Monthly Subscription Boxes – yay or nay?

dear-reader3

Recently I visited one of your lovely blogs (I can’t remember which one, but I’ll look for it!) and saw that it had a post about a monthly book subscription. And I was like, “what is this magic?!” So I started digging…

A monthly subscription box is just what it sounds like. Once a month, you receive a box. Within this box are magical contents having to do with literary genius… (Or whatever other monthly box you get – makeup, superhero paraphernalia, etc.)

Fascinated by these magical boxes, I went in search of one of my very own! I decided on two different subscriptions to try out and after this month (November), I’ll go ahead and pick one to stick with.

The first subscription that I signed up for was the one that started it all. It was the one received by the blog post I stumbled upon and I was so taken with it that, despite it’s rather steep price (I thought, anyway), I would give it a try. The second was a more affordable option that seems far more reasonable for my meager income and will likely be the one I stick with.

OwlCrate.

So the first subscription is OwlCrate. This is the one featured on the blog post and the reason I fell in love with it is that it contains so much stuff. The contents include the obligatory book (because, really, why else would I get it given my search parameters?), but additional items as well. Book marks, teas, nick-nacks, jewelry, post cards – you name it! Each box has a theme and, oh gosh, you don’t understand how much I love themes. All of the items within the box center around this theme.

This month is Wonderland and I’m pretty darn psyched for it. It hasn’t arrived yet as they tend to arrive towards the end of the month (from what I understand) while the other subscription arrives early on in the month (I’ve already received it and I’ll get to that in a moment). As soon as it gets here, I’ll do an additional post on that.

Until then, here’s a complete “contents” list for the items in the OwlCrate box:

  • Brand spankin’ new YA novel
  • 3-5 bookish items (jewelry, bookmarks, stickers, prints, toys, accessories, etc.)
  • Exclusive items from the author

All of this comes out to $29.99 + shipping (which came out to $6.99 for me).

Um, wow. That’s a lot. I know it’s not a lot, a lot, but it’s a lot, you know? Especially since you only get ONE BOOK.

Yes, true, you get all those nifty other things, too! And I love those other things. But that’s still a big chunk of change to be throwing down for something that… well, just might not have that much reading enjoyment. I mean, for that price, I could get two, maybe three books, and if I do it on Amazon, I’ll get free shipping, too.

And that’s if they’re all new.

So is it really worth it?

I don’t know yet. I haven’t received the box, so it’s hard to say whether or not I’ll find it worth the price. On some level, I hope that it is, because I want my money’s worth. On the other hand, I kind of hope not. Why? Because then I won’t be tempted to do it every month. Because I don’t have the sort of money to just spend on this monthly and it’ll sort of make me sad if I have to be a grown up and put this little whim aside when I like it so much.

So here’s hoping that I do like it – and that I don’t!

BookCase.Club.

The second, more affordable option that I decided to try is a little thing called BookCase.Club. They have no frills, but what they do have are TWO books. Every month. You can choose your genre to receive (obviously mine was Teenage Dream, so all YA books) and the box arrives around a week or so into the month. Pretty nifty.

The downside is this: You only get the books.

The upside is: It’s only $14.99 including shipping.

I mean, even if you purchased two used books, you’d probably be spending that PLUS five bucks in shipping (unless you’re lucky enough to have a bookstore near to you that carries anything other than nonfiction and adult romance…). So looking at it like that, it’s still a steal. Of course, you don’t get to pick the books (I’ll get to this in a moment) which can be a little scary, but it’s also a treat because you might end up with something you wouldn’t normally try on your own!

Additionally, for every subscription (and subscription renewal), a book is donated! That’s a charity I can definitely get behind – and it’s for something I’m going to do anyway. I’m all for that, so the price and the charity definitely make this one a great option. Yes, it sucks a little that you don’t get all the trinkets with it, but I don’t think they’re enough to make up the price difference – not when I’m as broke as I am. (Responsibility is calling; it wants your books back…)

As I mentioned, I already received my package from BookCase.Club. It arrived just the other day (the 6th, I think) and as promised contained two books. One was hardcover, the other soft.

Softcover:

reality-boy
I didn’t like the cover at first… but it grows on me every time I see it.

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Hardcover:

maybe-one-day
This one may be more my speed…

Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

I hadn’t heard of either of them before and to be honest I was a little… disappointed. There’s a really good chance that these are both awesome books, but they aren’t ones I would have picked out for myself. Like, ever. Or if I did, they would be *way* down on the list.

This makes me a little upset, because we go back to the “I paid money for this” and now I’ve got two books that maybe I won’t like at all.

HOWEVER.

I will say this: I will give these books a chance. If I don’t like them, I’ll give them away or sell them or donate them. Whatever. Someone else will very likely enjoy them, even if I don’t. And you know what? I’ll have branched out. I’ll have tried something new. And maybe next month I’ll get something more my speed. Because for fifteen dollars a month, two books delivered right to my doorstep isn’t so bad.

What do you guys think?

