>Janet and John: Here We Go</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>September (Summersdale)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>Make Do and Mend</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>September (Michael O&rsquo;Mara)</p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr valign="top" align="left">
<td>
<p>The Outdoor Book for Adventurous Chaps</p>
</td>
<td>
<p>October (Prion)</p>
</td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>
<p>&nbsp;</p>