The brand-new indie bookstore Malvern Books officially opened this past weekend with three days of literary festivities at its West 29th Street location. The new store is, as one of their T-shirts says, “a different kind of adult bookstore," a nod to the space's formerly being occupied by the longstanding porn shop Dreamers Video.
The eclectic lineup of readers included irreverent poet Matt Hart (co-founder of the literary journal Forklift, Ohio), Bat City Review art director and Smoking Glue Gun editor-in-chief Taylor Jacob Pate and poets Joshua Edwards and Lynn Xu, who stopped in to read on Friday night, taking a brief break from their 650-mile walk from Galveston to Marfa.
Malvern Books is a much more open-minded and far-reaching bookstore than the one you might be imagining when you roll your eyes about walking Marfa poets. Trust us, we rolled our eyes at first, too.
We know, we know — poetry readings on West Campus by a young couple walking to Marfa to begin “building their home”? It’s easy to feel like that tells you everything you need to know about the kind of bookstore Malvern Books is and the crowd it’s hoping to attract.
While there is definitely an old Austin, anti-establishment, underground vibe to the space, Malvern Books is a much more open-minded and far-reaching bookstore than the one you might be imagining when you roll your eyes about walking Marfa poets. Trust us, we rolled our eyes at first, too — and then totally lusted over Edwards and Xu’s website that beautifully chronicles the “four elements” of the smart, inventive art piece about building their home.
The store is focused on emerging voices in literature; Malvern Books carries only fiction and poetry and has a strict policy about carrying only work that’s published independently. Owner Joe Bratcher III (known as "Dr. Joe" around the bookstore) co-founded and ran the independent, Austin-based publishing company HOST for 25 years, so he has plenty of knowledge about — and definitely a sweet spot for — small presses. While spending time selling independent books on South Congress for First Thursdays or in a tent at the Texas Book Festival, he realized there was a serious desire for “the stuff you don’t usually find."
Bratcher admits he once fantasized in his college library about living a life, literally, among the shelves. Malvern Books is his way to open literary doors for people. HOST, he explained, put out about six to eight books a year. With a bookstore, he has the opportunity to give Austinites hundreds of authors and titles they’ve never been exposed to.
Malvern Books is partially carpeted in dark green squares with mismatched ornate lights hanging from the ceiling. The space somehow feels lived in, even though it’s brand new. While it is by no means dingy, it’s not necessarily fresh or hip-looking, the way you might expect a new independent Austin bookstore to look. (Then again, it’s not on the East Side with hardwood floors.) When one walks into Malvern Books, it’s clear that the focus is on the carefully selected inventory of lesser-known literature and less on the image of the store itself.
A whole wall of Malvern Books is devoted to poetry, and some small publishers get entire shelves, including a color-coded wall of every noir book imaginable by the Brooklyn-based indie publishing darlings Akashic Books. (Dallas Noir, San Diego Noir, Las Vegas Noir, etc.) Across the room, lots of fiction, much of it translated, fills up more wall space. Long wooden tables covered casually with more books — including zines, plays and graphic novels — and comfy-looking wooden and leather chairs are scattered in the large space between the two major walls of inventory.
The open space is intentional. Bratcher wants Malvern Books to be just as much a community space as it is bookstore, and the celebrations this weekend were just a taste of the sorts of events Malvern Books hopes to host. Next up? A birthday party in December for the deceased Austin poet Albert Huffstickler. And hey, maybe your book club next month.
Bratcher is passionate about making the space accessible and inviting for everyone, even if you’re not on your way to Marfa via foot. “People need to know if you have a reading group — or you need a spot for 6, 8 people, whatever, to meet, to discuss literature — let me know. I’ll clear off one of these tables.”