Yes, there are definitely more subscription boxes out there. I looked through a bunch of them and picked these two because they seemed to be the best of the quality options for the prices they were, but at opposing ends of the spectrum. But do you have a subscription that you prefer? Do you think maybe this is all a little silly, risky even to pay for books you may or may not like?

Let me know in the comments below!

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

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YA and Why It’s Important

Dear Reader

Just recently I had a rant about books and writing exercises which ultimately digressed into an angry rant about how I was annoyed that people are so snooty about YA books. I mean, reading is reading, right? Shouldn’t we encourage it, especially at that age? And yes and we should, but more to the point, what’s wrong with reading it as an adult? After all, adults write YA.

So now, here I am, back again, to try and tackle the reasons why I think this is complete and utter BS. And I’m fixing to break it down, too.

First. Reading is important for everyone. We should encourage it, which means starting young. That also means that some of the most important literature in a person’s life is going to be Middlegrade and Young Adult. *Maybe* Childrens also, because I friggin’ LOVED The Little Mermaid (the one with the artwork by Santore?) and it’s stuck with me since I was a little girl. Since these books are going to be the first real influences we have, they are going to have the most impact on our lives, right? Our reading careers. So we should encourage them and nurture them and make kids feel good about reading them.

But what about adults?

Well, that brings me to my first real question, Why should adults read YA?

The answer? Because YA novels focus on emotion. I read somewhere (and no, I don’t have a reference, so don’t ask because I’m terrible with such things unless I have them written down and/or right in front of me) that reading is what helps people learn empathy. For those of you who aren’t quite sure, empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling, because you are able to put yourself in their place. It isn’t the same as feeling sympathy, which means you simply feel sorry for them, though perhaps that sympathy is rooted in something like, “You poor, deviant schmuck. I was never like that and I’m sorry that you are so wretched and can’t be like me.” See how sympathy is a little different?

No, empathy means you feel what they feel. It’s an incredibly human, incredibly important trait. Without it, you’re pretty much a sociopath (though, admittedly, I’m not a doctor of any kind, so do your own research and see if you come to the same conclusion).

So what does that mean? Does it matter *what* we read in the end so long as we’re reading? In the long run, it probably doesn’t really matter. I don’t know if anyone’s done a study on it or not, but I can tell you this honestly: I’ve read adult literature and I’ve read YA literature. Adult books focus on several things really well, but most of them fail in a couple of key areas, too.

They focus on:

  • In depth plots.
  • Intricate histories and physical landscapes.
  • Mystery and suspense.
  • Sex. Lots and lots and lots and lots and – oh, just put it on repeat or copy and paste. You get the idea. There’s a lot of it. I know, because that’s what I’m hired to write half the time and it’s kind of terrible.

And I want to say that these are not bad things. None of them. Not even the sex (because women have a right to like sex and I fully support the opening of their eyes to indulge in something that is so often delegated solely to the male half of the species. We’re sexual creatures. We enjoy it, too. That’s okay. And maybe reading it is just more fun for us than watching it. There is nothing wrong with that and I support smut. I just don’t care for writing it.). But the problem is that they’re missing a very key element. Emotions and that’s because of the way adult books are written.

If you’ve ever read an adult book and then read a young adult book, you’ve probably noticed a few things. First, they’re written usually in third person point of view. Meaning they use “she/he” instead of “I”. Second, it’s usually omniscient. Sometimes it’s a close third or a limited third, but a lot of times we see a little bit of everyone. We don’t really get into their heads and maybe only half know (or care) what they’re feeling. All of which has a purpose. It keeps us in the dark as to who is really the good guy, who is to be trusted, and what’s really going on. Focusing on scenery or setting can help develop the atmosphere or the mood or even just give us clues about the story. And the sex? Well, yeah, it’s there’s a reason for that one, too. People have sex. It adds realism and, uh, stimulation for the reader.

Moving on.

All of this is good. But when we have what’s called distance from our characters, it’s a lot harder to empathize with them. And sometimes, it’s harder to give a damn what happens to them. Who cares if Sheila dies? We barely knew anything of her beyond her sparkling record as high powered CEO and super secret spy for the CIA. I mean, did she even love her family? Hell if we know.

But with YA we don’t have the same distance (usually). We generally have a first person POV that is very close. We see what they’re seeing, feel what they’re doing, know what they’re thinking. Because they tell us. Everything we see is through their eyes. It becomes very easy to understand why they do what they do and what they’re feeling, because we’re feeling it. And even the novels that are in third tend to be a close third, meaning we still focus on the main character, get in their head, and feel what they feel, even though it’s not technically from their perspective. This closeness opens us up to understanding how others feel and react. It makes us empathize.

Don’t you think that’s important?

I’m not going to drag on and talk about the quality of writing or how it doesn’t matter if you’re reading classics, adult novels, or YA romance, but I will say that Lord of the Rings was a kid’s book. And the stories that everyone’s heard over the years, passed down since forever, are kid’s stories. Fairy tales. Fiction. And I will mention that The Giver is a YA book. The Outsiders is a YA book. Island of the Blue Dolphins is a YA book. And if you think that these books don’t have value, you aren’t very sure about what value is.

