I’m not generally on top of the latest trends, but I couldn’t help but notice that book subscriptions are in right now. There are suddenly hundreds to choose between, from local, national and international sources. I think the first one I ever heard of was from Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, probably my favourite bookshop. Over the last few years I have seen lots of online-only offerings, often specialising in a certain genre or also acting as a form of book club. And then in the last two weeks a new bookshop called Storysmith Books opened right here in South Bristol and almost immediately launched its own range of subscriptions.
Book subscriptions work in different ways – some are personalised, some come with book-related merchandise, some tell you in advance what books you’re getting – but the basic premise is the same. You pay upfront for a certain number and frequency of book parcels.
Book parcels! Brilliant! The only problem is how to find and choose between all the many options. Which is why I was happy to be contacted by a PR agent for uOpen, a UK website that collates hundreds of subscription boxes into one marketplace, including dozens in their books section. While this selection is by no means every book subscription available, or even all of the UK ones, it’s useful to have so many in one place to discover and compare.
uOpen offered me a trial box from their selection and I plumped for one called Book & a Brew, which combines a new hardback novel with a package of tea each month. Choosing new fiction means I probably won’t be sent a book I already have, and I love tea.
The book I received was Jack the Ripper: Case Closed by Gyles Brandreth. It’s been described as speculative crime fiction, using the real-life case of Jack the Ripper, and the real-life friendship between Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde, as its hook. Which certainly sounds fascinating. I do have some reservations, not least of which is that this book was published in early 2017 and is the seventh in a series, which seems like an odd choice for a book box promising new fiction. And I must admit I do have negative associations with Brandreth. He’s a former Conservative MP and my primary knowledge of him is the series of corny joke books he published, of which several were given to me as presents when I was young. But he is also a well-respected writer, so I will give him a chance.
And the tea? Book & a Brew went seasonal with a spicy fruit and veg mix called Pumpkins Go Bananas from Leaves of the World. It’s an infusion, not a tea, which initially disappointed me a little. Generally I much prefer black tea to fruit infusions. But I have given it a try for the past three evenings and I must admit it is delicious. I have drunk it as a straight infusion with hot water, and as chai with added black tea and milk. Nom on both counts.
Honestly, I suspect this wasn’t the right book box for me. For now, I’ll stick with my subscription to indie publishers And Other Stories. But it’s good to know that there are so many options out there.