An Ode to Preloved Books

Ever wondered about the Minimalist parcel?

Let me tell you all about them.

I collect pre-loved novels from all over the place: secondhand bookshops, book fairs, op shops... wherever I can find them! I look for classics and contemporary novels across a range of genres. Some are nearly new and some are perfectly and lovingly battered. As long as there are no pages missing, they’re all fair game.

For me, there’s something special about secondhand books. It’s like they’ve picked up extra stories as they’ve been read and loved by other bookworms. I like to imagine their previous lives, especially if there’s a name and a decades-old date written inside.

I decided right from the start that the Minimalist subscribers would receive a ‘lucky-dip’ book each month. Otherwise I knew I’d end up paralysed with indecision, trying to choose books for each subscriber each month! However, I do keep a record of the books each subscriber receives, to make sure they don’t ever get the same book twice.

I’ve received some lovely feedback from Minimalist subscribers. Some have mentioned how much they appreciate the environmentally friendly aspect of receiving secondhand books. I especially love when it turns out that the lucky-dip book is unexpectedly perfect for the subscriber - something they never would have picked up themselves, but ended up loving, or an old favourite they remember reading years ago and are looking forward to reading again.

The Minimalist parcels have been my baby from the very beginnings of the NovelTea Book Club. If you’ve made it to the end of this extended love-letter, then thanks for listening! If you’re a Minimalist subscriber, then thanks for loving my parcels as much as I do ❤️

You can sign up for a Minimalist parcel subscription here.

Why Read Classics?

I had originally titled this post “Why You Should Read the Classics”, but then a friend reminded me how much we both hate the word ‘should’.

So please know, you are under no obligation to read ‘the classics’. I firmly believe that reading is best when it is joyful, a ‘want to’ rather than a ‘have to’ experience. That’s part of the reason I now hate almost every book I had to study in English in high school! It took me nearly a decade to start reading ‘the classics’ again and I am still re-learning to love them. Read whatever you want and enjoy doing it.

That said, here are my thoughts in praise of reading ‘the classics’.

(Look, I’m just going to go ahead and stop putting quotation marks around ‘classic’. We all know what I mean.)

Timelessness

When I talk about classics, I don’t just mean any old book. To me, a classic has a timelessness to it. It might have been written 30 years ago or 300 years ago, but a true classic touches on issues that are still relevant today. It has resonated with generations of readers. Why? Because I think human nature is also timeless, in a way. Both the wonderful and the terrible parts! This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading the classics: because they are still relevant, and can provide a different perspective on today’s issues. At the very least, they can remind us that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Learn

I’m also not going to pretend that everything that’s considered a classic is good quality - there’s a fair amount of luck and privilege in what gets to become a classic. But I think there are benefits to reading (critically, with our eyes wide open), even those classics which turn out to be kiiiinda problematic. Classics can teach us a lot about the time and place they were written, and if we read critically, we can learn an awful lot about the worldview of the author and their subjects. Thinking about how that time and place and culture has influenced our current culture can help us to gain a deeper understanding of the roots of current worldviews.

Those words though…

On the other hand, sometimes they are good quality, and have stood the test of time because generations of readers have fallen in love with brilliantly crafted sentences, truly memorable characters, and engaging plots. There’s a reason that Netflix is full of adaptations and the internet is saturated with quotes from classic authors. Another thing I love about those words? Often the way the author has written forces you to slow down - they weren’t writing for our 21st century attention spans. Maybe that’s occasionally frustrating, but maybe sometimes that’s a good thing.

In summary

Whether they’re good quality or not, I honestly believe that there’s value in reading classic literature. There’s so much opportunity for insight into the past and the present. It can highlight what’s changed, or even make you realise that, really, nothing has!

Need more classics in your life? Why not sign up for the NovelTea Book Club newsletter?




Review - White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Guest post by @bookspluscaffeine

What do you read when you don’t have time to read? 

Short stories!

