Let There Be Light(s)

And at once there was light! Well, not at once. It took quite a while. Lights can be tricky sausages. Here are a few photos from our illuminating day, featuring (from top to bottom) the hive of industry; two determined blokes wrestling with a nineteenth-century French hanging light that weighs about as much as a St. Bernard; and a selection of our Swinging Sixties swingers (by which I mean pendant lights, obvs).

lights3 lights1a Lights

Bits of Tid

G’day, glorious Malvernians! Here’s your salt-free smörgåsbord of literary tidbits:

• Speaking of… in England they usually say titbit, but apparently the less bosomy tidbit is more common in the United States. And it seems the Americans have history on their side: the word tidbit has been around since the 1640s, when it was used to refer to tasty morsels of food, with “tid” meaning “tender” or “delicate.” Later, the word came to mean anything tiny or inconsequential, and some silly-billy decided to change the first syllable to “tit,” since “tit” denotes a small object or animal (as in “titmouse”). Of course, it’s also possible the silly-billy just liked saying tit.

Volunteer• Austinites, your city needs you! This year’s Texas Book Festival (featuring Lit Crawl Austin) will take place on October 26th-27th in and around the State Capitol, and they’re looking for volunteers. It’s a mammoth event, with over 250 authors in attendance and more than 40,000 visitors. (And Malvern Books will be there too, of course, with a well-stocked, charmingly staffed table of literary delights!) Helping out at the Festival sounds like fun, especially for those lucky volunteers who get to escort nervous, trembling writers to their doom book signings. So go do your bit for local lit…

• The lights are on and Malvern’s home! Yes indeed, today is the day the electrician installs our hanging lights. We have an eclectic mix of vintage Swinging Sixties pendants (the groovy, easygoing lights) and nineteenth-century French castle fixtures (the grandiose, disapproving lights). We hope they will illuminate nicely together. Tomorrow we give the whole store a dash good clean, and then nothing stands between us and opening day except, erm, entering 4,000+ titles into our Point of Sale system…

Fingersmith• And finally: Fingersmith (2002) is good. I mention it only because it doesn’t look good: it looks awful. That cover! I glanced at it in a bookstore and thought, “That looks like the sort of thing you might enjoy if you also enjoy renaissance faires, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and naughty dreams about goblins.” But a staff member insisted it was “wonderful,” so I took it home and… she was right. It’s definitely a melodrama, complete with baby-farming and a wretched lunatic asylum and multiple cases of mistaken identity. But it’s also utterly riveting and brilliantly written (Waters has a heap of fun with the 1860’s London dialect), and it offers an eviscerating critique of Victorian society. It also contains the immortal line, “PIGEON, MY ARSE!”

Poetry, M

Poetry Month is officially over, but that’s no reason to abandon our arbitrary and occasional Poetry A-Z series…

M is for Manhire, Bill

Ask a New Zealander to name a contemporary Kiwi poet—a lively game for dinner parties, if you can get hold of a New Zealander—and they’re almost certain to say Bill Manhire. (Ask your antipodean to quote a few lines, and they’ll wrinkle their sunburnt nose and say, “Oh, I don’t know any poems off by heart…” and then they’ll look all shy and take a massive swig of wine.)

Bill Manhire was born in Invercargill in 1946. For those of you who insist on picturing bucolic, hobbity loveliness whenever someone says “New Zealand,” please note that Invercargill is a gray, gloomy town at the bottom of the world. It looks like this (and if ever you need proof that human beings are inherently optimistic, consider the person who planted the weird shrub-like thing and thought, “Oh, this’ll cheer the place up a bit”):


The son of a publican, Manhire grew up in small hotels in southern New Zealand, an experience he writes about movingly in his short memoir, Under The Influence (Four Winds Press, 2003):

At the St. Kilda Hotel there was a pensioner called Henry who used to come into the bar in the mornings. He lived in a shed in someone’s small backyard, and a rich smell always kept him company. The bar staff liked Henry, and wanted to let him have a drink, but they had to keep the comfort of other customers in mind. So before he was served, Henry would wait patiently until he had been sprayed with air freshener. He would raise his arms like a child hoping to be lifted. Sometimes he smelt of lemons, sometimes of roses.

