Tag Archives | book clubs

Bad Buys: McSweeney’s Book Release Club

onehundredOn occasion we must gather to censure rather than celebrate those publishers who provide us book addicts with our fixes.

I come to bury McSweeney’s Book Release Club, not to praise it. The indie darling of web and print has given me so much joy over the years (Adam Levin’s The Instructions! Lucky Peach magazine (now splitting from McSweeney’s)! It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers!) that a book club seemed destined to delight.

Let me quote from the Book Release Club page:

It’s similar to a book-of-the-month club—we’ll send BRC subscribers the next eight books we put out, roughly one per month.

McSweeney’s Book Release Club falls down on the most basic rule of a book club: send books to your subscribers. I paid my $100 on April 4, 2013 and waited for my book per month.

The months remained bookless.

Emails to McSweeney’s customer service on May 28 and June 18 went unacknowledged. I called them June 24, eventually talked to their customer service rep, Jordan, and was promised an apology book to make up for the wait. Indeed, Always Apprentices arrived not long after and I awaited the glorious beginning of my monthly McSweeneys’ books.

I got my first McSweeney’s book (Lucy Corin’s One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses) August 29, 2013, almost five months after signing up and two months after talking to their customer service rep.

Nothing has arrived since.

For taking customers’ money and providing no release schedule or proactive communication, I castigate McSweeney’s Book Release Club.

For refusing to acknowledge emails to their customer service email address, I shame McSweeney’s.

For utterly failing to keep up their end of the Book Release Club bargain by sending books at anything approaching the advertised schedule, I heartily curse McSweeney’s Book Release Club.

For shame.


UPDATE: Ironically, my next McSweeney’s book — High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing — appeared in my mailbox the very week I wrote this. That makes two books received in six months.

UPDATE: On Dec. 17, 2014, I received TWO books: Toro Bravo by John Gorham and Liz Crain (a cookbook I’m terribly excited to own) and The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente. The tally: Four books received in eight months. Funny enough, I got The Best of McSweeney’s — with multiple autographs, no less! — from my Powell’s Indiespensable subscription last month! See Indiespensable reviewed here.

UPDATE: On March 15, 2014 I received both White Girls by Hilton Als (they offer a signed version on their website but I did not receive that edition) and The Best of McSweeney’s (three months after receiving the same edition with  multiple author autographs from McSweeney’s). The total is now six books received in eleven months; two fewer books than promised at three months longer than promised with no communication of titles or schedule.

UPDATE: April 3, 2014. One  full year after subscribing, I have received my final box (containing Confidence, or the Appearance of Confidence: the Best of Believer Music Interviews edited by Vendela Vida and Ross Simonini; and The Parallel Apartments by Bill Cotter). The box also contained my first, last, and only formal communication about the subscription: a piece of paper declaring this my final Book Release Club shipment. I think it and I are glad to be done with one another.

The upshot is this: I received books worth more than the $100 I paid. But I did not receive them in a predictable fashion. I had no say in what I received. There was no communication from the company. And on a strictly subjective level, the majority of the book selection did not appeal to my reading interests.

Good Buys: Powell’s Books’ Indiespensable book club

PowellsBook clubs are a good risk. The greatest risk of receiving regular books in the mail is that you won’t care for the book. As I love a shelf of handsome volumes, it’s a risk I happily accept.

The risks are low with Powell’s extraordinary Indiespensable book club, Every six weeks Powell’s sends a curated hardcover in a custom slipcase autographed by the author.

(That these handsome books are accompanied by extra goodies is delightful: I have received tote bags, tea, bourbon pecans, chocolates, caramels, notepads, postcards, magnets, shortbread, popcorn, advanced copies of new books, and sea salt. It’s pretty awesome.)

Powell’s hits home runs regularly with clear winners like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and J. M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus. It feels fairly phenomenal to have Coetzee’s autograph on my bookshelf.

Even when I haven’t previously heard of the book, I’m usually thrilled to bits. Recent Indiespensable volumes that blew my mind include In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell, The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell, and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.

Even when I don’t love the book I appreciate its beauty  or the opportunity to have read it.  I found Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus light and fluffy but its opulent velvet slipcase was beautiful. Andre Dubus II’s memoir Townie made a good gift for my father. I admit I threw Mark Slouka’s Brewster across the room in screaming fury (I have a low tolerance for animal abuse and this book’s horrors will haunt me longer than I’d like) but it was by no means an unworthy novel.

Administratively, Powell’s deserves credit for sharing weeks in advance what book is next and what day it ships. Today I learned that I can expect Donna Tartt’s new novel just after its Nov. 6 ship date. As an ongoing subscriber I can take the book off my shopping list, and new subscribers have a chance to jump on board for this particular shipment or an ongoing subscription.

Powell’s Indiespensable is the right way to run a book club: organized, reliable, one-of-a-kind editions, extra goodies, and well stocked with quality books.  The Shared Universe recommends it unreservedly.

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