Staff Picks

Staff Picks

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting (recommended by Layne)

Unclean JobsThe 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 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.

Roses by Rainer Maria Rilke (recommended by Annar)

RosesAs someone with a profound respect for the modernist era, it is absolutely thrilling to see Rilke’s final batch of poems flawlessly translated and accompanied by such beautiful art and design. This bilingual collection was published posthumously, and it is rare in that it was originally written in French (telling for the Austrian writer). Roses also poses as a great contrast to the dramatic and serious collection Duino Elegies. The poems in Roses are fluid, tinged with love, warmth, wonder, and extraordinary depth. Translator David Need goes above and beyond, providing phenomenal insight and commentary throughout the second half of the book—bringing us closer and closer to mapping the mind of Rainer Maria Rilke.

Snowman Snowman by Janet Frame (recommended by F.)

Snowman SnowmanThe texture of Janet Frame’s writing, often reminiscent of Joyce and the South American Clarice Lispector, can at times be a little thick, let’s face it, but the poetry in her language is always intact. This book compiles what are considered to be Frame’s ‘stories of the fantastic,’ in the faerie tale tradition of the dark and the morbid. The first half of the book is the novella length title story, “Snowman Snowman,” in which our narrator is (did you guess?) a snowman! For a ‘serious reader’ this sounds like pish-posh cheap trickery, but what happens here is a moving portrait both about a family and mortality.

Outside a home in New Zealand, the only child of the Dincer family, Rosemary, makes a snowman the beginning of one winter. At first confused about his existence, the snowman, through the progression of the story, learns more about not only himself, but also of humans and life on earth. His guide immediately becomes the Perpetual Snowflake, which hangs on the windowsill of the Dincer house. This is no joke, and it’s actually quite serious. The Perpetual Snowflake contains the wisdom of the cosmos and the ages. Simply put, the Perpetual Snowflake is the Jiminy Cricket character of the story. Through the Perpetual Snowflake, the snowman and the reader are both in for quite an existential ride.

The latter half of the book is made up mostly of short-short stories, some of them a page long. They contain sheep on their way to the slaughterhouse, bees that warn the changes of time, Dust and Daylight taking a holiday together. Frame’s imagination and poetry here are in top form. A great read for the winter, or any season.

You Go The Words by Gunnar Björling (recommended by Taylor)

You Go The WordsThis collection of poems explores the power of the absence of words through hypnotic rhythms and lyrical minimalism. Although much of his lexicon is comprised of seemingly insignificant words like like-the-that-it-you-if-as-and, Björling’s emotional territory is immense and cuts to the heart and shimmers erotically. Large amounts of white space and disjunctive syntax come together to form a work in ten parts that, thanks to Fredrik Hertzberg’s supple and nimble translations, can be consumed in an afternoon or savored for days on end.

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam (recommended by Tyler)

The IrrationalistLet me say it simply: This is one hell of an enjoyable book. Not always cheery or blossomed with dance hall fervor, sure, but charmingly witty and playfully insightful, absolutely.

You might have seen me pacing around the store, smiling and shaking my head YES, and odds are I was holding this book. Here, you can have it now. Enjoy.

Hider Roser by Ben Mirov (recommended by Taylor)

Hider RoserBen Mirov is a cloud. His book HIDER ROSER is a downpour of rainbows made of colors that have no names. The poems inside pound you in the face softly and honestly like a fuzzy blanket. The poems pound you in the mirror until you recognize yourself. The poems are love letters playing with jellyfish in the surf at night. To keep you safe. To keep us safe. What do you want? These poems are that. Or not. Either way this book is alive and raised by the sweetest of wolves to act like itself. “Now open your eyes. / Not those eyes. / The eyes inside you.”

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (recommended by Taylor)

Bluets smlBluets by Maggie Nelson is a love story like many love stories; a thrilling ride of magic that can only be described as: blue: derelict: tarp flapping in the wind on a rooftop in a gray sky: a grey sky beaten first purple then blue: a tiny cheap locket: salt tears: trinket after trinket: memory of what never happened: what happened:

In a deft and passionate voice, readers experience falling in love with the color blue through a series of numbered sections that jolt the reader from Geothe’s Blue to Joni Mitchell’s to Mallarme’s.

The intensity and voracity creates a whirlwind that sucks readers in and tosses them about in a mess of confession, sex, love and rock-n-roll. Academically speaking this book of {what many consider to be} poems proves the value of research and close reading, though as a love story Maggie Nelson stalks the color blue in its physical form as well as in the abstract and theoretical realms. Happy, sad, crazy, lovely, human, human, human, this collection is a gem.

