Friday, April 26, 2013

Welcome To Malvern Books

Malvern Books is the bookstore blog of a bookstore that does not yet exist. Confused? Pull up a comfy chair and please allow me to explain…

Once upon a time—1987, to be precise—a couple of literary enthusiasts from Austin, Texas, founded a company called Host Publications. Host specialized in publishing literature in translation, and their catalog quickly grew to resemble the reading list of a United Nations book club: there was poetry from Chile and Serbia; short story collections from Italy and Mexico; novels from Brazil and Switzerland. Introducing these international voices to an American audience was fun and frustrating in equal measure. Fun, because what book nerd wouldn't relish the chance to acquaint people with amazing stuff they'd never heard of? And frustrating, because finding a home for your beloved small press babies is hard. Really hard. Independent bookstores were having a tough time—hello giant retail chains, e-books, and the recession—and previously adventurous booksellers began to retreat to their safe place: maybe if I replace my Obscure European Poetry section with a life-size cardboard cutout of Christian Grey, everything will be okay? The good people at Host tried every marketing trick in the book (including, but not limited to, free cookies), but they kept hearing the same thing: looks good, but it's not for us.

So what's a small press enthusiast to do? Give up on indie publications and start sifting through the slush pile for a touching memoir about a psychic Labradoodle? As they say in Texas: nu-uh! In the spirit of “I MUST BE DAFT,” one of Host's founders, Joe W. Bratcher III, decided to take the exciting but fiscally whimsical step of opening his very own bookstore. It had been a longtime dream, and one that I'm sure is familiar to many of us book lovers. (In my I-own-a-bookstore dream, there's a marmalade cat asleep on an overstuffed armchair in the corner, and I'm hanging out behind the counter making small talk with a curmudgeonly regular—I call him Mr. Peabody, and he has very definite views about the weather—and the whole place smells of new books and fresh coffee and… tranquility?) Joe wanted to open a store that thumbed its nose at Fifty Shades and instead stocked only the very best poetry, fiction, and journals from small, independent, utterly awesome presses. And he also wanted to provide a welcoming community space for literary enthusiasts—a venue for nightly readings and performances. And thus, buoyed by the cheering news that many independent bookstores have been experiencing increased sales of late, Malvern Books was born, and a brand spanking new bookstore will soon be opening its doors to Austinites…

But not yet. Not quite yet. Because it turns out opening a bookstore takes time. There's a site to find, a lease to sign, shelves to stock, and horrifying accounting software to delete in a fit of rage master. (And presumably you have to go to the shelter and pick out an appropriately orange cat to adopt, right, Joe?) And that's where the Malvern Books blog comes in—because every good bookstore deserves blog!  

My name is Tracey, and I'm the lucky so-and-so that has the job of writing for Malvern Books, our irreverent internet presence. (The briefest of back-stories: I used to work for Host Publications, and have a background as a writer and editor. And I'm originally from New Zealand, which means you'll have to forgive my incomprehensible slang and my fondness for Vegemite.) We wanted to get the blog up and running as soon as possible, because we thought people might be interested in hearing more about the process of setting up a new bookstore. And, because I am a somewhat random human being, I also thought lit-geeks might be interested in reading about embarrassing library visits, a teenage crush on Kafka, and my penchant for crying in art galleries

Yes sirree, we cover a wide range of topics on the Malvern Books blog. My brief was blessedly vague—“write about arty stuff, and don't be dull!”—and I'm happy to run with that. We write about books, movies, TV, and art. We write about the horrors of the book conference and the wonders of Janet Frame. And we even have a heavy metal correspondent, Joe's son Adam, who really knows his Megadeth from his Mastodon. Once the store has its grand opening in September, the blog will also be the place to go for event listings, special offers, local literary happenings, and bookstore gossip (so if you plop your leaking coffee cup down on top of a fresh stack of Smartish Pace journals, well, you can expect to be publicly shamed).

We hope you'll stop by and say hello—first at the blog, and then at the bookstore. We really look forward to meeting all you lovely book people. And though the prospect of launching Malvern Books might make some people as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs (I told you we was Texas), we're not-so-quietly confident that the Austin literary scene will welcome a little new energy and a big new venue (1900 square feet!), and that the blogosphere will make room for one more voice—even if it does have a peculiar Kiwi/Lone Star twang.