The Strange Art of Misery Lit

Borders bookshop has a “Real Lives” section. Waterstones ups the ante with “Painful Lives”. Amazon’s catch-all is the more enigmatic “True Endurance and Survival”. But earlier this week I found myself in the “Tragic Life Stories” aisle of WHSmiths. After taking in that, yes, a whole section of shelving had actually been given over to this subject, it struck me that while each book pertained to be a traumatic tale of an individual, they were marketed in such a way as to look entirely the same. Unlike the covers within the nearby Crime section, where even the most conventional might feature a gun, a knife, or something vaguely noir-ish; within Tragic Life Stories there is, apparently, no need to differentiate details. Each one is a tragic tale; each one has the same cover: a child’s face and a scrawled, handwritten title.

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