If you have been following my Instagram feed for a while, you may have noticed that I receive a book box from The Boxwalla every two months. I have been receiving these boxes for over a year and a half now and have finally come around to feeling like I can provide solid feedback on their content and their ethos as a company. The Boxwalla actually offers four different types of boxes: books, beauty, food, and film (all of which you can switch between if you are part of the subscription service), but since I am only familiar with their book box, I will focus on that service. Before I say more, I want to pause here to lay some things out. In this day and age, it’s always good to be as transparent as possible, so I want to say that I don’t have any sort of affiliate relationship with them nor do I get any compensation for anything I say about them. I do receive the boxes for free, but there has never been any pressure to review the boxes — clearly, since it has taken me about a year and a half to actually write a post about them.
The Boxwalla originally reached out to me in Fall of 2016 and offered to send me their book box; since my Instagram feed was (and still is) pretty focused on Japanese literature and transnational literature, they wanted to send me an upcoming box which included Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear. They also offered me the choice of one of their earlier boxes, just to get a sense of the service and the types of books they select. I believe that the first box I ever received included Satantago by László Krasznahorkai, The Natural Order of Things by António Lobo Antunes, and Chronicles in Stone by Ismail Kadre. I read some of these books and ended up passing them along to other people I felt would enjoy them, too. Since then, I have been enjoying reading and sharing the books that arrive at my door every two months.
What I admire the most about the company definitely has to be the way that they curate the box; if you look back through their Instagram feed, you’ll see that they select a wide range of books, not only from different countries, but from different cultural groups, as well. As someone who studies Japanese literature, I can be pretty myopic when it comes to the books that pique my interest. Looking back, I would say that my reading was quite limited in scope and I had little experience reading books from non-European/non-Anglophone or non-Japanese authors. Yet, all literary traditions have their classics and it’s a shame that so many of us who love literature miss out on these rich sources simply because we don’t know about them. Madonna in a Fur Coat is an excellent example here; when I posted about reading it, so many people commented on how happy they were to see this text making the rounds online because it is a Turkish classic. As someone whose literary experience is mainly in English literature and Japanese literature, I had no idea this text existed until it was selected for a book box — and it turned out to be fantastic! I like the sheer range of texts they select from and I have enjoyed the contrasts between the texts they select to put into one box.
Aside from the books themselves, I do have to say that I really admire the people behind the company, too. I have found that they are very open to feedback and even solicit it to ensure they are presenting books that are enjoyable for readers. My affection stems from an experience I had a number of months ago, where they asked me to read through a book they were considering putting in the box, but felt there were some Japanese caricatures in the novel that they worried would come across negatively. I reviewed the book for them and, ultimately, understood the reason behind the depiction within the logic of the novel, but felt that there was a possibility of the text being offensive to some readers. In the end, it didn’t feel like a text that fit the spirit of the box and I gave my opinion on the matter. They thanked me for the time I spent reading and for offering my advice, and did not include that book in the box. I gained a lot of respect for them because of that gesture — not because I took offense to the text and felt vindicated somehow, but because this indicated to me, as the consumer, that they were attuned to providing good content for their audience. So many companies have a paternalistic relationship to their consumers, believing that they know best and that we should simply take what they give us, even if consumers have valid critiques. I found this experience to be so refreshing; here is a company who sought out the advice of one of their consumers and used that information to make a decision, rather than waiting to “fix” their behavior after some sort of problem arises.
I also have enjoyed seeing their willingness to adapt their box throughout the last year and a half. For instance, when I first received boxes in 2016, they were offering three books per box — which always felt like a lot to me, personally. However, they eventually switched to two books per box, which gives readers about a month to read each book before the next box is shipped out. This is a much more doable approach and, I think, also encourages us to actually read and engage with the books, instead of simply acquiring them for the sake of “having” books. I’ve been really happy with this new approach, because it happens to align with my relationship to books as objects, too. I have seen so many posts on Instagram glorifying a 積ん読 tsundoku (buying books without reading them, collecting/stockpiling books) attitude, which is fine…though I think romanticized to some extent. Some people do find a lot of solace and joy in just having things that are positively charged around them, but I am not necessarily that person when it comes to books. I’m no minimalist either, though — if you saw our apartment, you would definitely see books all over the place! I am happiest when I can strike a balance between actually engaging with the books I have around me and having new books at hand to read when I am in the mood. I don’t like the thought of all the books that I have ever owned in my life sitting on the shelf forever, never to be activated through someone reading them. I am therefore someone who tends to pass books on, donate them, or sell them, because they may actually be read again. Many of the books that I have received through the Boxwalla have ended up in friends’ hands, as I think that it’s good to keep books moving, especially books you enjoyed but maybe didn’t absolutely adore — the books that I adore do stay on my shelves.
I guess the question now becomes, if the Boxwalla decided they didn’t want to send me the book box anymore, would I buy it? To be honest, I probably would. I like the spacing between boxes, I like the way they curate their boxes and introduce me to authors I had no idea existed, I like the fact that you could switch between boxes if you wanted to try something new, I like that they don’t lock you into a set number of months, I like the fun campaigns they do on Instagram (you have to check out their Sound of My Language project), and I like the people behind it. I think they deserve the following they have and I am happy that they have continued to work with me!