Staff Picks: Inventive Impulses

Taylor recommends Incorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine:

I don’t know what’s already been said about this book, but considering the impression it’s left on me I would assume a lot of people have said a lot of terrific things… like ::: there’s such a warm atmosphere to this collection… elegant, dazzling, charming, tender, fearless… incredible control and craft, what lovely enjambment… an instant classic… I just couldn’t put it down… and really, it has become a book that I reread often. So many of the poems leave me slightly breathless, so many of the lines make me touch my hand to my heart. This book makes me feel less alone and/or ok in my sadness or optimism.

So what are we really looking at here? Just another book of poems in three parts from Copper Canyon. Just amazing cover art from Januz Miralles. Just a terrific title for a book of poems with terrific titles… I mean “Incorrect Merciful Impulses,” “Dear Enemy,” “Always Bring Flowers,” “Symptoms of Home”… yeah this book is solid and it hits on a lot of registers, like what it means to be alive right now and how we interact with history, which is sort of to say how we interact with death and those who have died and how sometimes we have to use metaphors because the pain of saying what we need is so great and how sometimes we must confront the sources of our pain directly and how sometimes we just need to feel human.

Even though each of these poems stands alone like a treasure chest of visceral images, snappy line breaks, effortless rhythm, inventive phrases and subverted cliches, the entire collection coalesces around revisitations of the sea, the sun, symptoms, fire, love and family. Not many books of poetry are for everybody, but this one is. I can’t wait for you to read it.

Book Talk: Becky Introduces Ken Fontenot’s For Mr. Raindrinker

Austin-based Slough Press has been publishing fiction, poetry, and essays for over forty years—and one of their most entertaining titles must surely be the novel For Mr. Raindrinker, by local poet and author Ken Fontenot. Set in the New Orleans of the ’70s and earning frequent comparisons to John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, For Mr. Raindrinker follows the adventures of the indomitable Kent Soileau and his friend, balloon-animal-artist extraordinaire Mr. Raindrinker. Sound intriguing? Then have a listen to this Book Talk from our store manager Becky Garcia—and make a note to pick up a copy of Raindrinker next time you’re at the store (and be sure to attend our monthly Novel Night reading series for more Book Talks!)

Staff Picks: Hadlíz With His Trump Hair

Stephanie recommends The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz by Ladislav Novák (translated from the Czech by Jed Slast):

When this book first arrived at Malvern in September 2016, I believed there was no way Donald J. Trump would ever be elected president of the United States. He seemed so obviously a jester for an evil we wouldn’t let win. So when I started reading The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz, I saw the visuals of Hadlíz, with his Trump-esque coif, as a freakish prediction from the 1970s of Trump’s goofy-but-traumatizing presidential campaign and it made me laugh. Look at Trump as a slice of pizza! Look at Trump punching another, fatter Trump in the face!

But as I started reading the text and not just ingesting the images, the comparisons between Mr. Hadlíz and Trump lost their humor: “Clowning and dissimulating, he invites us to have fun with him. To make our forgetting even more profound? To easily get us under his control? Under no circumstances should we trust him too much.”

Now that Trump is in office, the accidental connections between Hadlíz and The Donald stand out even more.

Prague-based Twisted Spoon Press focuses on contemporary writing from central and eastern Europe. The Transformations of Mr. Hadlíz (Twisted Spoon, 2002) is a combination of poetry, prose, and visual art, featuring twelve images created by froissage, a method author and artist Ladislav Novák invented to interpret crumpled paper.

Hadlíz is carved from the quotidian: an unused daily calendar gifted to Novák at the beginning of 1976 (a year before Trump married his first wife, a Czech model). Of Hadlíz’s genesis later that year, Novák writes: “Near the center of the sheet and in the middle of the creased lines there emerged a suspended figure in the original white color of the washed background. It suggested to me the title: ‘Mr. Hadlíz as a floating cloud (as an eiderdown).’”

The writings were composed sixteen years after the images, in 1992 (a banner year for Trump, as three Trump hotels filed for bankruptcy protection).

With his reliance on clowning (“Mr. Hadlíz of course isn’t just joking”); predatory behavior (“Mr. Hadlíz may be free but will she freely comply?”); and his own inner voices (“these voices are more than dim visceral whimperings”), Hadlíz With His Trump Hair entertains and terrorizes throughout The Transformations, which at one point asks, “What sort of age have we lived in, do we still live in?”