And one more thing, I happen to enjoy classics, too. I love Hawthorne and I enjoyed Dracula. (Seriously, the original. If you haven’t read it, you don’t understand what this means.) I like Virginia Woolf and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

If you think that just because I love Divergent and the Hunger Games that I somehow don’t know what I’m talking about, or am not “grown up” then you are narrow minded and I’ve just decided that your opinion no longer matters to me.

Sincerely

E.C. Orr

A Little Opinion in Your Coffee? Yes, Please

Dear Reader

I know I’m doing the How To series for writing and since I’m working on it, I can’t help but think on whether or not my advice is even remotely useful. (I’d like to think some of it is.) And the reason that I wonder this is because I’ve read a *lot* of these types of articles and How To guides and sometimes I come away from thinking, “Wow, that girl/guy didn’t know ANYTHING.” Or at least, nothing that applied to me.

Recently I read a post that was going over reinvigorating your writing (I forget the bloggers name; I’ll try to go back and find it) and while I thought the post was basically good, I found myself feeling… blah about it. I didn’t like it. Not because I necessarily disagreed, but because I felt like he wasn’t offering me anything new, and more importantly, nothing that worked. Because I’d already tried it. (Okay, that’s a little harsh. It actually was decent advice, but I’ve tried some of those techniques and they don’t work for me. As a matter of fact, I think I tried every one that he listed – and I mostly thought they were bunk and didn’t help me.)

These were the same “suggestions” I got in my creative writing class. The same rules I stumbled blindly through in English. The same humdrum “expand your horizons into the exclusive high art world of writing”. And quite frankly, I’m sick of it.

I don’t want to “broaden my horizons” when it comes to writing. Why? Because I’ve already whittled and gotten down to the grit. I know what I like and what I’m good at (which are not necessarily the same thing). Enjoying my genre doesn’t mean I should change it up.

And I guess what really just irked me was the tip to “emulate other authors”. It’s hard to explain why this one set me off so badly, because it’s not a bad suggestion – just like branching out into other genres isn’t a bad suggestion. But let me try.

The class I was most excited for in college was Creative Fiction Writing. Hell, yes. What I’ve been waiting *years* for. And then I get there. Suddenly people are throwing things out there like “no genre writing” and “emulate these *all very similar to one another and very droll because they’re fancy smancy breaking edge * authors”. I was like, where’s the freedom? Where’s the creativity?

And, hell, where’s the writing?

Well, let me tell you that it came in the form of about 2-3 manuscripts (ours), a handful of short stories (no more than about 1200 words), and a bunch of reading other people’s junk. (There were some decent writers in my class… and a lot of really bad ones.) And if you think about it, when you’ve got a classroom of about 16 students (~) and you only meet once a week for three hours, then guess what: there’s not going to be a lot of time for writing assignments.

“But, it’s a fiction writing class!” you protest. To which I say sadly, “Yes, yes it is.”

I understand that there should be some reading involved in a writing class. You should check out how other authors write so that you get a feel for your own writing. But that class picked short stories (never novels) from a compilation book that seemed to want all of the authors to write in the exact same voice. That blaise “Oh, the world is so terrible, I’m numb to it all, see how deep I am because I’ve killed my baby in the bathtub” voice. To which I say, “Seriously?”

Because I don’t like reading that crap. And I don’t like writing it. And to get negative comments on *my* work simply because it wasn’t what others enjoyed reading while *I* had to deal with things like the above (seriously, dead baby in the bathtub was one of the manuscripts I had to read for class – it wasn’t optional), was utterly ridiculous. So what if I like to write paranormal? So what if I like YA instead of Adult?

Because that was the other half of the equation. Everyone had it in their heads that if you’re not writing “literature” (deep, soul searching, bs about how you shot the last proverbial pink elephant in Africa while on a mind safari with your best buddy ‘effing friend and his wife) then you’re not doing anything important. And you’re not writing anything good.

But YA is good. And it is important.

What, teens don’t read? Adults don’t like first person? People don’t need empathy or emotion in their lives? Please, list me some more reasons why YA is so poor in comparison to the gritty realism of the adult (Fifty Shades of Trash) world.

I’m not saying that every YA manuscript out there is earth shattering, but I am saying that there’s just as much trash – maybe more – in the adult books. To write off a whole genre just because you’re little narrow minded view can’t wrap its head around little things like a close first POV, humans capable of feeling love for more than one person at once, and the struggle of dealing with being a teenager in a world that treats you like a child but expects you to act like an adult – well, that’s just foolishness on your part, isn’t it?

So before anyone starts running their mouth about “real” literature or “cutting edge” writing, start looking at what people are reading, how amazing writing can be across the board, and how being prejudiced in writing makes you look to be an ass.

Sincerely

E.C. Orr

P.S. – I really hadn’t meant for that whole thing to turn into a rant, yet here we are.