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 somewhat 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).
About Powell's Indiespensable Book Subscription
The Subscription Box: Powell's Books Indiespensable
The Cost: $44.95 a shipment (every 6-8 weeks) + free US shipping
The Products: Thoughtfully curated new books, with an interest in indie authors, plus fun extras
Ships to: Shipping is free in the US and $12.00 per package outside the US.
Powell's Indiespensable Volume 70
There are two books in this month's box—a hardcover and a paperback—plus a special treat. Let's check it out:
As usual, the box comes with a little booklet full of information on the box itself, interviews with the featured author, and a space for notes that may come up as I read. I always find this booklet so interesting—you really get a look inside the author's mind. And for books like these, that can be really interesting. Reading the interview, author Carmen Maria Machado is so lighthearted and playful, which stands somewhat in contrast to the eerie tone of her writing.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado - Estimated Value $17.97
This copy of Machado's stories is a hardcover, but it shares the same art as the paperback version for sale here. (I noted that the value above is just an estimate for this special printing.) It's the first featured book I've received with this subscription that hasn't come with a special hard storage sleeve, but I don't really miss it. (They look nice on my bookshelf, but I'm not sure they add much value beyond that.) There is, however, a special Indiespensable page in front that's been autographed by the author!
Reading this collection of short stories feels like binge-watching a slightly unsettling show right before bed. I want to drill through more pages, but the more I do, the more the possibility of ever falling peacefully asleep diminishes, either because I want to keep reading, or because the content is bound to leave me laying in bed, unsettled and unable to sleep. It's not that the stories are horrifying. It's more that Machado is just that good at creating a lingering vibe of "something isn't right". Sometimes it's more of a dull background thing. Other times, you're uncomfortably close to seeing the scary subject (be it a thing or a concept veiled in metaphor) right up close. Either way, the suspense of the thing kept me reading like a beckoning hand. Plus, the fact that these stories all touch upon relatable, if quiet or rarely addressed, aspects of womanhood. Those sorts of subjects always reverberate with me, especially in the haunting, unconventional ways Machado has her reader confront them.
Book Summary on Amazon:
Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction
“[These stories] vibrate with originality, queerness, sensuality and the strange.”―Roxane Gay
“In these formally brilliant and emotionally charged tales, Machado gives literal shape to women’s memories and hunger and desire. I couldn’t put it down.”―Karen Russell
In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naïvely assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.
Tomb Song by Julian Herbert - Retail Value $16.00
This is an advance copy of this paperback, so technically, this edition isn't for sale. (It's priceless!)
Originally written in Spanish, this novel is a bizarre, wrenching mix of dark humor and anguish. Herbert's story centers around stories of his family, prompted by the impending death of his prostitute mother. Almost every moment is laced with grit of one kind or another—either a crass, prickly scenario, character, or turn of phrase, or a more subtle manifestation of it, like wryness, or cynicism. And yet, there's something about this dysfunctional story that's hard to put down. It's almost like The Sopranos—I think the fact that there's a family with real hearts and hopes at the center makes you want to read on.
Book Summary from Amazon:
An incandescent new voice from Mexico, for readers of Ben Lerner and Rachel Cusk
Sitting at the bedside of his mother as she is dying from leukemia in a hospital in northern Mexico, the narrator of Tomb Song is immersed in memories of his unstable boyhood and youth. His mother, Guadalupe, was a prostitute, and Julián spent his childhood with his half brothers and sisters, each from a different father, moving from city to city and from one tough neighborhood to the next.
Swinging from the present to the past and back again, Tomb Song is not only an affecting coming-of-age story but also a searching and sometimes frenetic portrait of the artist. As he wanders the hospital, from its buzzing upper floors to the haunted depths of the morgue, Julián tells fevered stories of his life as a writer, from a trip with his pregnant wife to a poetry festival in Berlin to a drug-fueled and possibly completely imagined trip to another festival in Cuba. Throughout, he portrays the margins of Mexican society as well as the attitudes, prejudices, contradictions, and occasionally absurd history of a country ravaged by corruption, violence, and dysfunction.
Inhabiting the fertile ground between fiction, memoir, and essay, Tomb Song is an electric prose performance, a kaleidoscopic, tender, and often darkly funny exploration of sex, love, and death. Julián Herbert’s English-language debut establishes him as one of the most audacious voices in contemporary letters.
Alma Chocolate 2-Piece Bon Bon Set - Buy an 8-piece set for $20.00 here
This box also comes with a sweet treat (or two, rather)! The red-dusted rosette is Rosewater Caramel and the ball is Mexican Truffle. Let me tell you, that Rosewater Caramel is amazing. It's light and smooth on the palate and tastes oh so buttery-good. The Mexican Truffle was deeper in flavor with a plush chocolate center and a kick of chile de arbol that twinkles across your tongue as you eat it. I'm a chocolate gal, so I was over the moon to get these handcrafted sweets!
The Verdict: Wow was this a great Powell’s Books Indiespensable box. The books were both great, but oh my gosh, Her Body and Other Parties has some moments that are going to creep back into my mind and haunt me (in the best way, I promise) for a long time to come. I'm already thinking of people I want to lend it to! And I'm also eager to try more of Alma's amazing products. (Um, look at this page of caramel sauces, folks. AMAZING.)
To Wrap Up:
Can you still get this box if you sign up today? Volume 70 is also already sold out! These boxes move fast. Sign up for alerts to get the next available book!
Value Breakdown: This box cost $44.95, including free shipping. The regular retail editions of each of these books total around $33.97, though the fact that these are special Indiespensable and advance reader copies may impact that value just a bit. Add in the value of the two bonbons to that retail value, and you're still probably shy of the full $44.95. But remember, there are some less tangible aspects of value here, such as the super fun author interview in the booklet and the autograph in the featured hardcover. There's some curatorial value, too. If you're very into reading, but not as great at finding or choosing new books to read, I feel like this subscription could end up being worth its cost, even if you can find the individual books inside for less online.
Keep Track of Your Subscriptions: Add this box to your subscription list or wishlist!
What do you think of Volume 70 from Powell’s Books Indiespensable box?