Puzzling Out Tender Buttons

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the original publication of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Described variously as “explosive, tantalizing, and delicious” and “the fullest realization of the turn to language,” Tender Buttons is a modernist masterpiece of unpredictable delights. And it’s also a famously difficult read—Stein claimed she was attempting to “make words write without sense,” and many readers come away from a Tender Buttons encounter shaking their heads at what can seem like a “maddeningly opaque” jumble of words.

Given its rather challenging reputation, Tender Buttons might seem like a tricky work to share with an audience of poetry lovers—but poet Daniel Carter can pull it off in fine style. Daniel has designed a puzzle-based edition of Tender Buttons that provides readers “with new models of engagement and the infrastructures needed to enable them.” And last Thursday Daniel (below left) and musician Chris Ledesma (right) stopped by Malvern Books to treat us to an interactive evening of Tender Buttons escapades, featuring tales of a failed salad cake, an ode to Encino Man, and a performance from a distorted banana.

Daniel Carter and Chris Ledesma

As well as puzzling out a little of Stein’s enigmatic goodness, we also celebrated the release of City Lights’ new centennial edition of Tender Buttons (fanned out below). This is the first version to incorporate Stein’s own handwritten corrections (discovered in a first-edition copy at the University of Colorado), as well as corrections discovered among her papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

Stein Books

We had a packed house (thanks, in part, to a lovely preview in the Austin Chronicle), and I think we can safely say that the audience enjoyed their guided journey through the intriguing world of Tender Buttons. Hearty thanks to Daniel and Chris for providing us all with a fascinating introduction to a work that now seems a lot less scary and a lot more fun.

Karaoke Capers

What better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than with a few lively rounds of poetry karaoke? On Tuesday, the delightful W. Joe Hoppe (of Poetry Corner fame) hosted a night of roll-and-read poetry at Malvern Books. (For more pics, check out our Facebook album.)

Karaoke chap

Schandra at Karaoke

How does one play poetry karaoke, you might ask? It’s easy! No backing track required! Participants unleashed their inner D&D nerd by rolling a lettered die, then added a +2 strength modifier to their Cleric selected a poem by a poet whose last name starts with the letter the die landed on… and then they read the poem aloud to an audience of boisterous poetry fans.

Vicente at Karaoke

Karaoke T-shirt

As always, we captured a little of the action on video (below). Hearty thanks to W. Joe and everyone who took part. It was a very fun evening and a fantastic way for people to share some of their favorite poetry. And if this leaves you craving a little more verse in your life, check out some of our awesome new titles and then come on down to Malvern to take advantage of our rather generous April poetry offer.

The Enchanting Ivy

We hosted something rather special at Malvern Books on Saturday: a multi-media evening of Ivy-themed entertainment. The book Ivy and the Wicker Suitcase has been described as “an epic surreal ear movie musical” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with a distinctly Austin twist.” It’s an illustrated story acted out with music, sound effects, and dialogue—and it’s a whole lot of fun.


Brian and friend

The book and accompanying show were created by Austin couple Brian Beattie (above right, the book’s author) and Valerie Fowler, Ivy’s illustrator extraordinaire. As well as performing some of the musical numbers from the book, Brian introduced us to Ivy’s pre-story in the form of an epic (and very funny) poem, “The Back Story Ballad of Ivy Wire.” Brian was accompanied by Kathy McCarty (above left), who plays the character of Celia Wire. Brian and Valerie also debuted their charming new Crankie Show (see video #4 below), in which Brian plays a song from the book while Valerie “cranks” along an illustrated scroll, creating a kind of mesmerizing low-tech video.

It was a magical evening, and the crowd found Ivy and pals to be utterly enthralling company. The footage below will give you a better sense of just what goes on in the wonderful world o’ Ivy…

Bigger in the Spring

Another glorious month, another glorious Everything is Bigger bash! We had an especially large and lively crowd for Wednesday night’s event… could it be that word is getting out about our raffle delights? Our host Tyler Gobble really outdid himself this time—his prizes (or, as he puts it, “things I don’t want”) included a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin biography (“an enjoyable and quick read” according to this reviewer), an Everything is Bigger tank top, and a can of everyone’s favorite party starter, Four Loko.

Steve Austin

Four Loko

This month’s lovely and accomplished readers were Andrew Zawacki, Laurie Saurborn Young, and Fernando Flores (pictured below, with Tyler). Thanks to the three of them—and Tyler, of course—for their sterling performances.

Everything is Bigger April

Our next Everything is Bigger reading will be on May 14th (our Facebook page is a great place to check for updates on all our events), and we’re looking forward to it already. Meanwhile, here’s a little Bigger YouTube action for y’all…

Meet The Malverns #7

Today we’re delighted to introduce you to another member of the Malvern Books team, Schandra, who in turn would like to introduce you to a very necessary poetry collection. (And if you’re contemplating picking up your own copy of Here, Bullet, do remember that our very generous poetry offer ends on April 30th!)


When I saw Brian Turner read at an ACC Veterans Day Reading in November 2012, he took a moment during a heavy pause between poems to ask if anyone in the audience knew how to say ‘hello’ in Arabic. Only one hand in the large auditorium was raised. He then inquired if anyone knew the word for ‘love’. When there was no reply, Turner wondered aloud how is it we can go to war against nations we don’t even know how to say hello to.

Here, Bullet, Turner’s debut collection, details his experiences as a soldier in the Iraq War. Turner’s unfiltered language holds nothing back, scrutinizing with the sight of a sniper all the players in the theater of war, from power-drunk Officers to Iraqi child soldiers to indifferent American civilians removed from the violence by thousands of miles yet still no less a part of the act. He maintains almost a military strictness in the balance between the beauty of his words and the brutality of his subject. His attention to Islamic cultural heritage and to the too often neglected issue of Military Sexual Trauma lends Here, Bullet unique importance. This is a collection that is necessary to our understanding of the consequences of war and the part we all play in perpetuating it.

Turner’s second poetry collection Phantom Noise is also available at Malvern Books.

A Plethora of Poetry

A merry Malvern Monday to you all! We have a couple of timely bookstore tidbits for you:

  • Bigger is back on Wednesday night! The enchanting Tyler Gobble will be giving several of you some utterly mad prizes, and our readers, Andrew Zawacki, Laurie Saurborn Young, and Fernando Flores, will be giving all of you some utterly stupendous performances, so don’t miss out on THE FUN.

Karen and Richard

Speaking of all things fun and eventful—on Friday night we had a packed house for an evening with poets Karen Kevorkian and Richard Bailey (pictured above). Be sure to check out footage from their readings below (our apologies to Karen, whose impeccable performance went partially unrecorded due to, ahem, camera-related difficulties… curse you, technology).

And on Saturday night we were delighted to host a reading and celebration for participants of the Free Minds writing workshop and students of the Class of 2014 (pictured below). The Free Minds workshops are founded on the notion that each person has a unique and powerful voice that deserves to be heard, and the students’ compelling narratives were a moving testimony to this belief. Thanks to everyone who took part, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from y’all in the future!

Free Minds