The Help Desk: Are adult coloring books a fad?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Recently, when I was watching the so-so Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie, I was reminded of that fad when authors were inserting genre elements into works of classic fiction, like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Even at the time, I thought that whole thing was pretty silly and I could tell it wasn’t going to age well.

And now, I can tell that the whole adult coloring book thing is another fad and it’s going to look pretty ridiculous five or seven years from now. Why are we such huge suckers for this sort of thing? Would books be in better shape if authors didn’t chase after every dumb fad that came along? Or is it just human nature?

Faye, Queen Anne

Dear Faye,

You are correct – fads are one of the weirder aspects of human nature, a pop-culture shorthand of creating collective memories that root us in a specific time, space, and sentiment. Unlike cultural movements, fads have weak historical context and add nothing relevant to a group's cultural identity. Still, some fads are not terrible, like ice bucketing yourself or being seen in public with a copy of Lean In (some might argue that Lean In is a culturally important part of a larger feminist movement, I would argue that it sought to capitalize on the movement while offering nothing more than the same milquetoast platitudes and upbeat generalizations found in all self-help books).

Then again, sometimes fads are the physical manifestation of a cringe, otherwise known as “white dreadlocks syndrome.” I would put adult coloring books in that category, along with naming children after kitchen nouns.

Writers can employ fads deftly and to their advantage – take the popularity of Ready Player One. That book is steeped in nostalgic 80s pop-culture references, which make its children-of-the-80s audience feel both clever and sentimental for picking up on its retro references without the author having to do much, if any, leg work.

I hope to become one of those writers. I trust I can count on you, Faye, to support my latest literary endeavor, which might generally be described as “erotic Charlotte's Web fanfic.” I'm hoping to seductively inspire generations of children with a new take on an old farm-to-table classic, guest-starring more spider lap dances than most kids have the capacity to count. Stay tuned to the Seattle Review of Books for a short excerpt!