Hadlíz can be taken as a Trump figure up until the book’s conclusion, when Hadlíz shows emotional growth, something Trump has no interest in. We remember that Hadlíz isn’t real, that he is a kind of cartoon and therefore can have his easy redemption. But Trump wasn’t carved from paper and chance and is not a cartoon. Trump is real and somehow our president. “What sort of age have we lived in, do we still live in?”

Staff Picks: Necessary Silences & An Uncanny Monologue

Stephanie recommends 100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu:

Yu uses poems by Collins, Oliver, Pound and more to skewer the original texts (and their creators) for their racist representations. “Often I run out of ideas / for poems,” Yu writes in a riff on a Dan Gerber poem, “but then I remember I am an American / and so can end my poem with something Chinese / and call it original, like that / ancient American railroad / built miraculously by silent hands, / helping me drive my golden spike home.”


Fernando recommends Amulet by Roberto Bolaño:

What can I tell you that you don’t already know? Perhaps it’s too easy to recommend a book by Bolaño, but this is the first novel by him I ever read. I bought it on a whim around 2007ish, after having witnessed his corner of the shelf at the local bookstore get a little bigger year after year. Finally I said, Who is this guy?, and picked one up. I will say now, after ten years of distance, that nothing could have prepared me at that time for Amulet.

This is a story about immigrants, about the government doing the unthinkable, and about resistance. At the time a novel like this was not easy to come by, especially one that was contemporary. It is narrated throughout the course of twelve days by an older Uruguayan woman as she hides in a bathroom stall while the army invades the university in Mexico City. She calls herself the mother of all poets and passionately recounts her life, passions, fantasies, and fears.

Maybe since 2007 Bolaño’s popularity has gotten out of control, but I try not to think about this when I consider one of his books as a work of literature. Though his longer, imperfect novels are certainly works of art in their own right, I really enjoy the impact and immediacy of shorter ones like Amulet.

By the end everything is devastating and holy, in a way only the rapture can be. Even if you’re in a crowded room as you finish it, you’ll feel completely alone, in the best way.

Staff Picks: Translation Games, Anti-Poetry, and D’Agata

Schandra recommends Lost Wax by Jonathan Stalling:

Each pair of pages contains an original poem written in English by the author, followed by a Chinese translation followed by another English translation performed by a workshop of eight translators. The result is one great love poem to translation through a cross-section of the act. Deliberately ekphrastic, the subject matter (visual art) illustrates the ways in which translated poetry behaves like lithography or sculpture casting, whose nature is not to create exact copies but to play a telephone game of mutation in which beauty comes from surprise.


Taylor recommends After-Dinner Declarations by Nicanor Parra:

Chilean “anti-poet” and Cervantes Prize winner Nicanor Parra provides an entertaining and enlightening perspective on the modern world. In a language steeped in colloquialisms, Parra’s declarations employ a diverse range of discourses—from puns and allusions to diatribes and eulogies—in order to expose the hypocrisy of human institutions and offer a quipping challenge to those who remain satisfied with the status quo, addressing perennial motifs such as ecology, human rights and responsibilities, and the limits of scientific knowledge.


Stephanie recommends John D’Agata’s American Essay trilogy:

D’Agata is a crucial force in American prose, known for his career-long efforts to define nonfiction. He runs the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, which counts young dynamic writers like Kerry Howley (Thrown), Jennifer Percy (Demon Camp), Lucas Mann (Lord Fear), and Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas (Don’t Come Back) among its recent grads. He’s the author of numerous books and the perennial subject of angry think-pieces due to his relationship with the concept of fact and its role(s) in nonfiction. Here’s a fact: D’Agata’s introductions to the essays in this trilogy are beautiful and also contain factual errors I can’t understand the purpose of or apologize for. Here’s another fact: These anthologies are wonderfully curated courses in the essay, our greatest and most misunderstood literary form.

Book Talk: Schandra Introduces Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.

Since her death in 1977, Clarice Lispector has earned recognition as Brazil’s greatest modern writer. And Benjamin Moser, editor of her anthology The Complete Stories, is often quoted as saying she’s the most important Jewish writer in the world since Kafka. Perhaps the most Kafkaesque of Lispector’s nine novels—yes, it involves a cockroach—is the mystical The Passion According to G.H., first published in 1964 as A Paixão Segundo G.H., and released in a superb translation by Idra Novey by New Directions in 2012. To learn more about this existential masterpiece, have a listen to Malvernian Schandra’s Book Talk below (and be sure to attend our monthly Novel Night reading series for more Book Talks!)