Read Books, Whilst the Sun Shines! (Obviously in Australia, you’re free to cosy up for the winter.)

Prudence's August Reads

Prudence’s August Reads

And, what a quarter it’s been since I last wrote longform to you all! So much has happened, so much has changed…but in essence, nothing at all has changed, either. Which is, it must be said, just how we like it – enough change to keep life interesting, enough continuity to be cosy.

Our biggest change was in terms of packaging – we’re enjoying the new envelopes a lot, and they seem to be, on the whole, doing a much better job of keeping everyone’s bits and books in ship-shape, although, as always, we’re always sure we can improve! The stripey bags are so much fun, although, as I’ve been the one packing them up thus far, I’ve ended up flinging Maoam across the room in a fit of fingers and thumbs at a couple of points each month!

Obviously the biggest impact on our little business came when we were unexpectedly featured in Buzzfeed’s 15 Subscription Boxes You Should Definitely Try Out piece – we were so infinitely grateful we’d just undergone a considerable internal restructure (read: I’d finally sorted out the cupboards we keep everything in) so we were able to accommodate our glorious influx of new subscribers with surprising ease. One of my favourite things about running PatC, which still surprises me every time, is just how many people ‘get’ what we’re about – I love, love, love meeting all our new subscribers, reading the questionnaires, discovering new books myself, and learning so many tales of literary love, hate and curiosity. The Crow and I started PatC because I so desperately wanted something like this to exist myself, and couldn’t find it, and it thrills me daily that there are so many others out there who seem to have felt the same!

We do want this to be more, though, and this is still, despite being well into our second year, only the beginning. We have plans. We can’t tell you much more, because, as every writer knows, you should never tell your story to someone you’d like to read the book, but there’ll be content and community to it, if that’s the sort of thing you like. And if you don’t like, never fear – you can always just get a random book in a box, and we love you just as much.

On another note, we continue to receive all kinds of requests, from bloggers to mainstream print press, requesting (or, in a couple of cases, flat-out demanding) sample boxes and/or photographs of boxes. We’d like to reiterate that we don’t do sample boxes ever, for anyone, however many copies of whatever it is that you sell. Anyone is welcome to purchase a box, fill out the questionnaire, and review/unbox/critique/recommend as they wish, and we are exceptionally grateful to each and every one of you out there who’s done so, but our entire point is not the box, nor the tea, nor the whatever-else-we-put-in…we really are about the books. We always do our best to match you with your read, and, within the bounds of what you tell us about yourself and what we can find, we endeavour to occasionally ridiculous lengths to join the dots for a happy picture. We can’t send samples, because there’s no human who wants to read a book on the other end. We can’t photograph someone else’s box and expect it to mean anything, or to honestly reflect a potential PatC-er’s expectations. The point of PatC is the match, not the box. Special mention to Glamour magazine, who, earlier this year, after a few back-and-forths, did their own photography to meet their print requirements and understood this point well.

I am always, always happy to consider interview/quote/thinkpiece requests submitted properly through our Press Information link, in the usual place at the end of our site, and we love the social media and blogger contributions we’re tagged or included in, but we aren’t interested in chasing subscribers. We have only ever advertised with the wonderful IGGPPC (and once on Facebook, but that was more a statistical curiosity at the beginning – it really wasn’t very helpful for what we’re doing!).

Speaking of the IGGPPC, their annual camp is about to kick off! There are loads of awesome activities, seminars, crafts and challenges to consume, complete and compete in, and you can find out all about it here. Registration is over, but everything is available to all over the next week or so all the same! (Those of you in troops already: Troop Lumos, present and correct!). And if you missed it during last year’s camp, you can see the Crow and I do a ‘Branding and Setting Up a Shop’ seminar here on YouTube. Why I’m wearing that visor, I can’t quite recall! Anyway, we’re all in and we love the IGGPPC and can’t wait to unlock achievements aplenty!

Whilst we’re rounding up, here’s what I’m reading at the moment: Clover, by Susan Coolidge, the joyous follow-up to What Katy Did Next, featuring easily my favourite character from all the novels. The Life of Ian Fleming, by John Pearson, because Fleming was a fascinating man and this is a strangely beautiful old hardback I picked up the other day. Poul Anderson’s The Winter of the World because I was about to send it to someone when I realised it was one of my own books I’d never actually got around to reading, and had mixed it up in the wrong pile (this happens a lot).

