Last Thursday we hosted the third edition of Novel Night, our monthly reading series devoted to all things prose. Our first reader was author Thomas McNeely, who was visiting us from Boston. Thomas read from his debut novel Ghost Horse, a wise and compelling coming-of-age tale set in 1970’s Houston. The novel’s protagonist, Buddy Turner, is a smart and sensitive eleven-year-old boy who is struggling to make sense of the failures of his feuding parents.
Next up was Houstonian Mike Freedman, who read from School Board. This smart and subversive first novel follows the rabble-rousing misadventures of Tucker ‘Catfish’ Davis, a high school senior and aspiring politician who takes on the school board incumbent, a senior executive at an Enron-like company.
Our store manager Becky Garcia hosted the Book Talk segment, in which an enthusiastic Malvernite introduces the audience to one of their favorite titles on our shelves. This month Becky discussed Ken Fontenot’s For Mr. Raindrinker (Slough Press), a novel set in the New Orleans of the ’70s, which Becky recalls from trips with her family—in contrast to her “staid” hometown of San Antonio, she describes it as “a rare and wild animal.” Have a listen to Becky’s wonderful reading from the novel; it’ll definitely make you want to pick up a copy of Raindrinker next time you’re in the store.
And last but certainly not least, we invited members of the audience to brave our open mic and share with us some of their unpublished prose. (Anyone is welcome to take part; if you’re keen to join in next month, just sign up in store on the night.) This month we enjoyed readings from Fred Afflerbach, Katie Battistoni, and Molly Schulman. We hope you like the footage—and if you do, why not come along in person next time? Our next novel night is on April 9th, and will feature readings from Drew Hayes and David Heymann, among others.
Spring has well and truly sprung here at the bookstore, and what better way to celebrate the season of growth and rejuvenation than with the release of two brand-spanking-new titles from a couple of poets who are dear to our hearts…
First up, we hosted the launch of Scott Wiggerman’s new poetry collection, Leaf and Beak: Sonnets. Joe Blanda got the evening off to a foot-tappin’ start with some wonderful guitar playing. Our store manager Becky then introduced Scott, who read a selection of sonnets from Leaf and Beak. The collection was inspired by walks Scott took on the trails at Mueller Lake Park, where he often encountered his old friend Paul Licce, a photographer who shares Scott’s fascination with Mueller, and whose photographs were on display on our walls—so it was only fitting that Paul joined Scott on the stage to talk about his work and answer a few questions from the audience. Thanks to Scott, Paul, and Joe for a very entertaining evening of verse, art, and music, and all the best to Scott and David, who are shortly moving to New Mexico. Malvern will miss you, and we hope you’ll come back and visit us soon!
And we were also thrilled to host a release event for Laurie Saurborn Young’s brilliant new collection, Industry of Brief Distraction. Laurie read a selection of poems from the book, as well as a moving new work called “Like A Demon” (which starts at around 1:15 mins in the second video below). It was a fantastic night of poetry—our heartiest Malvern thanks to Laurie, and to the large and lively audience who came by to show their support.
It’s time to meet another valued member of the Malvern mob, and today we’re saying a cheery gidday to Layne Ransom. As well as performing assorted Malvern duties, Layne is a poetry MFA candidate in the New Writers Project at UT Austin. And today she’d like to introduce y’all to a rather brilliant collection…
The experience of being a girl or woman is splayed open, truthful and messy innards on display, in Alissa Nutting’s short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. The book slips in and out of varying degrees of realism—the narrator of one story makes dinner for a date doomed to a sad uneasy end, while another is literally stuffed with spices and boiling in a cauldron—but possesses a consistently magical undercurrent that allows for the physics of Nutting’s worlds to bend at any given time, should she choose. These are fairytales (the undiluted, bloody kind) and ghost stories for adults that magnify the hilarity and horror of existing as a female human being in many contexts.
In “Model’s Assistant,” the narrator is tossed a bejeweled phone and by default becomes the shadow of an impossibly beautiful model named Garla who, when asked where she’s from, simply replies “Vodka.” Although Garla’s unreliability, the language barrier between her and the narrator, and the ultimately impassable distance between their lives (the narrator refers to Garla’s relentlessly glamorous existence as “model-land”) frustrate the narrator, Garla is the planet around which her satellite cannot help but orbit: “And—how can I deny this—I want more of Garla. She is a rare substance, if only because of the role and power she has in our society and not anything else she holds innately. Rare substances make people feel selfish and greedy, and Garla is no exception. Neither am I.” Crystallized in their relationship is the complex relationship with beauty so many women experience: the awareness our perception and desire of it is inky and troubled, but we still want it–and if we can’t have beauty, we at least want to be valued by someone or something beautiful.
