Malvern Books is a bookstore and community space located at 613 W 29th in Austin. Malvern, which recently celebrated its third birthday, specializes in visionary fiction and poetry from independent publishers, with a focus on lesser-known and emerging voices the world needs to hear. The store, owned by Joe Bratcher and managed by Becky Garcia, is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
Malvern’s inventory is lovingly curated and delightfully idiosyncratic, with one common thread running from shelf to shelf: the store sells books the staff loves to read and are proud to press enthusiastically into your hands.
With that in mind, the following Reading List features titles handpicked from Malvern’s shelves by the store’s booksellers, literature they think is required reading, particularly in the face of the election of Ku Klux Klan-endorsed hatemongers Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence as the next United States president and vice president.
Fernando A. Flores
The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt (New York Review of Books Classics, 2015)
“What is to prevent there being a secret society as powerful as the [Ku Klux] Klan here in Argentina?”
This novel was originally published in Buenos Aires in 1929. It can be seen as a work of wondrous realism bordering on farce about a group of hustlers and crooks planning a government coup from the bottom up. The economy will be fixed by mass enslavement and industrial-scale prostitution; open crime will be seen as profitable for the government; and if that doesn’t work, there’s a scheme involving poisonous gas. The Seven Madmen is about the bad will of men taken to levels of comic book super-villains not hard to imagine. Here, the dream is absolute power. These are the men salivating at the thought of complete control. How do these things happen? In the most legal way possible and right under everyone’s noses. But don’t worry; once these men are gone, there are others waiting in line to replace them. Seven men can keep a nation of millions in fear. From Buenos Aires, Arlt could see the startling fate of politics for the next 100 years.
“Who is more heartless, a brothel owner or the shareholders of a large company?”
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press, 2004)
Before Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), which focuses on America’s pervasive racism, Claudia Rankine gave us her first American Lyric, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, a devastating look at American spectacle & grief. I’ve been reading this book for over a decade now, first encountering it in an undergraduate literature course on hybrid/cross-genre texts & returning to it when I need to both escape & confront American (news, entertainment, & social) media. Following the Trump/Pence election victory (loss), I reached first & saddest & most hopefully for Don’t Let Me Be Lonely & Rankine’s power to articulate & interrogate our national truths & lies & “what we can’t do for each other.” What a joy & terror to reread this book with the knowledge that the United States has elected a reality TV host to its highest public office, a corrupt developer who has in actuality built only his own life & done so by selling one fraudulent image after another, a brand-master with zero interest in reality, fact, or truth (to say nothing of his platform of hate & violence). Rankine is one of our country’s most important critical thinkers, creators, & authors, & Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is, like Citizen, required reading.
The Foundation Pit by Andrey Platonov, translated from the Russian by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler & Olga Meerson (New York Review of Books Classics, 2009)
Here in the darker corner of dystopian fiction we have a novel about seductive populism and how the State’s concerted violence against language prefigures physical violence and loss of personal liberty. Sound familiar?
Here is the first sentence of this novel about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others, hilarious and bleak in all its glory: “On the day of the thirtieth anniversary of his private life, Voshchev was made redundant from the small machine factory where he obtained the means for his own existence.”
I just turned 28, and I will stand against Trump and his administration with everything in me.
The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail, translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid (New Directions, 2014)
Imagine if roughly a thousand and one years after those thousand and one nights, Scheherazade and the goddess Ishtar started a poetry workshop and selected Dunya Mikhail as their mortal mouthpiece. Their collaborative efforts would manifest in long calligraphic strokes connecting great swaths of an interminably war-weary history, only to go back over with a fine tip, adding the delicate diacritics of everyday life and love that have existed, that must exist, with as much constancy as tremendous conflict. Mikhail, who edited the essential chapbook anthology Fifteen Iraqi Poets (also from New Directions), uses Arabic script to its fullest potential in intricate poetry tablets that are easy on the eyes but needfully hard on the guts. This collection, to borrow from its prelude, exemplifies the power of “words [to draw our] attention away from thoughts of murder.” If you’re looking for a gateway toward challenging the collective ignorance that has fueled the hate that will only be further stoked by our impending federal administration, this is a very good start. Even among the thick dust of destruction, Mikhail’s poems are laced with glowing chords of hope. I must believe that there is something real in that hope, just as much as I must sit here now and read The Iraqi Nights all over again.
taylor jacob pate
Black Movie by Danez Smith (Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press, 2015)
It’s difficult saying “i love this book,” this book of fierce & lovely hauntings, this book of perpetually broken hearts & lost black lives, this book of simple metaphor bearing truth & bullets & tears spilled in our streets. it’s difficult to love something that devastates you, that judges & doesn’t forgive you. but it’s incredible & it’s incredibly important. we can’t bring back the dead, but this book of poems keeps them alive just a little bit longer.
Fernando A. Flores is a photographer and the author of the story cycle Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. I (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [CCLaP] Publishing, 2014); Stephanie Goehring is the author of two poetry chapbooks & serves on the advisory council for Conflict of Interest; Matthew Hodges writes fiction & is the frontman of noise band Oil Company; Schandra Madha writes poetry & fiction & hosts Malvern’s feminist reading series, I Scream Social; and taylor jacob pate is a painter, the author of the book-length poem becoming the virgin (Action Books, 2016) & co-founder & co-editor of smoking glue gun.