My bedtime read (something savoured, a couple of pages a night) is Arsenic For Tea, by Robin Stevens (Wells and Wong #2) because I have just received First Class Murder (Wells and Wong #3) and can’t believe I’ve got behind. If you enjoy 1930’s English boarding school murder mysteries with a glorious strong female PoC protagonist (and if you don’t, I’m not 100% certain we can be friends, but I’ll forgive you if that’s because you’re super-into Ursula K. leGuin, although really, why should these things be mutually exclusive?), then please, dive in. Great fun and pleasingly befuddling as you’re going along; Robin Stevens is a joy and a delight and is exhibit #1 in my ‘Write What you Know’ gallery, even though, at the rate I’m loving her words and characters, I’d be happy to consume her retelling of the ‘phone book…or whatever the modern-day version of that analogy is.

Also, speaking of strong young female protagonists, I must shout out here that if you’ve yet to get to Tim Clare’s The Honours (link to a very, very accurate Guardian review, emphasis particularly on the relaxed sigh that comes when you realise, a little way into a book, that you’re in the hands of a competent storyteller) then I can’t urge you to do so now strongly enough. It’s been a wonderful year for reading for me thus far, and this book alone will tell you exactly why. I’ve already given two copies to friends and need to buy myself another in order to read it again, and treasure it closely.

I finally got around to reading last winter’s ‘this book is everywhere’ read, Station Eleven, which I only adored once I’d actually finished it, but now rate exceptionally highly. I rather liked not knowing what it was going to be about before I started it, so don’t click the link to the review if you also don’t know, and fancy going in with nothing.

Ah, I could continue with this for quite some time, but I think this must do for now, for it’s time, oh yes, it’s time at last, to get boxing for August! As ever, we’re at prudenceandthecrow.com if you want to purchase yourselves, or friends, a box, and recurring subscriptions will open up once more around the 13th of August, if you prefer that. Should you have any customer queries, once more I ask, please, please use our Contact Us form at the website, for it is the only way we provide individual assistance. Otherwise, we’re herethere and everywhere, and you’re always welcome to come and tell us what you’re reading (or writing!), what we should or could be reading, if you’re coming to IGGPPC camp, how the weather is, and what drinks go with which books (a forthcoming conversation!).

Happy August!

~P (and the C).

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January at PatC HQ!

Some books!

Greetings, all! What a wonderfully wet and windy January we’re having here…just perfect for curling up with a hot drink and a good book!

Part of our resolution for PatC this year was to try and do at least a monthly update because, well, it’s good to talk, isn’t it? And we’ve so much to share, and we love how much we get to connect with you all in the book-selecting process, and figure it’s only fair you get to connect back a bit, should you so desire! So, here’s what we’re reading, loving, listening to and doing this month:

Prudence is reading The Boy in Darkness, by Mervyn Peake again, because it’s the best thing she read last year and it made her heart sing with glee. It’s one of the Crow’s long-held favourites, too.

The Crow is reading A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan because Prudence bought it for her for Christmas.

We are both very positive on the Taylor Swift front and have had 1989 on repeat. Last year we pretty much only listened to the Lorde album whilst boxing; this year it seems that has competition. Prudence got a new digital radio that doesn’t break every ten seconds for Christmas and, when not listening to music, is obsessive about listening to Radio 4 Extra (or, BBC7 as she still calls it) which is, for all its broadcast of the best archive comedy, sci-fi, literature and plays, is worth the licence fee in itself. Or not, as the case may be, because you can listen worldwide online, and we could not recommend it more if you’re a fan of basically anything BBC have ever done.

We’ve not managed to go to the cinema since Mockingjay came out (despite a burning desire to see Paddington!), but we have been catching up with Elementary (oh, Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu <3), and Prudence was most excited to watch A Hard Day’s Night for the first time in years on iPlayer the other day. If you’ve not seen it, or not seen it in a while, do, go, view. Hilarious, and the music hasn’t aged a day.

We are also card-carrying (seriously, there should be cards) Wittertainees – are there any others of the persuasion in our midst?