Bat City Review, Volume 10 (recommended by Tyler)

Bat CityThis here new issue of Bat City Review showcases exactly why I love journals: under one pretty cover, a whole mess of goodness, stories and poetry and art fresh into the world. Particularly, I dig Mykola Zhuravel’s art and Joe Hall’s poems, but really, friend, you can’t go wrong by picking up this assorted awesomeness.

Dublin Noir, edited by Ken Bruen (recommended by Becky)

Dublin NoirThis isn’t Frommer’s Dublin. And I doubt the Irish Tourism Board would recommend trying to reconstruct a walking tour of Dublin Noir’s story locations. But if you like your fiction short with a touch of dark humor and an often brutal twist at the end, these stories are for you. It’s hard to decide who to root for when the protagonist goes bad (as they usually do); so you end up just being along for the wild ride through the darker side of Ireland. Watch it! Don’t let that blood get on your shoe…

Dublin Noir is one of an award-winning series of original noir anthologies from Akashic Books carried at Malvern Books.

Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr (recommended by Will)

Termite ParadeTermites are eating away at young Derek’s brain, influencing him to drop his sweet Mired down a flight of stairs. This story tells a tale of an abusive relationship gone totally wrong and right at the same time. Throw in some armed robbery and bad coffee, and this is a must read!

He has a generous understanding of his characters, whom he describes with an intelligence and sensitivity that pulls you in.
       —The New York Times Book Review

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner (recommended by Schandra)

Here BulletHere, 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.)

The Roads Have Come to an End Now by Rolf Jacobsen (recommended by Polly)

The RoadsWOW—I’ve read this book three times in the last week, and I can’t wait to read it again! I love the crisp, clear language of Jacobsen’s poems. Buses, snails, telescopes, loss—Jacobsen can find value in it all. This collection is beautiful, accessible, and definitely worth multiple readings. One of my favorite images is from “Morning Crows”:

It’s the crows that wake the countryside
with their tiresome racket over the fields,
like zinc buckets rattling in the gray dawn.

Holy Land by Rauan Klassnik (recommended by Taylor)

Holy LandHold on to your face and dance around wildly while you still can. Holy Land is a smash and grab job that will slam your heart in and out of human tenderness and violence. In this dreamy world everything’s gleaming and bloody like smashed glass in the light of the moon. Klassnik’s language is swift, direct and brutal as he darts from the domestic to the cosmic to the afterlife to the ditch by the side of the road.

And so, we stood before him at last, our ribs shining
through like painted blood, and he shook his cage,
there in the center of the universe, howling, till we gave
him a cigarette and he leaned back, his eyes a newborn
child’s. It isn’t hard to kill. The beauty of a dove
trapped in a circle filled with smoke.

Screen Door Jesus and Other Stories by Christopher Cook (recommended by Adam)

Screen Door Jesus“Screen Door Jesus” is a story that takes place in a quiet, highly religious southern town. The story follows several different characters, all of whom have been affected differently by a town sensation. It’s a very well written third-person narrative that vividly portrays the debate on religion and how both sides are affected by it. The characters in the book are portrayed in a way that allows the reader to feel a sense of understanding of what they are going through in their stories. This is definitely a book worth having for a reader who is looking for an original, exciting story with memorable writing and inspiring characters.

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (recommended by Dr. Joe)

At Swim-Two-BirdsAt Swim-Two-Birds was described by Dylan Thomas as, “Just the book to give to your sister if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl!” It rollicks with laughter and wit that only an Irishman can supply. While I love Mr. Joyce, his work can become such a trial to read that I forget I’m having fun. And Beckett, well, I love his work to tears, but have a hard time laughing through them. But, oh, to read the madness of narrators and characters attacking each other in their sleep while the whole of Irish mythology rolls by, now that is cooking with all burners. Long live Dermot Trellis!

The Devotional Poems by Joe Hall (recommended by Tyler)

The Devotional PoemsJoe Hall’s second book, The Devotional Poems, is like the transcription of a journal found in a lonely, winter-beaten Midwestern woods, taken home, unfolded, typed back out—the words, but also somehow the musty stench and the hisses and the blistering wind it has brought back too—and here unleashed. I love what that wild/wise man, Blake Butler, said in that blurb of his: “[d]evoted, yes, to terror, but true too to the gorgeous black underbelly of how we’re all at once somehow together possessed.” Devotional poems, exorcisms, names for the abyss—these poems transact in that old-timey way of getting rid of the demons, real and imagined, understood and baffling. And whether it works or not—for the author, for the speaker, for you there in your demented home—the shrieks come out of the dangerous rubble and treacherous lulls of life and bring forth a new meaning to staggering and a new breath, somehow, to the broken.

