“You’ve got mail.” It’s not just the title of the classic Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan rom-com about a bookstore — it’s also music to a book-lover’s ears. Who doesn’t love finding a box on their doorstep with a surprise inside, signed by a favorite author and lovingly packaged by an indie bookseller? For YA fans, the ParnassusNext subscription box delivers that thrill every month.
With the holidays coming up, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about ParnassusNext from folks thinking of giving a subscription to the YA-enthusiast in their lives. Our manager of books for young readers, Stephanie Appell, took a moment to answer some of the most common inquiries:
Q: So, Parnassus sells plenty of YA books right off the shelves already. Why offer a subscription box, too?
A: Well, when we launched what we originally called the Parnassus Books Young Adult First Editions Club (bit of a mouthful, right?) all the way back in 2013, we did it because of popular demand! We had this great subscription program for our adult readers, the First Editions Club, and parents and YA fans kept telling us, “I want something for my teenager,” or “This is cool, but I’d love something for my friend who reads YA.” As it turns out, ParnassusNext also appealed to readers all over the country who don’t live near an indie bookstore like Parnassus where they can get great signed YA books. In fact, we now have more ParnassusNext subscribers who live out of state than in Tennessee. We even have subscribers in Canada and Australia!
Q: For any parents reading this and thinking about giving a subscription as a gift: When is my reader old enough to start reading YA?
A: First off, speaking of age — I don’t think children’s or YA books have an upper age range limit. I frequently talk to adult customers browsing our YA section who say things like, “I know I’m probably too old for these,” and I just have to stop them right there. You are never too old for a good story told well, period. I would encourage anyone who enjoys deft plotting, complex characters, and strong prose to pick up a YA book from time to time.
Just as often, though, I talk to grownups with precocious young readers, who want to know whether ParnassusNext would be a good gift for a birthday or a holiday, and that’s when I like to have a conversation about YA as a category, because it’s often something that’s not totally clear to them. Here’s what I say: YA is a publishing category of books — not a genre — written primarily for a teenage readership. That means teen experiences, such as violence, profanity, sex, and substance use/abuse, as well as themes like identity, family, and relationships, are commonly explored in many YA books. Your 9-year-old’s teacher may have told you that they’re reading on a 12th grade level, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for — or, more crucially, would enjoy or appreciate — reading a book that a 12th grader would read.
One advantage of ParnassusNext over many book subscription boxes is that every month, before you receive your box, you’ll receive an email with information about the book we’ve selected. Adults who want to share ParnassusNext with young readers can learn about the book and even opt out of a selection if they don’t think it’s a good fit. But I’d strongly encourage any adult who’s hesitating about sharing a YA book with a teen to consider that books can be a safe way for teens to explore issues that you, the adult in their life, may not be aware that they’re experiencing, and reading a book together can provide a way into a conversation you both might ultimately find worthwhile.
Q: So, what comes in a ParnassusNext box?
A: Every ParnassusNext box contains a new, first-edition YA book that’s been signed especially for ParnassusNext by the author. Unlike other boxes that claim to have signed books but actually just have what are called “tip-in sheets” (blank pieces of paper signed by the author and bound into the books later, usually considered less valuable than a signed book), every ParnassusNext book is actually signed by the author on the title page, often right here at our bookstore! That’s what we mean when we say the book goes straight from the author’s hands to yours.
We also include a note in each box that explains why we chose the book and includes the author and the publishers’s social media handles to make it easier for subscribers to share the love once they finish reading. We love when our subscribers tag us on Instagram and Twitter!
Q: How does the selection process go? What kinds of books have been chosen?
A: Choosing the ParnassusNext book every month is without a doubt one of the most rewarding and most agonizing parts of my job. Our booksellers and I read hundreds of books a year to choose just twelve titles, so we consider a lot of factors.
We think a lot about building a balanced collection for the year, rather than trying to pick the biggest, most popular book every single month. We want a mix of established and debut authors; a wide mix of genres so that if you’re not, say, a sci-fi fan, you’re not getting three sci-fi books in a row; and a diversity of authors and of stories. Unlike some of the really huge, popular YA subscription services, we’re not simply choosing the book we can get the deepest publisher discount on. In fact, I pay a lot of attention to titles published by smaller presses that don’t have six-figure marketing budgets, because I think they’re publishing some of the best stories out there right now. Astute subscribers will notice that we don’t play favorites among publishers, and that’s definitely intentional on our part.
This year, we’ve chosen four debut YA authors (Ibi Zoboi, Sandhya Menon, Bonnie Pipkin, and Dashka Slater), two National Book Award nominees (American Street and All the Wind in the World), four New York Times bestsellers (Carve the Mark, Strange the Dreamer, When Dimple Met Rishi, and Jane, Unlimited), and our 11 selections so far have received a whopping 23 starred reviews. Our picks have ranged from lyrical, epic fantasy (Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer) to sweet, thoughtful rom-com (When Dimple Met Rishi) to this month’s selection, Dashka Slater’s The 57 Bus, the first nonfiction book we’ve ever chosen. We work hard to ensure that, over the course of the year, there’s something for everyone.
As ParnassusNext has continued every year, it’s been really rewarding to look back at some of the authors whose books we’ve shared with our subscribers. Longtime ParnassusNext subscribers own signed first edition books by YA rockstars like Adam Silvera, E. Lockhart, Patrick Ness, Ruta Sepetys, David Arnold, Laurie Halse Anderson, Adi Alsaid, Sabaa Tahir, Nicola Yoon, Jeff Zentner, Holly Black, Rainbow Rowell, Rick Yancey . . . If you’ve been a subscriber from the beginning, your collection of ParnassusNext books includes autographed copies of some of the best YA books of the past five years!
Q: What are you saying about a book by picking it — that it’s the best YA release of the month? That it has something other books don’t? That it might otherwise go undiscovered?
A: Oh my goodness, there are so many more than 12 ParnassusNext-worthy books published every year! We’ve had to make some really hard choices over the years; publishing is seasonal, so some months, like May and September, we read as many as 40 titles and have to choose just one. At the end of the day, I’m always just looking for a book that knocks my socks off, a book that when I turn the last page, I can’t wait to share it with someone else. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?
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Sign yourself up for the ParnassusNext subscription box — or give a subscription as a gift! Get more details here.
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PS: You know we have a subscription box for adult books too, right? Join the First Editions Club, and you’ll get a package every month with our favorite new literary fiction or nonfiction release, signed by the author. Read more about that here.