In actual business news, we continue to try to streamline and perfect things – do know that we are always trying to make your box experience ace, yes you, yes your box!, and we still put frankly disproportionately large amounts of thought and care into each one! This month we are super on it, prep-wise, for Prudence’s Christmas break involved a lot of folding, and have some excellent things going on. Of course, we also have some wonderful vintage books to share…

The new boxes have done extremely well, and we’ve had some excellent feedback about them, so this is good to know! We’re hoping to stick with this design for now, and will evaluate again in a couple of months to check that, as ever, we’re doing the best we can!

Don’t forget to follow and share things with us in the places one might follow and share things – find our online homes on our social media page, here.

But I nearly forgot! To celebrate your reaching this part of this post, one very exciting thing. On Tuesday 13th January, if you haven’t already got one, you have a chance to sign up for a recurring subscription with us! We’ll be opening subscriptions up again for not more than 24 hours, at prudenceandthecrow.com. Tell your friends and check often – we don’t know when next we’ll be offering them again! We will continue to offer our fixed-term up-front subscriptions both before and after, but if you like the idea of a monthly payment subscription, then’s your chance!

So! What are you reading this month? This year? Any resolution-reads? Anyone determined to tackle a classic, a series, an always-meant-to book? Any recommendations for things we must get around to?

We trust you’re all as bright and well as can possibly be, and that 2015 brings us all some joy, somewhere, somehow, at the very least in the pages of an old, loved book.

Sci-Fi For Beginners: Where to Start?!

Greetings, Earthlings! Prudence here. We’re surrounded by books for your March boxes, and a good double handful more that wrangled their way through the door of our little bookcrammed home in the name of ‘research’, and it’s a beautiful way to be.

Today, it’s Prudence and the Crow and sci-fi, or, why we’re offering a sci-fi genre-specific subscription box. There are as many reasons as humans, of course, and whyever you’d want to subscribe to our box is more than perfect to us, but there are two gaps we wanted to fill: the sci-fi newbie, and the bundle-loving geek girl. I say this as someone who’s been both in their lives, probably from about age three. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I still feel like the former, and I hope never to stop being the latter. Is there anything better than glorious packages constructed around something you really want? But back to the former, for today’s piece!

There are few things I love so much as the vast and glorious collection of vintage sci-fi paperbacks I’ve accumulated ever the years. Even before you get to their content, there’s no book cover quite like the 1950s-1980s science fiction paperback book cover. Spanning the illustrative junket from pulp to technical drawing, there’s every permutation of rocket, desert, monster, lurid technicolour fontery, hero, fail!hero, damsel in distress, moon, space doll and imagined surface of Venus/Mars/Thalassa, etc. If you’ve not had the pleasure, or, indeed, if you have and want more of it, I heartily recommend this excellent blog packed with scans, analysis, and excellent info on all manner of such book covers: Science Fiction Ruminations – Cover Art. If you’re taken by the aesthetic, do feel free to specify as much as you like about such covers in your PatC box questionnaire – I’ll be sure to keep my beady eyes peeled for extra ridiculous/awesome/geometric/terrifying works!

But the aesthetic, the cover, all that is just the beginning of the world of sci-fi. One of the things the Crow and I discussed at length when beginning our little subscription box service was how difficult it was to ‘unlock’ the world of science fiction, if you haven’t had the joy and privilege of growing up in a household full of it. Everyone might be easily able to find the names and works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, or have worked with H.G. Wells or Jules Verne at school (if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of curriculum – I was over the moon to legitimately dissect The Invisible Man at GCSE-level), but in the land of such vintage paperbacks, misleading covers, hyperbolic blurbs and drastically inconsistent quality of writing amongst many popular and prolific authors can mean anything from picking up a book that seems like it’ll be about a beautiful unicorn, only to find that it’s actually the exceptionally distressing account of the end of Earth with no survivors, to assuming you’re about to sit down with some masterful, hardline techy masters of the universe…and finding you hold in your hands a rambly slew of stream-of-consciousness nonsense, populated by the most hateable, irredeemable characters of all-time.

It’s easy to be put off sci-fi by experiences like this; put off the whole concept of picking up these strange and beautiful novels, novellas, collections. One bad experience can tar the genre, or stick you with some really icky thoughts that you can’t quite shake.

