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Books rock, do they not? However, book clubs – largely – tend not to rock. They use our laziness and their insidious editor's choices and minimum orders to wring as much money from us as possible. We often end up with a shelf full of books that we do not really want. Bah. Sometimes, book clubs send us "club editions" printed on cheap, nasty paper and with spines that break on the first reading. Bah again. After the introductory offer and by the time we have paid for postage, book club books are not always that cheap, either. Thrice bah.
The Folio Society is not like this.
You may have seen their adverts in the broadsheet weekend supplements. Folio run excellent introductory offers. Otherwise, you will need to look at their website – address at the end – to give them a look-see. The biggest difference between Folio and other book clubs is that Folio are publishers. The books you will buy will be Folio editions and Folio editions are unlike most books you find in Waterstones. These are upmarket volumes. They have properly sewn bindings – some books are leather, some silk, some blocked and illustrated woven cloth. Each book comes in its own slipcase. Each book has a Folio-commissioned introduction from authors, academics and the like. Each book has new illustrations, from some of the most highly respected artists. Right down to the size of the book, the paper and the typeface they use, Folio pays painstaking attention to detail. Best of all, Folio present each book appropriately. My copy of Primo Levi's If This Is A Man is bound in dark blue and blocked with silver etchings by Jane Joseph. It has an introduction by Frederic Raphael and is illustrated with more etchings – in monochrome - by Joseph. It is imposing and has great impact, yet it is also sombre and serious, befitting its Holocaust theme. My copy of Diary Of A Nobody, though, is in bright yellows and greens and is illustrated with Ardizzone-esque cartoons by John Lawrence. Again, the book's presentation fits like a glove with its content of British class and manners humour.
Aside from the thriving second-hand market at antiquarian bookshops and on Ebay, the only place you can buy new Folio books is from Folio themselves. To do this, you will need to become a member. At the moment, the website has several introductory offers from which to choose, although they do change them quite regularly. The first time I joined, I bought the very popular set of the complete works of Jane Austen. Current offers are the Folio History of the Second World War, Empires of the Ancient World and Collected Fairy Stories. Each of these is a several volume sets generally selling for about £200. The offer price is a tenner. The deal is that they send you your choice of offer and you choose a further four books from their prospectus and this will give you a year's membership and another free book. Folio books range from twelve to forty pounds in price, so they do expect you to spend some serious money. In my opinion though, such beautiful books are more than worth their price. Membership also gets you a (very academic) quarterly magazine and use of the Folio reading rooms in London.
The choice is huge!
The prospectus lists about two hundred books at any one time, I would guess and these cover a wide range of subjects. It is by no means all fiction. You will not find any airport potboilers, though. Folio have a reputation for publishing classic books in new and stylish ways and this is indeed what they do. I think the catalogue has an over-emphasis on Victoriana, Empire and upper class British humour, but despite this, there is always a huge list of volumes I would like to buy. There is modern fiction, classic fiction, children's fiction, biography, myth and legend, history, art history, philosophy and a wonderful eye-witness account section. My current wish list includes The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves (best reteller of myths ever) at £24.95, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammet (you should see the artwork!) at £19.95 and their beautiful reproduction of the Alice books at £29.95 (I'd like to buy them for my nephew). There really is something for everyone.
They don't mess up your orders, either!
Folio are VERY efficient. I have been buying from them – with a couple of one-year lapses – for about fifteen years now. I make the yearly membership order and am always tempted into a purchase during their annual sale. Generally, at least one pre-publication discount offer will smile winningly at my credit card, too. During those fifteen years, I must have sent at least fifty orders Folio's way. They have never let me down. Every single book has arrived promptly, packed carefully and there has never been a picking error. Each bill has been correct. Folio allow you to send a cheque or debit/credit payment and they will accept a direct debate mandate if you would like to spread the cost of your books over three payments. I have paid every which way over the course of my membership and Folio have never made a mistake. Not even once.
Sadly, you do not get another free set when you rejoin.
At the end of the year, they will try to tempt you to rejoin. That £200 set for a tenner is a once in a lifetime thing, though, and so do not expect to get another. Although, if you let your membership lapse you can rejoin as a new member after a while. I have done this once, so I have enjoyed two dirt-cheap sets! Folio produce a special edition book each year – generally a coffee table volume on art or history – and this is what you will receive free when you order next year's minimum four books. In my experience, if you do not respond straightaway, there will be more incentives sent along. Last year, I got Folio diary and a 20% discount by hanging on until the last moment to renew, in addition to the free book. Do not order more than four books for your membership either, no matter how tempted you are. Folio have an annual sale in which most books (except that year's new editions) are discounted by at least 20% but often as much as 50%, and it is definitely worth waiting to see what offers they have. They will offer you all new books at a pre-publication discount, too. Folio probably send as many offers through the post to their members as other book clubs but the problem with Folio offers is that you will want to buy them all!
In case you had not realised…
… I recommend the Folio Society. If you are a serious reader and bibliophile, they really are not to be ignored. Folio are producing first class books and giving a first class service. They are keeping some of our best artists in work, too. Their books are for keeping and treasuring – just don't forget that they are also for reading! Folio books have also come in very handy when I have been racking my brains for "special" gifts. Being the apostate in a large, extended family of Catholics, I have discovered that Folio books make acceptable presents on such occasions as First Holy Communions – at these times I do not want to buy a missal or a rosary, as I have no faith, but parents do not appreciate PS2 games as gifts on such serious occasions! A Folio book fills this "keepsake gift" niche very well indeed. I bought my brother a limited edition, leather bound Lord of the Rings on his graduation – it cost an arm and a leg, but he loved it. I'll admit that I'd like to see slightly less of the prospectus devoted to "empire" but this really is my only reservation and as there are always more books I'd like than I can afford, it is a small reservation indeed. Folio get five stars from me.
And the best thing? There is not a David Pelzer or a Stephen King in sight. Grin!