Manhire was educated at the University of Otago and University College, London, where he studied Old Icelandic sagas (he can still pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull”). His first book of poems, The Elaboration (featuring drawings by acclaimed New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere), came out in 1972. He has since published fifteen poetry collections, and has won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry five times. He became the inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate in 1997, and in 2004 he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (an order of chivalry given by the Queen to top-notch citizens of her commonwealth). His poetry collections get reviewed by fancy papers and his poems get published in fancy places (Google tells me this 2009 poem contains the New Yorker’s sole reference to “Asian bukkake”).

Manhire has also played a significant role in fostering New Zealand literature. He founded the country’s first creative writing course at Victoria University of Wellington in 1975, and he recently retired after a long career as the director of the International Institute of Modern Letters (disclosure: I was a student in his MA class in 2003, and will be forever grateful to him for gently dissuading me from my obsession with writing about women in comas). According to a Dominion Post article, he wants to spend his retirement being a “proper writer” again, a prospect that could be “quite scary.”

Bill Manhire

In a 2003 interview for World Literature Today, Manhire remarked that “most people are mildly puzzled by my work.” And it’s true, his poetry is often referred to as elliptical, allusive, maddeningly enigmatic (much like Manhire himself, it has been suggested; regarding his tendency to be “secret and reserved and private,” he told World Literature Today that “I’m not sure that’s a good thing in me as a person, but I kind of like it in the poems”). But his poetry can also be playful, whimsical, a bit silly. (Self-important writers, Manhire told The Listener, “are the worst sort of human being.”) He likes to repurpose the banal idioms of popular culture, rendering the ordinary mysterious with the deft flick of a line or a sudden shift in tone. And his more recent collections, particularly Lifted (2005), are unashamedly more personal. We’ve featured my favorite Manhire poem, “Kevin” (from Lifted), here, and I’m also very fond of the ones below. If you like New Zealand accents (you weirdo), you can listen to him read “Hotel Emergencies” here.


The likelihood is
the children will die
without you to help them do it.
It will be spring,
the light on the water,
or not.

And though at present
they live together
they will not die together.
They will die one by one
and not think to call you:
they will be old

and you will be gone.
It will be spring,
or not. They may be crossing
the road,
not looking left,
not looking right,

or may simply be afloat at evening
like clouds unable
to make repairs. That
one talks too much, that one
hardly at all: and they both enjoy
the light on the water

much as we enjoy
the sense
of indefinite postponement. Yes
it’s a tall story but don’t you think
full of promise, and he’s just a kid
but watch him grow.

* * *

My Sunshine

He sings you are my sunshine
and the skies are grey, she tries
to make him happy, things
just turn out that way.

She’ll never know
how much he loves her
and yet he loves her so much
he might lay down his old guitar
and walk her home, musician
singing with the voice alone.

Oh love is sweet and love is all, it’s
evening and the purple shadows fall
about the baby and the toddler
on the bed. It’s true he loves her
but he should have told her,
he should have, should have said.

Foolish evening, boy with a foolish head.
He sighs like a flower above his instrument
and his sticky fingers stick. He fumbles
a simple chord progression,
then stares at the neck.
He never seems to learn his lesson.

Here comes the rain. Oh if she were only
sweet sixteen and running from the room again,
and if he were a blackbird
he would whistle and sing
and he’d something
something something something.

* * *

The News

A few survivors run for cover.


Each night at six we all go live to death.
there’s someone on the spot
to help me hold my breath.


If I could just cry out
to my far, forgetful lover . . .


or if you could only love me
oh World I am walking over.


