Earlier this summer, The Bookseller reported that publishers and booksellers had seen “dramatic increases” in the numbers of people signing up for book subscriptions. Meanwhile Rosamund De La Hey, founder of The Mainstreet Trading Company, told us: “We have seen a 10-fold increase in subscriptions in the past year, which has been amazing.”
Book subscriptions make the perfect presents for bookworms so we’re not in the least surprised that they’ve been flying off the shelves. After all, what could be nicer than a beautifully wrapped, hand-picked, thought-provoking book dropping through your letterbox every month?
The beauty of these types of service is that they enable readers to discover new genres and titles that they may not have come across before. However, some subscriptions focus on particular types of books. The Original Travelling Reader, for instance, themes its book choices around geographical areas while The Rare Birds Book Club champions brilliant books written by women.
Even better, many sellers add a treat or two to their boxes – anything from a delicious bar of artisan chocolate to a packet of teabags. There’s often the chance to join online discussions, Q&As and talks with featured authors too. What’s not to like?
Plus, for readers who don’t want to commit to three, six or 12-month plans, many sellers also offer the chance to buy a book box as a one-off. There really is something for everyone, and we’ve tried to list them all here.
The best book subscription boxes for 2021 are:
Best overall – Mr B’s reading subscriptions: £50, Mrbsemporium.com
Best for diversity – Mainstreet books diverse voices subscription: £85, Mainstreetbooks.co.uk
Best for relaxing – Reposed: £12.80, Reposed.co
Best for discovering new places – The Original Travelling Reader: £34.99, Thetravellingreader.com
Best for children – The Willoughby Book Club children’s book club: £34.99, Thewilloughbybookclub.co.uk
Best gift that keeps on giving – ShelterBox book club: £10, Shelterbox.org
Best for chocoholics – Bookishly Classics Revisited Luxury Chocolate and Book Subscription: £18, Bookishly.co.uk
Best for fiction written by women – Rare Birds Book Club: £14, Rebirdsbookclub.com
Best for a chilled night in – Books + Beer: £13.50, Booksplusbeer.com
Mr B’s reading subscriptions
Where do you like reading? What would be your specialist subject on Mastermind? These were just a couple of the questions we had to answer before our box from Mr B’s reading subscriptions arrived. We pinged back our answers and a few days later a bright blue package popped through the letterbox. Inside, wrapped in Mr B’s distinctive floral paper and sealed with a gold sticker, was a book handpicked for us by a Mr B’s bibliotherapist.
It turned out to be Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (£7.46, Amazon.co.uk), complete with a sturdy bookmark. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath has twice been named the UK’s best independent bookshop and the staff really know their literary stuff. Subscriptions last for three, six or 11 months and readers can choose either paperbacks or hardbacks. They’re not the cheapest but we loved the expert tailoring of book choices to readers’ tastes.
Buy now £50.00, Mrbsemporium.com
Mainstreet Books diverse voices subscription
Best: For diversity
The Mainstreet Trading Company, a bookshop in St Boswells in the Scottish Borders, launched its first book subscription in 2016. Its latest offering is the diverse voices subscription, which promotes inclusive publishing and inspires book lovers to read more widely. Over a period of six months subscribers get three fiction and three non-fiction titles that have “moved, enlightened or challenged” the Mainstreet team.
Our first book, in chic brown paper and tied with twine, was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (£6, Amazon.co.uk) while the second was a non-fiction title, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (£8.19, Amazon.co.uk). Plus, 10 per cent of every subscription purchased goes to the charity Intercultural Youth Scotland.
Buy now £85.00, Mainstreetbooks.co.uk
Best: For relaxing
Billed as a book subscription for modern women, the Reposed box includes everything for a relaxed night in – posh chocolate, tea, luxury beauty products, elegant stationery and an unputdownable book. The editors curate the best contemporary literary fiction, always choosing paperback editions that are easy to read in the bath.
The titles are brand-new so it’s unlikely that subscribers will already have them. Past choices include: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (£8.13, Amazon.co.uk), The Party by Elizabeth Day (£7.37, Amazon.co.uk) and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (£7.13, Amazon.co.uk).
Our book – The Margot Affair by Sanae Lemoine (£7.99, Amazon.co.uk) – came with a perfume sample from Miller Harris, a chocolate bar, a lemon teabag and a pretty journal. There’s also an online community where readers can discuss each month’s books.
Buy now £13.80, Reposed.co
The Original Travelling Reader
Best: For discovering new places
This is a wonderful idea – a monthly book subscription that takes you on a reading journey round the UK. Each box is themed around a particular region and comes with a cornucopia of delights, including a book set in the area, something to eat and drink, tourist leaflets, a bookmark and a gift.
