Powell’s Books Indiespensable Subscription Box Review – Vol. 65
Powell’s Books Indispensable is a book subscription box by the iconic bookstore in Portland, Oregon.
Every 6-8 weeks, subscribers will receive another box of expertly curated new books with a focus on indie publishers.
My Subscription Addiction pays for this subscription. (Check out the review process post to learn more about how we review boxes).
The Subscription Box: Powell’s Books Indiespensable
The Cost: $39.95 a shipment (every 6-8 weeks)
The Products: Thoughtfully curated new books, with an interest in indie authors, plus fun extras
Ships to: Shipping is free in the U.S. and $12.00 per package outside the U.S.
Keep Track of Your Subscriptions: Add this box to your subscription list or wishlist!
The books featured in this month’s box are two works by the bestselling contemporary American author George Saunders. As always, Indiespensable included a thorough booklet of insights about the books and the writer behind them.
As Indiespensable is all about curation, I appreciate having this information about why these books were worthy of the box. I can be a bit apprehensive about new books—I can be a picky, fickle reader sometimes, especially when I don’t have a compelling recommendation to kick me along. These notes turned out to be a nice teaser, enticing me to press on and experience what these books have to offer.
I love this author questionnaire. Saunders’ spirit animal response had me laughing out loud.
Saunders has traditionally been more of a short story writer. In this interview, he explains what drove him to write a novel, as well as some of the key themes and lessons that drive the story.
As Powell’s notes in the opening pages of this booklet, they chose this book in part because of its sociopolitical content. Lincoln is a monumental figure in U.S. history (literally—the guy’s got a lot of monuments) and an admired president. After reading this interview, I’m interested to see how he presents the legend that is Lincoln as a regular, day-to-day human with human struggles, pains, and interactions. These days, we have so much access to video of our political leaders that it’s easy to glean their personalities, how they handle challenges, how they converse with one another, etc. What was Lincoln’s personality? How did he interact with his colleagues? With his circumstances? I’m interested to see how Saunders fills in those blanks.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – Value $14.64 on Amazon (retail price $28.00)
As always, the main book in the Indiespensable box is a hardcover housed neatly inside a sturdy sleeve. This one has a classy, canvas-wrapped texture to it.
Take note, avid collectors: a commenter on a previous review mentioned that this book is probably a special edition, rather than a first edition (which is typically what pro book collectors go for). I’m not an expert in that realm—I just thought this was a really spiffy copy of what looks to be a great book. If anyone has more insights to share on the valuing/economics of book collecting (and where editions like this one fits in), please let us know in the comments!
Book Summary on Amazon:
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
The book is autographed by the author, too!
This book is immediately enchanting and unexpected. It darts about in unpredictable ways, shifting between perspectives, narrators, realities, and worlds. The writing is beautiful and eloquent, but self-aware in a way that gives it a wry sense of humor. I’m totally hooked on this weird, tragic, and uniquely charming story.
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders – Value $21.55 on Amazon
The second book in the box is Saunders’ stab at children’s literature. I love the brilliant color palette of this cover! The orange and sea foam hues pop off the gold metallic foil. I don’t see how a child nor an adult could pass this up on a shelf.
(Note that this book doesn’t come with a sleeve like the first book did.)
Book Summary on Amazon:
From the bestselling author of Tenth of December comes a splendid new edition of his acclaimed collaboration with the illustrator behind The Stinky Cheese Man and James and the Giant Peach! Featuring fifty-two haunting and hilarious images, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is a modern fable for people of all ages that touches on the power of kindness, generosity, compassion, and community.
In the seaside village of Frip live three families: the Romos, the Ronsens, and a little girl named Capable and her father. The economy of Frip is based solely on goat’s milk, and this is a problem because the village is plagued by gappers: bright orange, many-eyed creatures the size of softballs that love to attach themselves to goats. When a gapper gets near a goat, it lets out a high-pitched shriek of joy that puts the goats off giving milk, which means that every few hours the children of Frip have to go outside, brush the gappers off their goats, and toss them into the sea. The gappers have always been everyone’s problem, until one day they get a little smarter, and instead of spreading out, they gang up: on Capable’s goats. Free at last of the tyranny of the gappers, will her neighbors rally to help her? Or will they turn their backs, forcing Capable to bear the misfortune alone?
Featuring fifty-two haunting and hilarious illustrations by Lane Smith and a brilliant story by George Saunders that explores universal themes of community and kindness, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is a rich and resonant story for those that have all and those that have not.
I immediately recognized Lane Smith’s wonky, wonderful illustrations—I LOVED The Stinky Cheese Man, the off-kilter fairytale she created with Jon Scieszka. This book had a similar vibe to it. For as sincere the story feels, its delivery is delightfully bizarre. I love when children’s books play up to (rather than talk down to) the intelligence of their young readers. This book assumes a level of sophistication of its readers and their senses of humor that breaks from the cartoony, sugary-sweet norm.
Verdict: I really enjoyed this volume of the Powell’s Books Indiespensable box. Unlike the last volume, this one came with a second book, rather than a non-book item (last time, it was a jar of tasty nut butter). Both books are relatively new (Lincoln in the Bardo just came out in February of this year), and while, again, I’m not sure how they’d fare in the book collector’s market, I do think both of these classy hardcover editions (one of which is signed!) look awfully sharp on my bookshelf. More importantly, the rule-breaking, out-of-the-ordinary writing style of George Saunders is the perfect match for my reading tastes. The value I estimated for the books in the box is about $36.00, which is just below the $39.95 price. I’d argue that the great interview inside the info booklet and the pleasure of having Powell’s send you its faves adds to that value, though. If you’re the type that frequents book stores and knows what they’re looking for, then this box might be an unnecessary expense for you. Otherwise, this book box can do the work for you (and seems to do it well!).
What do you think of Volume 65 from Powell’s Books Indiespensable box?