Portland State University. Department of English
Marie Kondō, Psychological literature, Formalism (Literary analysis), Reader-response criticism
In the wake of the Marie Kondo phenomenon, is the self-help literature genre being redefined? How is Marie Kondo and her book affecting the ways self-help literature is being shared, discussed, and interpreted? This paper attempts to answer these questions by first discussing the difficulty in defining the self-help genre, and how recent definitions reflect the current economic climate. This paper examines The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo; the tone and language used and how it’s typical of books in the self-help genre, despite categorization as a House and Home—Cleaning and Organizing book. This paper looks at Kondo’s social media presence; the amount of followers she has compared to other bestselling self-help authors; and what her readers discuss on social media platforms Instagram and Twitter. Reader-response theories from Wendy Simonds and Wolfgang Iser help shed light on how self-help literature is interpreted by readers, and how readers today might interpret Kondo. This paper examines research by Beth Luey, Wendy Simonds, and Janice Radway, who surveyed nonfiction readers, self-help readers, and romance readers, respectively. Luey’s theory that reading self-help literature is a “private activity” is challenged by Marie Kondo’s loyal followers, who proudly display their “kondo-ing” efforts on Instagram. Finally, this paper considers the public reaction to the book and subsequent backlash; the xenophobic and classist implications that the backlash towards Kondo revealed, such as the view that it’s a sign of prestige to hoard books, but hoarding other objects is frowned upon. The findings of this paper highlight a significant moment in publishing history and the self-help genre, revealing what sharing, discussing, and interpreting self-help literature looks like in the twenty-first century.
Ludwigsen, Kristen, "Marie Kondo and the New Self-Help" (2019). Book Publishing Final Research Paper. 45.