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.

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Despatches from the Land of Nearly Christmas!

Goodness, what an extremely long time it is since I updated this blog! Prudence here, surrounded by no fewer than three kinds of tea and two cups of coffee. I trust you’re all keeping well?  I thought it was time to do a little update and let you know how everything’s going!

We have been wonderfully, incredibly busy here at PatC HQ since my last update. We’re thrilled by how many wonderful customers and subscribers we’ve got, and sorry to have sold out of subscriptions for the time being, but we do plan to open them up for limited periods again in the future – do keep an eye out in January!

We’ve learnt a lot about what we do and who we’re doing it for – every month we pick up on something new we can do to make things work better – and we’ll be improving things significantly in the months to come, from introducing a new box style that will a) get to us on time and b) get to you on time whilst c) being made in the UK from good quantities of recycled paper, and from restructuring how we do things around the month. We’re also trying to be good and be more strict with our ‘office hours’ – no good comes of 3am customer service, a rule we’ve learnt so often, but always struggle over, because, well, in the middle of the night, you see a query, you want to help! But we must be strong; it’s not always helpful, and it’s easy to end up talking rhubarb when you do this. So, if you don’t get an immediate reply to a query – don’t panic! We’ll be there as soon as we can, we promise. We aim to answer all correspondence within 72 hours.

The other thing we’d like you to know is, we remain just the two of us! We’re not a large subscription box company with a warehouse of books, we’re not backed by financial groups or sponsored by, well, anyone at all. At this point, PatC makes no revenue through anything other than sales of our boxes. We’re two young women who’ve been doing online business for fifteen years, and this is a venture we created from scratch without capital, with only our knowledge and experience. It’s growing beautifully, and we’re so proud of what we do and thrilled by the responses we get every day.

Every box is folded and stamped by Prudence, every single thing in your box is put there by Prudence; every box is wrapped and stickered by the Crow. The Crow does all our photography and coding. Prudence does the Twitter and Facebook; the Crow does Instagram and Pinterest (Prudence is really bad at Pinterest…). Prudence does the post side of things. We share handwriting, cutting-out, book-choosing, gift-making and stock-organising duties, and both do customer service. The only thing we’ve sometimes ‘outsourced’ is the bookbags – Prudence’s mum has done some quite heroic sewing over the last month for us in order to have everything ready for your December boxes!

Also, apart from our little ad with the wonderful IGGPPC, we haven’t advertised externally at all – everything comes from word of mouth, and the loveliest thing of all is to see the groups of friends and family we send to, and to see more and more addresses cropping up in the same student halls, office blocks, streets, schools, cities, towns and villages. Know that we really, really appreciate your conversations in the coffee break, your photos and shares, blogs and unboxing videos!

We really, really love what we do. There’ve been some (extremely!) long nights and some rather heated arguments (“But I just don’t think they’ll like Book X as much as Book Y!” “I think they will!”) but we wouldn’t change a shred of it. Here’s to many more boxes, and, best of all, many more books!

From the picture at the top, you can see this was meant to be more about our Christmas bundle, but I got all excited writing the catchup here! But don’t let me forget – until 10pm GMT on 5th December, you can buy a random vintage book and have it beautifully and seasonally wrapped and sent straight to you, or your loved one, or a vague acquaintance, for just £6 in the UK. To do this, head here immediately! Quantities are limited; some genres more than others, so we’d advise not leaving it too long! Meanwhile, happy December!

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.