We tested a delightfully packaged East Sussex box, complete with The Light Keeper by Cole Moreton (£6.79, Amazon.co.uk), a novel set near the chalk-white cliffs of Beachy Head. Our box also included a mug, teabags from East Sussex tea company Bird and Blend, a chocolate bar from Only Coco in Hastings and some East Sussex notecards. We particularly liked the addition of a map of the South Downs National Park to inspire us to plan our own visit.
Buy now £34.99, Thetravellingreader.com
The Willoughby Book Club children’s book club
Best: For children
Established in 2012, The Willoughby Book Club offers a plethora of book subscription boxes – from picture books for toddlers to tomes for young adults, fiction fans, budding chefs and even couples.
We tested the children’s book club box for readers aged four to 12 and reckon it would appeal to young bookworms and less confident readers alike. All we had to do was answer a few questions about our children’s reading tastes and hey presto, the first book, specially chosen by the Willoughby team, arrived in the post.
Wrapped in jaunty paper, the box included a notebook to chronicle the titles read. The subscriptions are available in three, six and 12-month packages and for every subscription box sold the company donates a new book to Book Aid International, supporting the charity’s education and literacy development work in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Buy now £34.99, Thewilloughbybookclub.co.uk
ShelterBox book club
Best: Gift that keeps on giving
The ShelterBox book club is no ordinary book club. This charity works with families around the world who have lost their homes due to disaster or conflict. By signing up to the book club, subscribers get the chance to vote on a shortlist of three books every six weeks. The book with the most votes is sent to members, along with a bookmark, explanatory notes and an update on ShelterBox’s work. Readers can also take part in online discussions, Q&As and talks with featured authors.
The book choices always share underrepresented stories from cultures and communities that don’t often appear on the bestseller lists so it’s a great way to discover new writers. Recent choices include A Woman of Firsts by Edna Adan Ismail (£8.19, Amazon.co.uk) and We, the Survivors by Tash Aw (£6.25, Amazon.co.uk). The book club currently has more than 3,000 members and as one of them says: “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Buy now £10.00, Shelterbox.org
Bookishly classics revisited luxury chocolate and book subscription
Best: For chocoholics
Books and chocolate are a winning combination so we loved this stylish duo from Bookishly. Available as a one-off or for three or six months, the classics revisited subscription consists of a modern paperback either based on or inspired by a literary classic, plus a bar of artisan handmade chocolate.
The chocolate wrapper cleverly features a quote from the book that prompted the month’s choice. For instance, we received Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (£7.37, Amazon.co.uk) and the accompanying chocolate bar, made by Quirky Chocolate in Edinburgh, was emblazoned with a quote from Howard’s End by EM Forster (£5.94, Amazon.co.uk). If you’re looking for an original present for a design-conscious book lover this would be perfect.
Buy now £18.00, Bookishly.co.uk
Rare Birds Book Club
Best: For fiction written by women
The Rare Birds Book Club sets out to make reading fun. Founded by Rachel Wood, it champions great fiction written by women. Every month the book club creates summaries of two novels and asks subscribers to choose one. The title of the book you’ve chosen remains secret till it lands on the doormat, complete with a note about the choice and an illustrated bookmark featuring a literary “rare bird”. Past reads include My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (£6.29, Amazon.co.uk) or Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (£7.37, Amazon.co.uk).
We received Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (£7.37, Amazon.co.uk), along with a bookmark celebrating The Colour Purple by Alice Walker (£5.99, Amazon.co.uk). One of the best things about this book club is that readers get access to the Rare Birds members’ area, where they can rate, review and chat about the books they have read.
Buy now £14.00, Rarebirdsbookclub.com
Books & Beer
Best: For a chilled night in
Books and Beer is all about switching off your phone and putting your feet up with a couple of beers and a book. All you have to do is choose the book genre you prefer – non-fiction or crime – and a recently published paperback will arrive in the post, along with two craft beers from up-and-coming breweries.
We signed up for non-fiction and received The Greatest Beer Run Ever by John ”Chick” Donohue and JT Molloy (£10.57, Amazon.co.uk). It’s the astonishing story of a soldier who journeyed from New York to take his soldier buddies a beer in Vietnam. Our beer, which came with tasting notes and recipe suggestions, was from Lost and Found A.BL, a Brighton brewing company. Just right for a chilled-night in.
Buy now £13.00, Booksplusbeer.com
The verdict: Book subscription boxes
Mr B’s reading subscriptions ticked all the boxes for us with its personalised book choices, diverse titles and ultra-stylish packaging. We also loved the Mainstreet Books diverse voices subscription, which encourages wider reading and promotes inclusive publishing at the same time.
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