The Korea Herald


Bestselling books since 2000: Self-help, essays reign supreme

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Aug. 5, 2023 - 16:01

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"The Lessons of SayNo" (direct translation), penned by an anonymous writer who goes by the pseudonym SayNo, achieved an impressive 20 consecutive week reign at the top spot in the weekly bestseller rankings of Kyobo Book Center, as of Thursday.

Since its release on March 2, the book has been a top-selling title, dominating the bestseller list for the first half of the year. Although it briefly relinquished the top spot to “A Study of Science by Liberal Arts Man” by former health minister and liberal commentator Rhyu Si-min and K-pop sensation BTS’ first book “Beyond the Story: 10-Year Record of BTS” for two weeks, it bounced back to recapture the top spot in the third week of July.

With the extended dominance of “The Lessons of SayNo,” the report by Kyobo Book Center last week explored other longstanding bestsellers in its weekly rankings since the year 2000.

The top three books in the list captivated readers with their self-help content in the genres of essays and humanities.

From left: Ichiro Kishimi’s “The Courage to be Disliked,” Kim Ran-do’s “Youth, It’s Painful” and Ven. Haemin’s “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down” From left: Ichiro Kishimi’s “The Courage to be Disliked,” Kim Ran-do’s “Youth, It’s Painful” and Ven. Haemin’s “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down”

The book that reigned at the top for the longest period is Ichiro Kishimi’s “The Courage to be Disliked” (2014). The Japanese philosopher's book delves into the theories of Austrian psychotherapist and medical doctor Alfred Adler, following an enlightening dialogue between the philosopher and a young man. The philosopher helps his student understand how each individual can determine the course of their own life, free from the shackles of past traumas and others' expectations. The book maintained its top position for a whopping 51 weeks, nearly a full year.

Trailing behind is Kim Ran-do’s “Youth, It’s Painful” (2010) securing the top spot for 34 weeks. Kim, a professor at the department of consumer science at Seoul National University, is famous for publishing the annual “Trend Korea,” a market trend analysis series. In “Youth, It’s Painful,” Kim advises the youth to confront reality and believe in the possibilities of their future in 42 short essays.

Renowned Buddhist meditation teacher Ven. Haemin’s “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down” (2012) secured the top spot for 31 weeks. The book was also translated into English and published by Penguin Random House in 2017. The monk, who was born in Korea and educated in the United States, shares his wisdom in illuminating a path to inner peace and balance amid the overwhelming demands of everyday life. However, the Buddhist monk withdrew from public activities in 2020 after allegations surfaced about his ownership of lavish private properties.

From left: From left: "Temperature of Language," "Thorn Fish," "The Lessons of SayNo" and “Scent of Chrysanthemums”

Dan Brown's mystery thriller "The Da Vinci Code" (2004) and Rhonda Byrne's self-help book "The Secret" (2007) are tied for staying at the top spot for 30 consecutive weeks.

Ranked sixth, Joachim de Posada’s self-help book “Don't Eat the Marshmallow Yet!” (2005) held its top position for 29 weeks.

In seventh place, Lee Ki-ju's essay "Temperature of Language" (2016) held the top spot for 25 weeks. The former speechwriter for the presidential office and journalist collected phrases and pieces of writing that he found interesting and introduced them to readers with his commentary.

Cho Chang-in's novel "Thorn Fish" (2000) -- the first fiction by a Korean author on the list -- stands at the eighth place with 23 weeks. The book revolves around themes of paternal love and the significance of family. The protagonist, a divorced father, nurses his son who is suffering from leukemia. The father then learns that he himself has liver cancer. With its heart-wrenching storyline, the book sold over three million copies and has been adapted into various forms, including film, drama series and plays.

Following "The Lessons of SayNo" in ninth place with 20 weeks, two books -- Francois Lelord's novel "Hector and the Search for Happiness" (2009) and Kim Ha-in’s romance "Scent of Chrysanthemums" (2000) -- tied for the 10th place, both holding the top spot for 17 weeks.

“Scent of Chrysanthemums” has sold over two million copies. With its sentimental narrative and touching romance, the book was adapted into a film of the same title starring actors Park Hae-il and Jang Jin-young. It also inspired the 2000 hit drama series “Autumn in My Heart” starring Song Hye-kyo and Song Seung-heon.