BoxWalla is a subscription box company dedicated to sharing uncommon food, books, films, and green beauty items, and they curate bi-monthly boxes for each of those categories. Subscribe to one or more, and add or switch interests at any time. This review is for their August 2016 box, which highlights authors from South Korea, Spain, and Somalia. Subscriptions for August have closed, but you can still sign up for their next box, which will arrive in October.
Boxwalla is run by a couple of self-declared "aesthetes" with a keen eye for meaningful details, which is immediately reflected in their packaging. As is the case with all of their boxes, this lidded box was ethically produced by hand via a small company in India. The box contains no trees at all—rather, it's meticulously created from cotton scraps (if you look closely, you can see the thatched pattern of the woven threads in the box). This unique, socially and ethically conscious choice is the perfect introduction to the level of intention behind Boxwalla.
This box was sent to us at no cost for review. (Check out the review process post to learn more about how we review boxes.)
The Subscription Box: BoxWalla Book
The Cost: $49.95 every other month with free shipping to the US
The Products: Thoughtfully curated literature by prospective Nobel laureates from around the world. And while Boxwalla makes no promises about this being standard practice, August's box also came with some small trinkets (some unique pencils collectors would love).
Ships to: U.S. (for free) and international locations.
Good to know: October Book box is sold out. If you order today, you will receive the December box
Keep Track of Your Subscriptions: Add this box to your subscription list or wishlist!
First thing's first, a simple notecard explaining the box's contents. The tidbits on each author were much appreciated—sometimes I need a little convincing to explore new authors I've not heard of before, and getting a glimpse into their worlds not only satisfied that need but made reading each book all the more compelling.
And don't forget to tag your Instagram photos with #boxwallabook, and you could win a free box!
Blackwing 602 Pencil: Value $1.83
Emily Dickinson Quote Pencil: Value $1.10?
Also mentioned in the note are the two non-book items in the box—two old-school, number two pencils by CW Pencil Enterprise in New York. According to the notecard, the shiny gray pencil is a reproduction of the Blackwing 602, which was used by writers like Steinbeck and Nabokov (hello, instant writer cred!). The flat, almost paintbrush-like black eraser is so unique (it's probably the perfect dimensions for erasing lines on a typewriter page), and the coppery-gold finish of the metal details feels exceptionally classy. The other pencil is light matte blue, and printed in gold with the Emily Dickinson quote "I dwell in possibility." If you're the type who reads a great book and then feels immediately compelled to write, Boxwalla has you covered. Now, where do I get a pencil sharpener these days...?
Because She Never Asked by Enrique Vila-Matas - $6.83 on Amazon (retail price $10.95)
This book begins as a fantastical story of an artist and their idol, then unveils the broader, even more engrossing tale of that story's author and his own obsessions. All the while Vila-Matas enchanted me with his charmingly lofty voice—the tone reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie.
Book summary from Amazon:
Because She Never Asked is a story reminiscent of that reached by the travelers in Patricia Highsmith's Stranger on a Train. The author first writes a piece for the artist Sophie Calle to live out: a young, aspiring, French artist travels to Lisbon and the Azores in pursuit of an older artist whose work she’s in love with. The second part of the story tells what happens between the author and Calle. She eludes, him; he becomes blocked, and suffers physical collapse.
“Something strange happened along the way,” Vila-Matas wrote. “Normally, writers try to pass a work of fiction off as being real. But in Because She Never Asked, the opposite occurred: in order to give meaning to the story of my life, I found that I needed to present it as fiction.”
Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas - $11.27 on Amazon (retail price $15.95)
This longer Vila-Matas' piece continued his charmingly sophisticated voice from the last book. The story is presented not as a novel, but as the content of a 3-day lecture by a novelist. Vilas-Matas' inhabits the role in a humorous, honest way—there are elegant realizations, candid little tangents, and all the name-drops, musings, and judgments you'd expect from a somewhat self-serious artist type. Reading this book felt like listening to a quirky old relative tell stories at a dinner party. It was light, beautifully written, and engrossing. A lovely end-of-summer read.
Book summary from Amazon:
A splendid ironic portrayal of literary Paris and of a young writer’s struggles by one of Spain’s most eminent authors.
This brilliantly ironic novel about literature and writing, in Vila-Matas’s trademark witty and erudite style, is told in the form of a lecture delivered by a novelist clearly a version of the author himself. The “lecturer” tells of his two-year stint living in Marguerite Duras’s garret during the seventies, spending time with writers, intellectuals, and eccentrics, and trying to make it as a creator of literature: “I went to Paris and was very poor and very unhappy.” Encountering such luminaries as Duras, Roland Barthes, Georges Perec, Sergio Pitol, Samuel Beckett, and Juan Marsé, our narrator embarks on a novel whose text will “kill” its readers and put him on a footing with his beloved Hemingway. (Never Any End to Paris takes its title from a refrain in A Moveable Feast.) What emerges is a fabulous portrait of intellectual life in Paris that, with humor and penetrating insight, investigates the role of literature in our lives.
This Side of Time: Poems by Ko Un - Value $16.00
Ko Un's book of poems was a perfectly timed change of pace after the first two pieces in the box. His work is sparse and short, which can be a turn off for people who are used to long form writing. These poems may be brief, but set aside some time to really absorb them, and they come alive. Each one becomes a sort of meditation on one thing or another: moments in nature, the task of writing, the relationships and evolution of families, echoes of war. I loved the sincerity that ran throughout these poems, whether their subject matter was joyful or sorrowful.
Book Summary from Amazon:
"Ko Un's poems evoke the open creativity and fluidity of nature, and funny turns and twists of mind. Mind is sometimes registered in Buddhist terms—Buddhist practice being part of Ko Un's background. Ko Un writes spare, short-line lyrics direct to the point, but often intricate in both wit and meaning. Ko Un has now traveled worldwide and is not only a major spokesman for all Korean culture, but a voice for Planet Earth Watershed as well." —Gary Snyder
Ko Un is one of the most respected poets in Korea and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Sweet and Sour Milk (Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship) by Nuruddin Farah - $10.41 on Amazon (retail price: $14.00)
Nuruddin Farah's novel is a somber, gripping tale of a man looking to understand his brother's death—an emotional story that captures a fascinating and chilling perspective on the Somalian socio-political climate. Farah's skillful writing urges you onto the next discovery with the protagonist, making this book easy to get lost in and engage with. It's not a book I'd bring to blow off steam on my end-of-summer vacation, but this resonant text is one I'd gladly lose an afternoon with on an early fall day.
Book Summary from Amazon:
Winner of the 1980 English-Speaking Union Literary Award
The first novel in Farah's universally acclaimed Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship trilogy, Sweet and Sour Milk chronicles one man's search for the reasons behind his twin brother's violent death during the 1970s. The atmosphere of political tyranny and repression reduces our hero's quest to a passive and fatalistic level; his search for reasons and answers ultimately becomes a search for meaning. The often detective-story-like narrative of this novel thus moves on a primarily interior plane as "Farah takes us deep into territory he has charted and mapped and made uniquely his own" (Chinua Achebe).
Verdict: I was pleasantly surprised by this BoxWalla Book box. I often begrudge the fact that I'm too busy to explore new authors—this box solved that problem with a set of compelling books by underexposed, but wonderful writers with fresh, diverse viewpoints. From the packaging to the contents, the Boxwalla team really came through on its promise of a thoughtful, curated box. Plus, the value of the books and pencils is much more than the $45 price tag.
What do you think of this month's BoxWalla Book box?