The narrator of “Gardener,” wife of a husband indifferent to their sexless marriage, accidentally catches two of their lawn gnomes having sex and gradually becomes a participant in the escapades of the yard’s creatures and ornaments. Eventually her husband’s rebuffs lose their sting in the pleasure she gets from her bewitched trysts, especially from watching a male gnome with various gnome women: “How he watched me when he was with them, and how I watched him. At first I only watched; I felt like such a simple old woman. But after a while, I began to touch myself while they played, and I watched them watch me. Often I’d cry because their miniature world was just so beautiful. I felt like my love was a giant blanket, the top of a tent, and each night they all came inside of it to move around and make me warm.” The casting off of shame and resignation spun into such an enchanted, earnest narrative makes this a standout of the collection, one of the most straightforward but emotionally affecting stories in Unclean Jobs.
I want to note that in earlier prints of the book, the last story of the collection is narrated by a transgender woman and titled with a transmisogynistic slur. After much criticism, Nutting apologized here for the title and stereotypes the story employs and announced a contest to find the story’s replacement for future prints. (Current prints now omit the story entirely.) Although it is of course troubling this lapse in judgment occurred at all, Nutting’s apology and efforts to make up for her mistake I think serve as an admirable example of how to respond to legitimate criticism and grow as an author and person after falling into error.
The dark sprawl of humor and humanity in Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is well worth curling up with; it exists somewhere bewitching between page-turner and words to linger over. Anyone who craves stories that exist on other planets, in parallel universes, or in this universe seen through an oddly-colored lens should give it a chance to cast its spell.
Malvern Books said a fond farewell to February with two lively literary events. First up, we enjoyed another installment of W. Joe’s Poetry Corner. This month’s esteemed guest was Ash Smith, who began her poetry career in the eighth grade, selling romantic poems to friends who needed a little help in the love-note department! Check out the footage below to hear more about Pigeon of Tears, her writing process, and her lasting admiration for that “word pig” Walt Whitman…
And the following night we hosted a reading with the brilliant folks from Monofonus Press, an Austin-based record label and multimedia imprint. They were celebrating the release of Bad Jobs III, a new memoir from William Z. Saunders (part of a series in which he chronicles his misadventures in the workplace). William was joined on our stage by Karen Davidson, Morgan Coy, and Grant Cross. Morgan (who founded Monofonus) and Karen created the Shadow Healer graphic novel together, and Morgan directed the short movie that you’ll see in the first video below. Grant, meanwhile, shared mostly haiku (“I was going to read no haiku poetry tonight, I was going to take a big plunge, but I got to the edge of the pool and then I decided to put my clothes back on, and so I’m going to read mostly haiku…”)—plus a short poem called “Limp Old Testament.” It was a fun, eclectic reading, and I strongly encourage y’all to watch the clips below and then come by the store and check out our Monofonus Press offerings in person.
We’ve been a busy little bookstore of late, and it’s about time we caught you up on three of our most recent happenings. Let’s start with Fun Party, the beloved local reading series that connects literature, art, and film. We were delighted when they suggested we stage a Fun Party event at Malvern Books, and on a recent Saturday night we happily teamed up with Fun facilitator Cindy St. John to host poets Noah Eli Gordon, Lisa L. Moore, and Ryan Bender-Murphy—check them out below.
Last Tuesday we were thrilled to host a reading with Christine Fischer Guy, who introduced her recently released debut novel, The Umbrella Mender, a fascinating story inspired by the memoirs of Christine’s great uncle.
And last Wednesday we had two El Pasoan writers in the house! Valentin Sandoval debuted his new novel, SOUTH SUN RISES, and Daniel Apodaca shared some of his poetry. As always, we had our video camera at the ready, and we hope you’ll enjoy checking out the footage from a fabulous night of poetry and prose. Be sure to keep an eye on our events calendar so as not to miss out on future excellent events, like, for example, the highly anticipated book launch coming up this Saturday.