Collected Body by Valzhyna Mort (recommended by Katherine)

Collected BodyBelarusian poet Valzhyna Mort has been praised as “[a] risen star of the international poetry world” by the Irish Times. In Collected Body, Mort combines gorgeous and haunting lyrical poems with two prose poems in her first collection written completely in English. The motifs running through the collection paint a picture of people in their most corporeal, vulnerable state. The poems dichotomize idealized sexuality with the grotesque, the purity of familial ties with the perversion of incest, the surreal mingling with the physical world, and the unabashed acknowledgment of death.

Mort’s collection falls in line with many of the great female poets of today such as Sharon Olds, Anne Carson, Linda Gregg, and Louise Glück, but the freshness of her images, and her distinctive voice grants Mort her own solid ground. The mythology cast in her more narrative poems is interspersed with a fresh honesty that can sometimes be either overdone or missing completely in contemporary poetry (“i found healing/… should i be ashamed of myself?”). The understated grotesqueries are remnants of German and Austrian fairytales.

With an array of characters, seemingly based loosely on her own personal history, Mort’s poems feel like secret histories of her homeland, to which she slowly allows the reader to be privy.

Forklift, Ohio (recommended by Tracey)

The journal’s full name is Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety, and I think you’ll agree that this is a winning trifecta of concerns. Produced “approximately 1.618 times per year” by three good friends, the Cincinnati-based journal’s stated aim is to “fetishize the aesthetics of early industrialized society in a distinctly post-industrial fashion.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I can tell you that each journal is handmade in limited quantities out of an assortment of odd materials. Some issues are furry, some are spotty, and some are riddled with bullet holes. Issue #18 comes dog-eared for your convenience, while Issue #24 can only be opened with a corkscrew.


If you manage to get inside your copy, you’ll find poetry, prose, and visual art, along with the promised recipes, safety tips (Forklift, Ohio is proud of its “thirteen-year record as an accident-free workplace”), and assorted silliness. The best bits of silliness come directly from the pages of old magazines: Issue #12 includes an advertisement for carcass splitters and “Nine Rules for Avoiding Constipation” (Rule No. 6 advises readers to “avoid cathartics”). But in case this all sounds a bit nincompoopy for you, let me assure you that the poetry in Forklift, Ohio is very good indeed. Esteemed poet Dean Young is a big fan of the journal and hands out copies to his pals—but if you’re not one of Mr. Young’s pals, you can always get your mitts on a Forklift at Malvern Books.

Smartish Pace (recommended by Tracey)

Poetry journal Smartish Pace was founded by Stephen Reichert in 1999, while he was studying law at the University of Maryland. He named the journal for a nineteenth-century English legal case, Davies v. Mann, which involved an illegally parked donkey and a horse-drawn wagon traveling at a “smartish pace.” (It’s kind of an interesting case, actually, especially as it involves repeated use of the word ass: Davies, the plaintiff, had illegally tethered his ass at the side of a highway so it could graze. This sounds charmingly idyllic, apart from the highway part, but alas our defendant, Mann, galloped by in his horse-drawn wagon, struck Davies’ ass, and killed it. Davies was rather miffed by the loss and took Mann to court, arguing that even if his ass-tethering was a little naughty, Mann was also negligent in going so fast. And just so you know: the court ruled in favor of Davies and his deceased ass, and this ruling has led to the doctrine of “last clear chance,” which basically states that if you’re the last person who has a chance to prevent a disaster and you fail to do so, well, you’re in big trouble—even when said disaster was set in motion by someone else’s screw up.) Anyway! Enough about asses. More about journals…

Smartish Pace

Smartish Pace is published annually, and it features wonderful poetry from new and established writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning fancypants poets like Ted Kooser, Paul Muldoon, Maxine Kumin, and Mary Oliver. Also worth nothing: Smartish Pace sells very cool t-shirts. We make a point of picking up a couple whenever we encounter the SP folks at a book fair. (Those SP folks know how to have a good time at a book fair; I suspect it involves whiskey.) Next time you stop by Malvern Books, ask us to direct you to the Smartish Pace shelf… smartish.