As you read this, each of the following is undoubtedly happening somewhere in the world:
Someone is going hungry.
Someone is being downsized.
Someone is being sexually abused.
Someone is being murdered.
Someone is desperately trying to find a reason to continue living.
And the rest of us are affected - even as we sip our coffee, shift our padded backsides on our comfortable couches and maybe, for just an instant, catch a whiff of something delicious cooking in our ovens.
Maybe not directly, and maybe not even soon. But in some way, and at some time eventually, we do feel the impact. If only in our souls.
“I think we sometimes get lost in the huge scale of modern life,” says Hanoch McCarty. “We’re looking for some verities in a world that seems to be built on a Jell-O foundation.”
McCarty, as he explains over the phone from Kansas City, is only too happy to provide such verities. In fact, as co-author of “A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul” (Health Communications, 348 pages, $12.95 paperback), he gleefully offers 101 of them.
Part of an expanding series that was pioneered by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, “4th Course” is one of the brightest publishing successes in the history of the self-esteem industry. The series, which includes not only the original “Chicken Soup for the Soul” but titles such as “Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul” and “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul,” has some 14 million copies in print.
The “4th Course,” in just its third week of release, is already near the top of the New York Times best-seller list.
Then again, that’s not surprising. Even after Canfield and Victor finally found a publisher for their first book (after getting 27 rejections), they were confident.
With reason, as it turns out. A half year after it hit the bookstores, the original “Chicken Soup for the Soul” was a Times best-seller. During that first year, it sold 1.5 millions copies.
The obvious question is, why do the books sell so well?
McCarty, 57, who teamed with his wife Meladee McCarty to help Canfield and Victor put out the “4th Course,” has a ready answer. He talks of us being stuck in a societal “malaise” fueled by the 11 o’clock news.
When our last thoughts of the day concern revolutions in Peru, new AIDS outbreaks and drive-by shootings, is it any wonder that we have trouble sleeping?
“We’ve gone too far toward cynicism,” McCarty says. “We’ve gone too far toward negative expectations, and maybe people are getting sick and tired of that. And maybe just as your mother wants to give you chicken soup when your body hurts, maybe we need chicken soup for our spirits.”
The latest book is similar to the others in that it is a mix of inspiring stories - some that provoke tears, some that provoke giggles and a few that provoke a reaction that McCarty describes simply as “Ah-ha.”
Commonality of human experience is the key, he says. By using the power of literature to tell stories that each of us can relate to, the authors make their stories “the shorthand that allows us to convey some pretty sophisticated things to each other.”
Thus you have the likes of NBA coach Pat Riley writing about his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, coming back to win the 1985 NBA championship against their arch rivals, the Boston Celtics. You have syndicated columnist Bob Greene writing about the kindness that Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan showed to a young victim of abuse.
But only a few of the stories are written by the rich and/or famous. Most were written by ordinary people whose talent survived the culling-down process that drew the final 101 stories out of the 4,200 that had been submitted.
There’s the couple who write about the boy who, with victory in sight, steps aside so that another runner can win a ribbon. The teacher who writes about the poor-but-proud boy who teaches her class a lesson about tolerance. The man who brings tears to his former teacher’s eyes simply by telling her “you were important to me.”
McCarty, who wrote six of the stories himself (although he submitted 23), says that each entry was checked for authenticity.
“Our goal,” he says, “was to have something that was memorable. But our real goal, and I hope this doesn’t sound too corny, was to be hope salesmen. We want to convince people that it’s worth living.”
Many of those who have bought one or another of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books would no doubt agree. Especially the woman who credits McCarty’s book with helping her recover from an information-sickness kind of insomnia.
“Your book is an antidote to the 11 o’clock news,” she said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Molly Quinn
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Book signing Hanoch McCarty will sign copies of his book, “A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul,” from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday at Hastings Books, 11324 E. Sprague.
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