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. Note that this subscription raised its prices recently. Here's what they said:
Dear valued Indiespensable subscriber,
As the curators of Indiespensable, we place the highest importance on offering unique, collectible books along with additional value that exceeds the amount we charge per installment.
Since we launched the program in 2008, we have maintained our commitment to these high standards. Unfortunately, the cost of books, slipcases, and shipping has climbed significantly. We must regrettably recover some of those cost increases in order to continue providing the same value and quality you expect from the Indiespensable program.
Effective with Volume 66, Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, our new volume price will be $44.95.
Thank you for your continued commitment to Indiespensable. We hope to bring you many more wonderful volumes in the future.
The Indiespensable team
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: $44.95 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!
In Volume 66, things get a little eerie. The box features two books, as usual—a special-edition hardcover by Jeff VanderMeer and a paperback by VanderMeer-endorsed Jac Jemc. Indiespensable includes a thorough booklet of insights about the featured book (Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer) and its author.
For me, it's this booklet that sets this subscription apart from other book subscription boxes I've seen. The reason I wanted to check out this box was that I trust Powell's as a curator—this booklet helps explain the thinking behind what Powell's has curated for me, with thoughtfully written criticism, insights from the author, and more.
Reading all of this info really upped the intrigue I felt towards this book! Let's check it out.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer - Value on Amazon $21.15 (Retail price $26.00)
This edition of the book seems to be especially for Indiespensable subscribers. It's the regular hardcover, but with a special cardboard sleeve. The design on the outside is done with some kind of glossy ink rather than a darker shade of purple—it creates a neat textural detail, and I like how the design fades or emerges depending on how the light hits the cover.
This book is a strange, human depiction of a post-apocalyptic world. I'm always a little apprehensive of sci-fi stories that attempt to create an entirely new universe with its own expectations for what's normal and what's not—it can be done, but it's rare it's done well. This story, however, commits to its bizarre, brutal world from page one and expands from there. I kept reading not just to keep learning about the characters, but the eerie, odd world they occupy. With its woman protagonist and dark, post-apocalyptic vibe, it felt like the adult interpretation of a dystopian YA novel—but told through sophisticated, evocative language and with R-rated levels of maturity.
Book Summary on Amazon:
Named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Book Riot, Chicago Reader, The Week, and Publishers Weekly.
“Am I a person?” Borne asked me.
“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”
In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company―a biotech firm now derelict―and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.
One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump―plant or animal?―but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts―and definitely against Wick’s wishes―Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford.
“He was born, but I had borne him.”
But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.
The book is autographed by the author, which is always a nice touch. I love that he turned the book logo into a little creature!
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc - Value $15.00
The second book in the box is a paperback that tells a similarly unsettling story. It could just as easily exist as a compelling, psychological horror movie. It's full of supernatural events, suspicion, and ever-gaining anxiety.
I love the language in this book—it's straightforward, yet still effortlessly artful. For instance, there's a line that says, "Remorse stings through me, like a hangover without having a drink."
Book Summary on Amazon:
One of Nylon's "50 Books We Can't Wait To Read In 2017"
One of Chicago Reader's "Books We Can't Wait To Read In 2017"
A chilling literary horror novel about a young couple haunted by their newly purchased home
Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It tells the eerie story of a young couple haunted by their new home. Julie and James settle into a house in a small town outside the city where they met. The move―prompted by James’s penchant for gambling, his inability to keep his impulses in check―is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to leave behind their usual haunts and start afresh. But this house, which sits between lake and forest, has plans for the unsuspecting couple. As Julie and James try to settle into their home and their relationship, the house and its surrounding terrain become the locus of increasingly strange happenings. The architecture―claustrophobic, riddled with hidden rooms within rooms―becomes unrecognizable, decaying before their eyes. Stains are animated on the wall―contracting, expanding―and map themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of bruises; mold spores taint the water that James pours from the sink. Together the couple embark on a panicked search for the source of their mutual torment, a journey that mires them in the history of their peculiar neighbors and the mysterious residents who lived in the house before Julie and James.
Written in creepy, potent prose, The Grip of It is an enthralling, psychologically intense novel that deals in questions of home: how we make it and how it in turn makes us, inhabiting the bodies and the relationships we cherish.
Verdict: I really liked this eerie installment of Powell’s Books Indiespensable box. I'm not sure whether the special edition of the one book would fare in the collectors' market (it's not like it's a first edition or anything), but it does look handsome on my bookshelf. And the stories themselves are creative, bizarre, and imagination-inducing―just the kind of thing I like. The value I estimated for the books in the box is about $36.00, which falls quite a bit below the $44.95 price (after the increase, effective starting with this box). That doesn't account for the sleeve on the hardcover book, nor the booklet of author information and criticism (which does add a lot of value to the experience for me). But if you're just looking for a few good reads each month, then paying more just for a booklet of additional insights probably seems extraneous.
What do you think of Volume 66 from Powell’s Books Indiespensable box?