This pocket sized, one hundred odd page Penguin black classic included two Russian short stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: White Nights and Bobok. I’m new to short stories (and still pretty new to classics too if I’m honest), but I thoroughly enjoyed both.

White Nights:

White Nights, originally published in 1848, is a coming together of two lonely souls tinged with sadness. 

When the rest of the Petersburg is sleeping or already set off to their summer dachas, a chance encounter between the wandering, solitary narrator and a crying young woman, Nastenka, sparks an intense four nights in which the characters reveal themselves to each other in dramatic monologues. 

Our narrator is a lonely dreamer, desperate for connection; “…the soul longs and craves for something else! And in vain the dreamer rakes over his old dreams, as though seeking a spark among the embers, to fan them into flame, to warm his chilled heart by the rekindled fire…”

Nastenka lived a sheltered life dominated by her grandmother, until a new lodger arrived, showed her attention and kindness (he gave her books!!!), took her heart, then left. Now, one year later, she awaits his promised return.

The pair find some solace in each other, meeting each night at the same place. He helps her write letters to her love, whilst at the same time he thinks of little else but her. And although he promised not to fall in love with her, he cannot help but do exactly that…

Then Nastenka’s long lost lodger returns.

Many poignantly beautiful, poetic passages. My heart broke a little. So much emotion that it felt like an epic tale, an opera, not a short story. 

A bitter sweet love story that will stay with me.

“My God, a moment of bliss. Why, isn't that enough for a whole lifetime?” 

Bobok

Have you ever had the experience of fiction changing the way you see real life? Well, Bobok did it for me. (And in less than 50 pages!)

I don’t want to go into too much detail and give it away, but, wowee, I loved the concept.

I will never walk through a graveyard the same way. 

Read it (I want to discuss!!)

White Nights was featured in the July 2019 Classic parcel from the NovelTea Book Club. If you’d like to learn more, or sign up to receive one of our monthly book & tea subscription parcels, please feel free to check out the rest of our website.


Sustainability

I've been thinking a lot about sustainability for the NovelTea Book Club this year.

For this little business, sustainability means two different things:

  • business sustainability: financially, and in terms of my time and energy, I want this business to last!

  • environmental: minimising my impact on the environment is super important to me, and it's a value I hold for the NovelTea Book Club too.

It's not always straight forward, and sustainability will always be an ongoing project here at NovelTea HQ.

Sometimes, these two areas conflict - improving my environmental sustainability might cost time or money, and I need to work through the balance of it all. But while the NovelTea Book Club is in no way perfect, I wanted to let you know about a few of the things we've implemented or are working to implement, particularly in the area of environmental sustainability.

Top of the list: have you had a look at the Minimalist parcel option? Purchasing a secondhand book is a great way of reducing environmental impact.

Packaging: I've received so much feedback over the past two years about how much subscribers enjoy receiving and opening hand-wrapped parcel items. Packaging is part of the fun of being a NovelTea Book Club subscriber - who doesn’t love receiving a gift in the mail every month?! However, it all adds up.

I'm working on a couple of ways to reduce the impact of the parcel packaging, without reducing the joy of unwrapping.

1. Where possible, I am now wrapping several items together. This does vary month to month, but every little bit counts

2. I've switched to using paper from The Wrapping Paper Company, which is 100% sustainably sourced and 100% recyclable.

3. I use high quality gold ribbon on each book, in the hopes that you may be able to reuse it (giving nicely wrapped gifts can be just as fun as receiving them!)

4. We’ve used ‘eco-friendly’ cardboard envelopes since we launched in 2017, which means no single-use plastic in our outer packaging.

Suppliers: Certainly still an ‘in progress’, but I have enjoyed working with suppliers to find ways to reduce our environmental impact, whether it’s reducing the packaging they send me, or finding a more sustainable option. I am also trying to source items for parcels locally, to avoid double shipping. This is one of the many reasons I am excited to be sourcing tea from The Art of Tea - their warehouse is just down the road from my house!

I have a few other sustainable ideas in the works, but I am definitely open to suggestions. Please do feel free to email me if you have any comments or ideas!