11/3/22 (the book is mightier than the dragon)

I’m supposed to be putting together some work / research for a super secret project that’s in it’s foetus stage at the moment. Actually no, it’s at the feeling in your pants stage, and it’s super exciting and also daunting and I’ll stop now because I know I’m terrible for spoilers and this isn’t even a thing yet.

Anyway, so I was thinking about how I enjoyed writing sort-of book reviews, and watching Dragons’ Den this afternoon, while doing some hard procrastinating, and thinking I might write a small thing about what I decided to spend some of my Christmas money on (I bought a new yoga mat with the rest, thanks Mum): a three-month subscription to Books That Matter (BTM).

Social media is an addictive place, where I end up spending too much time starting to feel like I actually know influencers in real life, when all I do is watch all their stories and like their posts. I think the chain that got me to BTM was via a friend who shared a post from Gina Martin (The woman who campaigned successfully to have the UK law against up-skirting introduced), and then to Aja Barber, a Black American writer based in London, who focusses on sustainability and ethics in fashion. She wrote a book called Consumed, which was previewed in a BTM box, and then I started following them. Probably. I’m now psychologically friends with all of these people who I’ve never actually had any contact with whatsoever, and feel a bit awkward about it, but I can’t be the only one so it’s fine.

Books That Matter offer a subscription service. For £17 a month, or less if you order in a block, you receive monthly boxes in the post. They contain a book by a female author, a wee magazine about the theme and the author, and a selection of other gifts, including other books, advance excerpts of books, sweets, nice-smelling toiletries and fancy teabags.
Their boxes are home to exclusively female authors, and their themes are usually related to something feminist or female. I’ve put a link to their homepage at the bottom of here – they explain what they do better than I!

Yesterday, or maybe the day before, my March box arrived – the last of my three boxes I’d subscribed to. This month’s box contained things including a packet of dark chocolate buttons (which I’ve mostly eaten, white watching Dragons’ Den), a minty teabag (I’m going to palm this off on someone before the cats get to it because I really don’t like minty tea, sorry gals), some wax melts that have made my studio smell nice all day, and oh yeah! a book – Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia. I wouldn’t have heard of the book if it weren’t for BTM, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve liked these boxes arriving – two out of three I’d not heard of, and the other was only vaguely on my radar to read eventually so I was glad to receive it. Of Women and Salt’s blurb reads like an excellent inter-generational historical fiction story about a history and present of Cuba that I know very little about, so I’m excited to dive in as soon as I get a chance.

My first box’s book was Zaina Arafat’s You Exist Too Much, which took me into a deep-dive of an American-Palestinian experience of bisexuality where I was frustrated by the main (unnamed, I think!?) character’s addiction and her actions, and the difficult relationship with her mother. Her desire for unattainable lovers was palpable, the inequity in their relationships unspoken and secret. I could really feel the sense of growing up in two different places, both of them being home, but neither quite being home either.

The second, February, was Torrey Peters’ Detransitison, Baby. That’s the one that was on my vague radar, but let’s be honest, I’d have waited until I found it in a charity shop. I’ve not started reading it yet – too many books, too little time, but the colourful spine on my shelf means it won’t be long.

Each box, each month, has a theme; some more obvious through the items than others, but always linked to the book. February, themed around love, and all things like galentines, palentines and maybe even valentines included a wee pouch with the words “BRB, me time” – It was left unsaid what this pouch was supposed to be used for storing, and I decided intentionally obliviously to put the bath bomb thingy from January’s box in it until I feel like having a bath.

So Books That Matter was on Dragons’ Den last night, and I caught up just now. Reality TV isn’t really my thing, but I wanted to see what happened, finding myself convinced that because they’d appeared on my radar in the last year, that must be because of some sort of boost from a ‘Dragon’ once it was announced. I was wrong. (Just in case: Dragons’ Den is a reality TV programme where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to investors and hope to receive offers of a cash sum for a percentage of their business.) Founder and CEO, Molly Masters turned down the only offer made to her, quite sensibly, I think, because it was for too much of the business. And as she says herself, “I don’t need a Dragon to achieve our goals.”

I found it really interesting that the first Dragons to decline to make an offer were the women, and I know these shows are edited down a lot, so there was maybe (hopefully!) more conversation around it, but they seemed to feel that specifying the target market as women and girls, they were a) making a bad business decision and b) being ‘divisive’ and exclusive.

I understand of course, that women, trans women, girls and non-binary femme people only make up for a bit over 50% of the population, but Molly states in her pitch, 75% of books are bought by women. That’s 75% of the book market they’re aiming at. Hmm.

I find it interesting too, that when the next person comes on with a product that’s made for dogs, he’s not being divisive by only making a product for dog owners. Why can’t I get an inflatable doughnut for my cat? (please no)

It’s really curious that the women were the first to shy away from something that has a feminist mission, and I wonder if it’s out of fear, fear that they’ll be seen as women more than they are as businesspeople, Dragons, whatever.

I feel sad for Deborah Meaden and Sara Davies in a way, because they might be stuck between a (okay, an arguably comfortably cushioned by wealth and status) rock and a hard place, feeling the need, like Margaret Thatcher did and Cheryl Sandberg recommends, to act masculine within their work in order to succeed and maintain their position, while putting this at risk by also being expected to back female ventures in the “Den”, which could be seen as risky, or simply not be understood by male investors in the same space. It disadvantages other women as they do it, suggesting that something built for women by women and celebrating femininity is not worthwhile. Suggesting that out and proud feminism is an embarrassing and even dangerous thing in the business world.

My March box, minus the chocolates which are now long gone.

Oddly, but not fundamentally, the femme focus is part of why I’m not going to sign up for a rolling subscription, although saying that, I’ll be keenly watching my inbox each month to see if I want to order the next one. I like getting nice things in the post, and I do like nice smelling soapy things and sweeties and I’m sure I’ll use my new pink notebook, but they’re not all things I feel really fit me, I feel kind of take-it-or-leave-it about the gifts, and I think I’d rather really just buy the book, or… get in touch about an option to just get the book each month. I’d 100% sign up for that in a 12-month block. I’ll break the wall of fangirl fear and send them a message and see what happens. Watch this space. Or their space, actually. Give them a follow!

So yeah, if you like nice things in the post, want to expand your reading, and are enthusiastic about feminism and femme-ish things, then Books That Matter are the place for you. I think they’ll make wonderful gifts, and yeah, they’re thoughtful, themed, and transgressive.

See the Books That Matter website here
Watch the Dragons not invest in BTM here
Read about Cheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In (which I’ve not read…) here

And as always, if you enjoy my blog and my other work, please do buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi – they’re just £3. I’m also on Instagram and if you’d like to share what I do, please tag me – @jessiegrowden_video