For my birthday this year my husband gave me the gift that keeps on giving, a book subscription. Put aside your algorithms and celebrity choice lists, these books come from real life book sellers in a real life New England book shop. One of the best things about perusing a new book store is checking out the staff recommendations. If you are lucky you find someone with your reading habits and a few new titles. If you’re unlucky you find someone with vastly different habits and still a few new titles. It’s generally a win-win situation, and a peak into the inner life of a fellow reader.
At Just the Right Book they believe that the right book in the right hands can change the world. Right now it’s certainly enriching mine.
Just the Right Book is a book subscription service by RJ Julia Booksellers, an actual brick and mortar bookstore in Madison, CT. For over 30 years, the booksellers at RJ Julia Booksellers have been recommending books to their customers, and in 2009, owner Roxanne Coady launched a subscription service that does just that from a distance with your personal book stylist. In 12 years they have sent books to hundreds of thousands of people and achieved one of the highest renewal rates in the subscription world.
I started my journey with a brief quiz, checking off my favorite genres, choosing from pre-selected authors in genre based groupings, and finally listing several of my favorite authors. Then I select how often I would like to receive my books based on the subscription I have chosen, and I simply wait. My book came within days of my account being set up, and I devoured it in 24 hours, it was quite simply the perfect choice for me.
For my first book they sent me The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura. Translated from the original Japanese by Lucy North, the book won the Akutagawa Prize in Japan in 2019 which is their most prestigious literary award. The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a character study of two women, our narrator – The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan – and our titular subject The Woman in the Purple Skirt. What happens when one woman watches intently, moving chess pieces around to make the other woman draw ever closer to her. Unsettlingly voyeuristic you can never quite trust the narrator, as it becomes clearer with every page that she is unhinged. But what of the subject? She is not the simple archetype that she has been depicted as, and as we see her move around in her new world, we lose all sense of where the narrative is going. In short, there is so much that is unreliable in each character that predictability is abandoned, and the reader is kept in constant suspense.
The book is easy to read, thanks to a fluid and compelling story. Imamura is a master in painting and developing characters with minimal fuss, and no flowery language. She is to the point, while at the same time being completely vague and misdirectional. Her style perfectly mimicking the story she is weaving.
In the same vein as one of my favorite books, Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, Imamura gives us a peek into the inner monologue of a female protagonist whose mind is shaken by the circumstances she finds herself in. There is no typical woman here, no mild mannered housewife, or settled spinster. I am reminded of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper with each new neuroses and every uncomfortable train of thought. I adore books depicting the inner dialogue of women, so yes, they did indeed pick just the right book for me. Thoroughly delighted with my first selection from Just The Right Book, I now have a new author to keep my eye on and a new book to recommend to friends.
There are a myriad of subscriptions to choose from, with each level of Adult, Teen and Child having options for softcover and hardback, and between four and twelve months of subscriptions. I have twelve months, and I am eager with anticipation to see what comes in July. The book comes wrapped in the most delightful paper, so you are getting a gift every month. Each book comes with a bookmark, so you will never be tempted to dog ear. Just The Right Book looks after all of your reading needs, literary and aesthetic.
If you receive a book that you already have or that has no interest for you (less likely) they will swap it out for you at no extra cost. You just have to make the exchange request within four weeks of receiving the book. Even with my dappled mom brain, I can handle four weeks. While they have fun selecting your books, they want to hear back from you. Did they read your mind? Do you want to switch it up? After each book you can update your reading profile or send them an email to further tailor their recommendations. Remember, these are real life booksellers in Connecticut talking about your book preferences and picking something for you. No predictive recommendations here, this is the thought and care of good old fashioned book-sellery!
Keep an eye on their social media feeds, they love to splash out with a discount for holiday subscriptions. I love that in February they offered a 10% discount for you to “be your own damned Valentine.” And they are constantly throwing out recommendations online based on genre and author preferences. They really are so invested in getting the right books to the right people, and Just The Right Book might be just the right thing for you this year.