With bookstores around the world shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, booksellers were left decided whether to close down completely or revamp how they reached their customers. Many bookstores answered their customers calls by bringing books straight to them.

During lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, some bookstores are delivering "mystery bags" and book bundles filled with everything from tea and coffee samples to staff-recommended books.

Washington, DC's, Capitol Hill Books was an early entrant in the mystery bundle bookseller game, tweeting on March 21, "Favorite email of the day so far: 'If I give you guys $100 can you send me a mystery bag of books?' Yes. Yes we can."

Within a few days customers had placed dozens of similar orders, and soon Capitol Hill Books was filling mystery book orders of $25, $50, $100 and more according to local radio station WAMU. Customers could email in their order with a description of what kind of books they liked, and how much they wanted to pay, and staff would hand-pick various books.

Bookstores offering 'mystery bundles'

Dublin's oldest independent bookstore, Books Upstairs, is offering curated book bundles according to a particular theme (New Fiction, Irish Fiction, and Essays and Ideas are among the themes). Staff choose the books according to the chosen theme and hand-bundle a unique set of titles for each customer.

In Boulder, Colorado, Trident Booksellers and Cafe has been taking the idea of mystery bundles one step further, offering bags of coffee and tea as well. “At first, I posted the idea to Twitter, almost as a joke, but we received 10 orders in the first few hours, so it was a go,” owner Andrew Hyde told Atlas Obscura. Trident hand delivers mystery bags to Boulder residents by bike, while out-of-town orders are sent in the mail. Hyde says half are for locals, and the other half are for people around the world.

Used bookstore Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is offering a grab bag of secondhand books for $20. According to their website, each mystery bag includes four titles – one novel or short story collection, one mystery and two nonfiction titles.

Qimby's, a Chicago-based independent bookstore specializing in zines, offers a "Qustomized Quimby's Quarantine Zine Package." For $25, the package includes an email, phone or Zoom video call consultation, after which a "zine and mini-comics sommelier" crafts a customized zine collection catered to your interests.

Columbus, Ohio's, The Book Loft features the Malamarkus Mystery Box, a $69.99 selection of handpicked books and a bookstore tote bag designed to "appease Our Skeleton Lord and Savior."

Toronto's Type Books doesn't have online ordering, but Toronto residents can call or email a request for a mystery bag, and a handpicked selection of books will be available for curbside pickup. Deliveries are available to residents of Toronto's West End.

The front sign of Shakespeare & Co bookstore. ©Adrienne Pitts/Lonely Planet

Famed Shakespeare and Company in Paris is offering their "Year of Reading" package, in which 12 books are selected and delivered in three gift parcels throughout the year. "One of the joys of being a bookseller is deciding which of your favourite new titles to put on display for visitors to discover," Shakespeare and Company says on its website. "The thrill of introducing readers to new books – and with them, new voices, new stories, new ideas, and new conversations – never diminishes. With our Year of Reading, we hope to share some of that excitement with you, wherever you live."

Bookstores were some of the first businesses to suffer during global lockdowns spurred by the pandemic, but a renewed interest in reading, as well as communities looking to support local businesses, booksellers have seen hope in the form of fundraising efforts and online sales.

Keep up to date with Lonely Planet's latest travel-related COVID-19 news here.

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