We’ve put together a survey and we’d love it if you’d take the time to fill it out (available HERE). In fact, we’d love it so much that the first 25 respondents will get a free Malvern Books t-shirt and the first 100 respondents will receive a free copy of your choice of either The Hasty Papers, Life As It Is, or Voices from the Bitter Core. (Books and t-shirts must be picked up at Malvern Books.) Everyone who responds will be entered in the drawing to win a $50 Malvern gift card. Please respond by 11:59 pm, Wednesday, May 3rd. And thanks in advance for taking the survey—your feedback will help us make Malvern an even better bookstore!
Schandra recommends One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin, translated from the French by Christiana Hills:
In honor of the March for Science that happened on Earth Day, April 22nd, the staff put together a STEM-inspired display of books by or about scientists, mathematicians, and doctors.
One of several titles on the display that I personally recommend is One Hundred Twenty-One Days, the debut novel of acclaimed mathematician and Oulipo member Michele Audin. Oulipo, of Georges Perec and Jacques Roubaud fame, is a workshop of predominantly French-speaking writers and mathematicians producing literature using constrained writing techniques. This novel is only the second book by a female Oulipian to be published in English. Rendered here masterfully by emergent French-to-English translator Christiana Hills and printed by Texas’ own Deep Vellum Publishing with geometric cover art by Anna Zylicz, One Hundred Twenty-One Days is a posterchild for the representation of women in translation, STEM fields, art, and literature.
It is difficult to summarize the plot of this novel, primarily because the plot is more like a word problem only solvable through careful reading. And like a math problem, there is a great deal of satisfaction inherent in its completion. I can say that the book’s focal point is a community of scholars, mathematicians, and their families orbiting around the University of Strasbourg during the first and second World Wars. As Amanda Sarasien of the blog Reading in Translation expertly noted:
The daughter of a mathematician who was tortured and killed by French parachutists in the Algerian War, Audin is, herself, a mathematics professor at the University of Strasbourg. Not only does the University … serve as a kind of polestar for the novel’s various narratives, mathematicians’ daughters figure prominently as nodes where the orbits of these narratives cross paths. It is in those moments where a woman’s voice takes over the narration that the novel achieves its greatest emotional resonance.
Audin’s Oulipian constraints demand that every chapter find its own voice in the sparsest possible prose, in some instances reaching the extremes of nothing more than hurried notations. Each of these distinct voices sing loudly without overwhelming the choral whole. More concrete literary constraints showcased in One Hundred Twenty-One Days include purposeful alliteration, palindromes, anagrams, and acrostics, all of which, more because of their artfulness than in spite of it, go unnoticed to the casual reader. And where one might anticipate that these confines would limit such a book, they serve instead to liberate its form far beyond the traditional novel, oscillating stylistically chapter to chapter from a childhood in Africa told as fable to a scholar’s historical research notes to a reporter’s interview transcripts to the diary entries of a combat trauma nurse to…to…to… To borrow from Anne Sexton, “[Y]ou could let some extraordinary animals out if you had the right cage.”
The experience of reading this book is quite a bit like going through guided research or detective work. You might be reading a diary entry and notice a stray detail not immediately expanded upon. You will wonder why it’s there or how it relates to what has come before. Then, two chapters later, perhaps in an interview or an obituary, the detail’s relevance is made marvelously clear. Audin draws on the pleasure intrinsic to discovering the kind of monumental historical coincidences and improbable confluences of people and events with which this novel is fragrantly ripe.
One Hundred Twenty-One Days is a unique find for enthusiasts of works in translation, French literature, history, mathematics, psychology, mystery, poetry, and humanity (so basically anyone). If The Diary of Anne Frank or the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Lights We Cannot See speak to you, so will this.
Fernando recommends Life Embitters by Josep Pla, translated by Peter Roland Bush:
Josep Pla is one of those writers who was so prolific, whose work captures the people he saw in his day to day with such nuance, humor, and emotional precision, who had the talent of observation and getting into the heart of things better than most of his contemporaries, yet I find myself hardly ever thinking of him. Why is this?
Perhaps the title of this collection of stories, and that it clocks in at six hundred pages, makes this book kind of a hard sell.
Josep Pla was a Catalonian critic, reporter, and writer of fiction born at the end of the 19th century. Making his way all over Europe in his travels, he had front row seats to some of the biggest social events of the 20th century, and got to see how they affected everyday people. From people living in Spanish boarding houses, to French café owners, to dreamers in train compartments going into Germany, the moments Josep Pla witnessed in people are forever frozen in these little vignettes.
I will admit that upon reading the first story I had little interest to actually finish the book. However, something about the atmosphere and poetry in these stories seduced me. Perhaps because I am a sucker for culture-specific, regional works (like Dubliners, Winesburg, Ohio, or Letters from My Windmill by Alphonse Daudet), I tapped into the tragic human comedy and beauty in these stories. Now, I can say I am a reader devoted to the work of Josep Pla. His writing has only recently begun to be translated into English and I couldn’t be happier to discover more.
Sam Lipsyte says “Deb Olin Unferth is one of the most daring and entertaining writers in America today,” and we’d have to agree. We’re very, very excited that her debut short story collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance, is now in stock, and we strongly encourage all you fans of fiction that embraces our “queasy, flickering, tender multitudes” to come pick up a copy today.
And if you’ve yet to explore the remarkably inventive, unsettling, and intoxicating world of Unferth, here’s a primer from our store manager, Becky Garcia, who discusses her first novel, Vacation, which we also highly recommend.