Staff Picks: The Babysitter at Rest

Fernando recommends The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George:

Jen George is as close to being a rock star as anybody who is not a musician can be. 

Her debut book is put out by the independent press Dorothy, a publishing project, which is one of the most daring, innovative presses out there. Every story in this collection pulsates with energy that is entirely original and fantastic.

Speaking as a person who never went to college, if I’m reading contemporary American fiction I’m foremost drawn to writers that didn’t attend an MFA program. Though I didn’t know Jen George was one of these rare specimens when I started reading this book, after the first story I felt right away that this author is something special and I rejoiced. I am grateful for the rarity of this collection.

I realize in a review you’re supposed to describe the characters and “plots” of some of the stories in the book being reviewed, but part of the fun of this collection is experiencing it on your own. Kinda like trying to tell somebody why the record Philosophy of the World by The Shaggs is a masterpiece. It can’t be done, you just have to experience it.

In South Texas the expression ‘throw you corner’ is used when somebody backs you up with something (example: You: “I gotta go tell that obnoxious guy to move his car.” Friend: “I’ll go, too, and throw you corner”). I can say that reading this book, you definitely feel Jen George is out there somewhere throwing you corner. And there’s not a lot of young fiction writers you can say that about these days. Unless, of course, they’re put out by the Dorothy project.

Choosing Wisely at Malvern Books

If you fancy treating yourself to a splendid new book but you’re not that familiar with indie press offerings—or you’re simply overwhelmed by choice—we’re here to help!

We feature information on a lot of our recent arrivals on our New Books page, so that’s a great place to start. And our In The Store page shows photos of our monthly displays, helpfully organized by theme (like our Short Novels display, pictured above). Our erudite and enthusiastic Malvernites also post their Staff Picks here on the blog.

And be sure to take note of our Shelf Talkers cards when you visit the store. They feature personal recommendations from our staff, often with a comparison to a writer you already know and love.

If you like Ursula K. Le Guin, progressive ideas, and innovative fiction, the Ravicka Trilogy by Renee Gladman is for you. (Start with Event Factory.)

If you like Kurt Vonnegut and the Wu-Tang Clan, you’ll love The Free-Lance Pallbearers by Ishmael Reed.

If you enjoy the films of Tarkovsky, grimness, and the fantastic, you’ll love the work of 20th Century Russian writer Andrey Platonov.

If you like the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky or Andrei Tarkovsky, then try the cinematic novel The Glacier by Jeff Wood.

And if you don’t follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@malvernbooks), you really should, as we post heaps of photos and info on new arrivals and old favorites, plus links to rave reviews that should help you pick the perfect new read(s)!

In The Store: May 2017

It’s hotting up, and we have just the ticket… short stories for shorts weather, including Deb Olin Unferth’s debut collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance.

And for Memorial Day, a display of books that focus on themes of war, conflict, and remembrance, including Tom Sleigh’s Army Cats, which the Kenyon Review described as “a dynamic book in which Sleigh sets down his own wrestling with identity, and we are captivated by the multiplicity of selves that emerges.”

And our new t-shirts have arrived, featuring a fiercely adorable leonine design.

Staff Picks: Fasting for Ramadan

Taylor recommends Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali:

How do we define family? Traditions? Vacations? Shared Meals? Shared beliefs? How do we draw the line between faith & understanding? Food & body? The SuperNatural & anxiety? What makes words into poetry? Is it the not letting go? Is it the rain? Or lack thereof?

This book in its most simple form is a diary. OR> An exploration of exploration. OR> Experiencing an experience. OR> Can we be forgotten? OR> Once I met a man who I was sure was me myself but also him himself & that, though we had never met, had never seen one another, had always been separated, we had never been separate. OR> I never sleep because night is when I eat. OR> Maybe we have to be truly empty to understand emptiness?

PART 1: THE MIND’S REACHING OUT

One feels, at the end of a day of fasting, like a branch of a tree or a bone bleached in the sun…
Sometimes even your own language disappears…
Tell me the difference between entity & eternity…
How Small & tender the ego is…
I wonder if I will always be like this…
I’ve always thought of a poem as an open door…
But holiness is everywhere, in the ordinary days as well…

PART 2: GROUNDED IN THE BODY

White sunlight comes through the window…
What is cleaner than fire…
These are drugs I take…
Each morning I am up early enough to look at the moon…
The fast takes us from a self-oriented universe into creation…
My body is a transitional site, a holding pattern…
I dream to come back, to have it be really mine again, my lovely brother, my corpse, my shield…

Elegant & intimate; you won’t want this book to end.

Have Your Say—Take The Malvern Survey!

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!

Staff Picks: One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin

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.