Why, hello there! What have we here? A delivery? Could it be a lifetime’s supply of loofahs? A big ol’ bunch of chutney we bought online whilst drunk? Or maybe it’s that giant self-assembly cat tree we’ve had on our Petco wishlist for-evah?

Delivery 1

Nah, don’t be daft. It’s just books. 1,700 POUNDS OF BOOKS! Malvern Books’ first ever shipment! Here they are in our storage room, waiting patiently to strut their literary stuff on our bookshelves…

Delivery 2

And speaking of shelves, they’re coming along nicely, thank you. Two of them are featured below (yes, they’re a work in progress). We plan on having some more, because although we are by no means spatial savants, we have estimated that these two shelves will not hold all of our books.


Of course, the arrival of our first shipment was not without drama. It goes something like this: a few days prior to delivery, we meet with Pat, our taciturn but ever-so-efficient contractor, and he casually mentions that we need to install all our pendant lights before we can have an electrical inspection. Sure, makes sense. No big deal. I mean, we haven’t actually bought any pendant lights yet—we want to get a feel for the semi-finished place before we make our selections—but whatever, we’ll get around to it. Sensing our lack of urgency vis–à–vis hanging illumination, Pat sighs. Is it possible our charming bureaucratic naïveté is beginning to irk? Surely not! Pat calmly points out that without an electrical inspection, we can’t get a Certificate of Occupancy. Okay, fine. Again, what’s the rush? We’ll go pick out some lights, install ’em, get an electrician to sign a piece of paper stating that our lights are as harmless as a cotton ball on a cat’s nose, and then the C of O shall be ours. Chill, Patrick! But alas, there’s more. Because apparently one cannot accept inventory shipments without a Certificate of Occupancy. And we have 1,700 pounds of books arriving any day now. Oh, holy mother of poop.

Needless to say, a glorious panic attack was had by all. Some bleepy words may have been uttered. Arguments may have been had concerning whose living room would be most suitable for the temporary storage of four-thousand books. Thankfully, we learned of the existence of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, also known as the world’s most splendid piece of a paper, which can be obtained (for rather a hefty sum) in the absence of an electrical inspection. Hallelujah.

Of course, after paying a small fortune for this blessed piece of paper, it turned out we didn’t need it after all. A jolly (tipsy?) electrical inspector stopped by, was utterly unconcerned by the not-yet-pendantic pendant lights, and merrily gave us the thumbs up. This caused us to make the rare harumphyay sound, a combination of a harumph and a yay, which is only ever used to express the combination of relief and frustration one experiences upon learning that one has unnecessarily spent a small fortune in order to avoid filling one’s living room with books. Harumphyay, y’all, but with an emphasis on the yay, because we. have. books.

Malvern Books FAQ: Part I

I wonder who decided it was a FAQ? What’s wrong with a FLART (Folks Like Asking Repetitive Things)? Or maybe even an OPRAH (Often People Request Answers Habitually)? In any case… questions, we get asked ’em. Frequently. Here are some answers:

1. When do you open?

Because we have carpet, a phone, and a flushing toilet, the answer is: soon. Because we do not yet have shelves, the answer is also: not this week! At this stage, we’re going to say September. Check back soon for more information.

Malvern Books

2. You’re opening an independent bookstore in this financial climate? Are you insane?

We get this a lot. And it’s quite possible we are insane, but I don’t believe our crushing looniness is evident in our decision to open a bookstore (it’s much more evident in our passion for Coronation Street and Eggo Drizzlers). It’s actually, believe it or not, quite a good time to be opening a bookstore—the American Booksellers Association tells us indie bookstores experienced record sales in 2012, and articles like this and this suggest your local bookstore is making a comeback. We fully intend to be a part of this revival…

3. Doesn’t Austin already have an independent bookstore?

You’re probably thinking of BookPeople. Yes, BookPeople is an indie bookstore, and a very good one. We like BookPeople (and book people) very much indeed. However, we believe Austin can support another shop o’ books. For one thing, ATX is now the fastest growing city in the country. (Yikes.) And BookPeople often has a fully booked events calendar, which suggests there’s room for another community venue for your literary shenanigans. Also, we’ll be concentrating on small press literature, works in translation, and local authors, so our focus is a little different. If you want Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, you go to BookPeople; if you want Let’s Explore Owls with Diabetes, the intensely moving Latvian poetry collection, or Let’s Give Owls Exploratory Diabetes, the controversial novel by local anti-owl oddball Mike Fisherpants, you come to us. Capiche?

