Thursday, June 5, 2014

Two Book Subscriptions: Which is Better?

So let's talk books, one of my favorite topics in the entire world!

As many of you may know, there are a million subscription boxes out there where generally you pay a price and a surprise box shows up at your door!  Well, good news for readers -- there are at least two out there that cater to our needs!  I have been a subscriber to Indiespensable from independent bookstore Powell's (out of Portland, OR) for more than two years; however, I recently decided to try Quarterly, which is organized by the good folks from Book Riot.  To my delight, both of these subscription boxes showed up on the same day this week so here is a side by side comparison:

Quarterly by Book Riot ($50):  First, the packaging is done thoughtfully -- nice first impression.
Notice the the quirky book-themed tape around the box?  Nice ....

Next -- I opened it up!

Box 2
Lots of papers on the top and under the papers ... books!  I see books!  Here was my first look:
Once I took everything out of the box, here is what I found:

As you can see above, there were four books:  Sarah MacLean's A Rouge by Any Other Name, Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, + Dangerous Pie, N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon, and A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  There was also a poster to accompany the romance book, a poster that highlights why you should read romance books, along with a Young Adult pin and a pack of literary playing cards.  There was also a 2 month free subscription to Oyster Books (an online lending library).  The papers included a handwritten note (though copied for the folks getting the boxes) from one of the authors, N.K. Jemisin.  Apparently, there was a giveaway going on with the boxes and some folks got extra things -- the book by Sonnenblick was a lottery winning for me and not the usual part of the box (5 lucky readers got a Kobo Arc Tablet in their boxes!).  Looking up the value of all these things, I estimate that my box was about $85 so I definitely got more than the value that I paid for the subscription box.

Pic 2
I like the printed items that came with the box -- I have to admit that I might have just ignored the romance book but the commentary included with the box talks about the preconceived notions that someone might have about the so-called "low art" of romance novels (a genre I ate up when I was in junior high and high school!).  
The poster was a nice touch to make a case for reassessing our biases against this genre in general -- so I am up for the challenge.  This will be the first book in the box that I tackle!

The other three books are a nice mix -- and represent three books I did not know about.  Jemison's book is an epic fantasy (according to the commentary) and I love the fact that the letter  below(again, from the author!), accompanies the book:


The two books by King and Sonnenblick seem to be Young Adult (thus, the cute little button included in the box!) and both look to be fairly interesting based on a quick skimming of each of them.  And I love book-themed swag -- so the little pencil pouch from Out of Print (a company I already love!) was a nice touch!

Powell's Indiespensable ($40):  Each box from Powells has been something I look forward to about every 6 weeks or so.  Most of the time, I have been exposed to books that I had never heard about, authors who aren't always in my radar.  For example, though I had heard of Donna Tartt, I had never read anything by her until I was sent The Goldfinch as one of my Indiespensable selections and I fell in love (probably one of the finest modern novels I have ever, ever read!).

So a typical Indiespensable is focused on a theme, often something to do with the book itself (and because Powell's tries to stay local, the extra product(s) are usually from small, local businesses.  I forgot to take a picture of the box, but once I opened by package from Powells, here is what I found:

As usual, the main feature came with another book, an extra from a small company, and a cute little booklet that explains the entire box (definitely less paper than the Quarterly box!).

The highlight of this box is that the feature book is in a special hardback edition, enclosed in a beautiful slip box, and signed by the author.  Very cool!  This time, the book is All the Light We Cannot See, an amazing epic historical work that has already gotten a lot of buzz (see the NYT review here!)   I loved Anthony Doerr's collection of short stories The Memory Wall from a few years back so I am anxious to start reading this novel!

The little booklet doesn't fail to please me this time either!
Not only is there an interview with Doerr in it but there is also some great discussion of the other book included in the box, Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams, a collection of essays from a writer that so far seems to remind me of Joan Didion.  This is another example of someone I had not heard of before but my brief skimming makes me want to read more.

As you can see from the first Powell's picture, this box came with a heart shaped ... something.  I wasn't sure what it was until I read the booklet that accompanied the box -- it is a die-pressed graphite heart (I guess connecting this to Jamison's book!) that is a sculpture and a writing tool -- how cool is that!  It is hard to put a price tag on a signed slip covered edition of a book that you can't really buy anywhere else so I think $40 is more than fair for these boxes (and you help to support one of the few independent book stores left in the country to boot!)

The Winner?  Trick question -- there is no winner!  Both boxes are great and I think you get your money's worth with both.  Of course, both of these box subscriptions work best for people who like getting surprises in the mail -- and perhaps being exposed to writers who you may not find on your own.  The book nerd in me gets super excited when a Powell's box shows up on my doorstep -- and now every three months, perhaps even a Quarterly box!