Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mathew E. Adams

Published by Health Communications

336 pages, 2002

Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Meladee McCarty & Hanoch McCarty

Published by Health Communications

357 pages, 2002


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Awash in Chicken Stock

Reviewed by Aaron Blanton

 

The great vat of golden broth that built an empire is now a well known story in publishing circles. I'll recount it for you, briefly, anyway, just in case.

In the early 1990s, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen tried flogging the manuscript for a book that consisted of 101 carefully chosen stories intended to "clarify, move and inspire" the reader. By Hansen's count, the book was rejected by 140 publishers. In 1992, the president of Health Communications, a then fairly small publisher, agreed to give the book a try. Chicken Soup for the Soul was published in April of 1993. By the following September a groundswell -- and a lot of handsell -- had pushed the book onto all of the important lists, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and USA Today.

Now, less than a decade after the publication of the first book, Canfield and Hansen have overseen the creation of a giant vat of chicken soup. There are now over 30 Chicken Soup books in print -- not to mention Chicken Soup calendars, audio tapes and other soupish paraphernalia. Over 56 million copies of the various chicken soup books have been sold. And with two more recently added to the line up -- Chicken Soup for the Soul of America and Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul -- it seems reasonable to ask: Where will this end? How many souls are left to be saved? We've had Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul, both the Christian and Christian Family soul, the College Soul, the Prisoner's Soul, the Teenage Soul on Tough Stuff, and even the Unsinkable Soul. The Parent's Soul has been looked to, as have the Nurse's Soul and the Country Soul. (I haven't seen a City Soul and that seemed like a natural, so maybe I just missed it?)

There is never evolution in a Chicken Soup book. Though the stories -- as well as the topic and list of contributors -- are always different, the style is generally the same. Book after book (after book, after book) sports the same homespun style. After all, I suppose, why would you mess with a formula that is working so well? There has been no move to take the franchise uptown. From the first edition, the books are always paperback. The current ones seem always to sell for the same modest $12.95. The cover typography is always the same -- making them very easy to spot in a bookstore -- only the topic word, subtitle and cover images change.

Predictably, Chicken Soup for the Soul of America is intended to be a healing response to 9-11. Subtitled Stories to Heal the Heart of Our Nation, For the Soul of America brings together healing essays from Senator John McCain, Roger Ebert, Gautam Chopra and a whole lot of writers less well known but no less eloquent. It's not an easy book to be objective about, dealing as it does with a day and a situation most Americans still find difficult to look at straight on. And here, in the stories of individuals, we see it again: piece by painful piece. Essays from those closely involved -- personally or politically -- with the events of 9-11, as well as writing from prominent people and regular citizens with strong, clear and chicken-soup-appropriate thoughts.

Honolulu-based journalist Charles Memminger writes succinctly about how something large can make other things small and about the need to reevaluate in the face of disaster:

Nothing like a terrorist act against several thousand innocent people to put your life into perspective. I was worried about a lot of things a week ago, but for the life of me, I can't seem to remember what those things were...

Being alive is good. being alive is something to be thankful for. You shouldn't waste being alive worrying that you might be putting on a few pounds, or feeling guilty about having an extra slice of pizza.

And while the essays vary quite widely in flavor and actual content this is the gist: the thing that was terrible must be leveraged to find what good has come out of it for it all not to have been a total waste. A horrid, unthinkable waste. On that level, Chicken Soup for the Soul of America succeeds very well.

Chicken Soup for the Grandparents Soul dishes up the same homespun mix with an entirely different goal: the celebration of grandparents or, as the subtitle tells us, the book contains Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Grandparents.

If you've ever scanned one of the Chicken Soup series, you pretty much know what's here: there are stories on aging, the growth of families and the expansion of love, with the occasional miracle thrown in for good measure. And it's all as sappy as you'd expect and just as heartwarming. And, like so many of the books in this series that have come before, somehow it all comes together and works. | August 2002

 

Aaron Blanton is an expatriate Kentuckian writer and musician living outside of the United States.