4. What on earth is Malvern? It’s a weird name!

Thanks for that question, Maurice McDungbeetle. You have a weird name too, but whatever. The long story: the name Malvern was chosen in honor of the great Medieval poet William Langland and his epic poem entitled The Vision of Piers Plowman. Alas, very few people read Langland anymore—the want of a firm grounding in medieval literature is clearly what is wrong with young people these days (that and sizzurp)—and we usually get a squinty, quizzical stare when we start banging on about the adventures of young Piers. For this reason, we have decided that the best answer to the question “What on earth is Malvern?” is this:


This is Malvern. You can call him Malvy if you want. He has taken up residence next to the public restroom, and we are teaching him to roar angrily whenever someone tries to steal a chapbook. If you rub his nose, it will bring you good luck. Or boils. (Currently too small a sample size to say.) Isn’t he handsome? He can’t wait to make your acquaintance.

Did You Hear The One About The Table?

Today is the day we take our shoes and socks off and run squealing around the bookstore: yes, we have carpet.


From this angle things are looking rather spiffy, no? Like we could just bung up a few shelves, slap some books on ’em, and fling open our doors to the public. Unfortunately, we have other angles, and from the one below it is apparent that we are… not quite there yet.


Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to find a nice table for the store. We pictured a giant 10-foot communal dealio, a place where people could sit and read, write in their journals, pass flirtatious-but-nonthreatening notes to charming strangers, and generally have a rollicking (spill-free) good time. Sort of like this, but with less sand and more prose poetry:


Our first thought: reclaimed railway car boards. What stories they could tell! And who wouldn’t want to prop open their Steinbeck on an old piece of railway lumber? Sadly, it turns out railway cars are made from 8-foot boards. Way to be not very multipurposeful, railway car manufacturers! Then we found a company selling old wood from the bottom of semi-trucks. The boards were the perfect size and the samples looked great, so we placed an order. Alas, the wood they sent us was filthy, scratched, filled with holes, and generally just sort of… gross. If this wood was telling a story, that story was: Help us! Help us, please! We are thirty-seven rabid raccoons trapped in the back of a semi-truck and we are going to claw, chew, bite, and basically destroy our way out of this hellhole! A dramatic story, to be sure, but not one we want told at our bookstore. So one of our less meek staff members threw the necessary tantrum and our money was promptly returned.

Naturally, our next thought was: bowling lanes! Yep, we found a guy on Craigslist selling 10-foot secondhand bowling lanes. Sounds ideal, right? We went to check them out, and the wood was lovely. Lovely, indeed. But the man selling the wood? Let’s just say he was… aggressively eccentric. We selected our piece o’ lane and asked him to give us a quote for fashioning it into a table: he gave us a quote and a bunch of dumb jokes. Now, we like a dumb joke as much as the next person (possibly even more than the next person, if it’s the one about the ferret, the onion, and the Swiss soccer team), but when the person telling the jokes is a stranger in possession of a dismantled bowling lane, and his chosen mirthful topics include the awfulness of Obama, the awfulness of our car, and speculations re. the romantic status of the two Malvernians present… well, it was all rather awkward. Thankfully, his quote was outrageously high, and although we are sad to be sans bowling lane, we are not sad to be sans jokes.

And so the hunt for a table continues. What next? Bunk-bed slats from a decommissioned submarine? The lid of a grand piano that was pulled by a Clydesdale from a mysterious Romanian bog? Watch this space…