Thursday, March 9, 2017

What Would Be In My Book Box

This past Sunday, BookRiot posted a video on their YouTube channel, asking readers - "What would you put in your book subscription box"?  There are so many different subscription boxes out there, and now most major bookshops have their own subscription boxes.  Each of these services has bits and pieces that I like, and also some things that I don't.  My ideal box would have to take publisher, genre, accessories, and frequency into unique account.


I find myself actively avoiding books on "bestseller" lists.  The more stickers there are on the cover, the less likely I am to buy it.  Part of this resistance comes from the concerns I have about the criteria that go into selecting which books appear on those lists.  Is the fact that a book is selling well a determination of its quality?  What kind of sales data are used?  Who exactly is compiling it?  Another part of my uneasiness about bestsellers is that they haven't had much time in the world.  Because most of them are brand new releases (only perennial favorites like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Handmaid's Tale seem to reappear on these lists with any frequency), all that I know about these books is based collectively on industry hype, advertising, and advanced reader reviews.  On more than one occasion I've bought into this hype and purchased a book of which I was convinced I would love, only to be thoroughly disappointed by it.  Sometimes the books are written in a style that is too simplistic for my taste.  Sometimes the characters lack depth, complication, or authenticity.  Sometimes the plot is too rigid or overly simplistic, constraining an otherwise interesting and engaging story to fit a particular mold.  Sometimes it's a combination of these things that leads me to dislike a book.  When I look at my shelves now, I see that these books tend (but are not exclusively) to be published by the larger publishing companies.

I am more often gobsmacked by books published by smaller, independent presses.  These publishers, often organized around certain ideals or missions, are more willing and able to take risks in the works they bring into the world.  I am forever indebted to Wave Books and Graywolf Press for bringing the works of Maggie Nelson into my life.  Europa Editions, focuses on publishing English translations of foreign non-fiction, fiction, and crime writing, has brought many diverse voices Melville House has published some widely-regarded and popular books, but it's their focus on the artistic, political, and social-justice works that really distinguish them.  Then, there are the micro-presses; these very small publishers, often releasing only a few books every year, who are making really interesting contributions to the literary world.  Because of their small output, these publishers are picking only the works about which they feel especially strong.  Bellevue Literary Press' recent publication Talking Back Talking Black explores a tentacle of racism that many people don't recognize - linguistic racism...the way we judge people based on how they speak, and the cultural and geopolitical history that directly impacts the language that people acquire.  These tiny publishers take special care in the making of their books, and that care translates into the quality of the written word, as well as the book as an object.

Therefore, for my subscription box I would select my books only from micro-presses.  My subscription box would strive to bring more awareness to the diverse and quiet voices that rarely get attention.


When it comes to books, I read and love books in many genres - literary fiction, non-fiction, essay collections, poetry, and many more.  One common thread is that the works speak, in some way, to the world in which we live now.  That doesn't mean that a science fiction work must include social media, or that a non-fiction book has to focus on a prominent political movement in order to be considered.  It does mean that the work should, within whatever genre the writer selects, challenge the dominant narrative in society.  Encouraging empathy through the writing would be a premium.

My subscription box would include works from any genre, but they would challenge the reader and encourage him/her to look at the world in new and different ways.


Most subscription boxes on the market today are organized around a theme.  They do not just provide the customer with a book, but also some related accessories.  Maybe it's a letter written by the book's author, a candle whose scent is meant to evoke a mental image, a piece of jewelry that relates in some way to the book, or a tote bag with a quote from the book screen-printed onto it.  Maybe the book is autographed by the author.  These are well and good, but I would like my box to include something more interesting.  A piece of art (painting, craftwork, small sculpture), commissioned from an artist in response to the selected book, would be a thoughtful accompaniment.

What about a snack?  Depending on where the box is shipped, and the season, I'd have to think about foods spoiling, melting, or freezing.  Chocolate would be a delicious choice, but not in the summertime.  Also, those with specific food allergies and/or diets may be hesitant about subscribing. Keeping these two important points in mind, I think my subscription box will not include food.

Therefore, my subscription box would contain the following accessories - a mug printed with the cover of the book, a small tin of coffee/tea/cocoa, an original painting/print that is in response to the selected book, and the author's signature on the book itself.


As many subscription services as there are in existence, there are options for how often they are shipped.  Book of the Month Club, as you might surmise, ships every month.  That kind of operation involves a lot of preparation, planning, and logistics.  With a new subscription offer like mine, a monthly frequency would be too much.  Not to mention that, with bookish subscription services, there is a pseudo-assumption at work that your subscribers are finishing the current book before the next one is received.  Giving space between the shipments is like giving your readers space to process the work, while remembering that the subscribers are people living in the modern world.  It also allows for the artisans, contributing to the contents of the boxes, time to engage fully in their artistic process.

Keeping in mind the subscribers, the authors, as well as the artisans, I believe the right frequency is to ship my bookish subscription box every four months.

The Box

Every four months, subscribers would receive a hand-selected, autographed book, published by a micro-press, along with a craft or piece of artwork that was made specifically in response to the book, a mug printed with the book's cover, and a small quantity of tea/coffee/cocoa.  Now, if only this was for real...

Librorum annis