There’s a new audience coming to a lot of old sci-fi, a thing which joys and thrills me beyond all experiences I have and hear of the world of books and reading. The dystopian YA successes of recent years have opened the door to reading magnificent world-building amidst great and terrible technological innovation. The sheer length, credibility and complexity of popular series means a generation has the stomach to read stuff that wouldn’t necessarily have floated to the top of the must-read category in anyone’s personal library. Then, on top of that, oh joyful confluence, the space films, the Marvel films, and then the actual progress that is the stuff of science fact – the astronauts tweeting from real life in space…the appetites are all there, loud and clear, for the stories we told each other over the last century, whilst we waited for the genre to come back from niche to mainstream again.

For me, the important things in literally learning to love this kind of sci-fi were a) the grounding in the best stuff, the aforementioned authors of note, seeing the greatest possibilities of  and b) reading all the non-fiction about it, the biographies and the articles, the wonderful hive of such reasonably factual content that was a hefty slice of the early internet (very much my teenage playground). Understanding the publishers, the demand, the audience of the time, the strange variety of cult authors, popular authors, teams of editor-author-artist-publisher, of one-off books of a lifetime which were either never followed up at all, or, worse, were followed by book after book of unspeakable tripe, all this was important to me. It helped me see how drivel led to greatness, and vice versa, how trends came and went in the genre, how some writers wrote to a ‘formula’, and others told the same story over and over with different names.

These things don’t have to be important to everyone. It’s fine to pick something up, read it, or stop after a couple of pages, and then move on. But there’s a point at which the back catalogue is so vast, so epic and so capable of being massively disappointing, that it can get a bit to the point where you might as well not bother, or you might give up and go back to whatever’s out this year, which is also fine. (let it always be known that both I and the Crow fully believe that any and all reading is fine, always, there is no superior reading, no ‘better’ book, and nothing, come to that, wrong with reading the back of a cereal packet of a morning instead of the newspaper…you might just find more facts in it…but I digress…) But the point, my point, our Prudence and the Crow point is: if you’ve found yourself wondering about the older stuff, the vintage stuff, the strange stuff, the infinite worlds of weird and wonderful and awful writing that shaped the both the world we live in, and the worlds we read about, it’d be nice, wouldn’t it, if there was someone to choose a book from the entire history of the stuff for you, to place said book in your hand, tell you the key things about it and why they’d chosen it for you, to give you a way in, an opportunity, a chance to see for yourself what you think. And then, the next month, they’ll do the same thing again, but with something else, or, if you like, more of the same. And then after that, and after that. And before you know if, you’ve a library of thoughts, content, and context and, you’ve become a user of, we hope, a genuine and human service that enables discovery and enjoyment.

And if you came here genuinely hoping to know where to start in sci-fi, and are feeling none the wiser at the end of this, why, of course I’d love you to sign up for a Prudence and the Crow box of your very own, but in the meantime, here are my five most generic recommendations from the vintage world for those just starting out at looking back! I’d love to know any more of your favourite recs, or, indeed, any of your thoughts!

  • The New Accelerator, by H. G. Wells. Available here as an MP3 reading, along with many other choice Wells short stories. This story occupies a huge space inside my head. I’d love to see it as a film.
  • Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke. A great way into Clarke’s brilliance; I love that the man himself considered this one of his favourites. A strong story that’s hardly aged, about the flip from Utopia to dystopia and the power of children.
  • The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov I love the Multivac-verse, centred as it is around a magnificent computer, and this simple, effective short story is nothing but a masterclass in every aspect of sci-fi, and, indeed, the form of the short story itself. Link is to an excellent YouTube reading.
  • The Moon Voyage, by Jules Verne. A composite of From the Earth to the Moon, and Around the Moon, two of my favourite early sci-fi reads. The perfect ‘men in a rocket’ read, made better still, as Three Men in a Boat was a few decades later, by the addition of a dog.
  • Chocky, by John Wyndham. Perfect perspective writing: a father observes his son’s interactions with his imaginary friend, which grow more and more disturbing. Link is to the classic 1967 dramatisation. A small novella, brilliantly executed.