3 Good Things: Free Your Mind


1.Welcome to the Woodstock of the Mind

"Kindles and other e-readers are bad for the health of booksellers in the way that cigarettes are bad for the health," he said. Around town, Addyman has placed banners — "by royal decree" — which indicate that the devices are not permitted. "People are smuggling e-readers into Hay-on-Wye, but I should make them aware that we are training poodle sniffer dogs to find them," he said." Read more

2. John Green Accepts Awards with Panache 

John Green, author of the award winning novels Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars (and one of the minds behind the always-entertaining and informative mental_floss) has words of encouragement for independent booksellers . . . and some potty-mouth words for those who would wage war against them.

3. Liberation "from the hypnotism of the entire order of things."

"While radio and newspapers today are more open than state-controlled television, in recent years the Internet has been the most free space in Russia. Now authorities may be clamping down. Still, just as “The Master and Margarita” once did, the Internet has already helped create a community with its own shared language and understanding." -- A fascinating article from the New York Times about the state of political resistance in Russia and its long history of inciting it in literature.

The June Bookseller of the Month

Our bookseller of the month for June is Cheryl.  Each month, we ask a staff member a few questions about their relationship with books, and reading in general.  Below are Cheryl's responses.


1. What kind of reader are you? 

I'm a very picky and impatient reader. If a book doesn't grab my attention within the first twenty pages I will most likely set it aside. As a child, I was an avid reader, but now I read mostly on my days off while I'm barbecuing and sipping on a cold beer. I've also been known to read in rush hour traffic. I figure if it's going to take me an hour to drive three miles, I should make good use of my time!

2. Name three favorite titles that came out in the last three years. 

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. It was bittersweet when I finished the last pages of all of them . . . part of me wanted them to never end.

3. What reading experience surprised you recently?

The surprise wasn't so much the book as the circumstance. A regular customer got hooked on reading Julian Barnes after reading A Sense of an Ending. One day he came in and said he wanted to buy me Barnes' Pulse if I would read it. I said I would, and he bought me the book. I had never read Barnes before, and this collection of short stories was a great introduction.

4. What upcoming book are you looking forward to? 

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr. Imagine James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones hanging out in the South of France cooking and discussing food for an entire winter. It really happened! The author is the great-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and he references conversations that were chronicled in her journals as well as some letters of hers that he discovered. Sounds like a fascinating foodie read!

5. If you could spend a day with one living author, who would it be and why? 

Anthony Bourdain. No question about it. Spending a day with a man who is an intelligent, globe-trotting chef that likes his libations sounds pretty good to me. Can we spend the day in Spain?

 Check out some of Cheryl's favorite books on her recommendation page.

“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”

We don't like to play favorites at Diesel -- well, maybe a little -- but occasionally a book will enter the store that we can't help but champion a little more than normal. Jeremy Scahill's bold and contentious book Dirty Wars is one such book.

Scahill is the type of journalist we're glad still exists, whether one agrees with him or not. In Dirty Wars he traces the seen and unseen consequences of the reliance on covert warfare. There is a war, Leonard Cohen once sang, and though it is rarely debated in the public debates on cable or detailed in the pages of our papers, Scahill argues persuasively that the present secret one is no less deadly than the conflicts we've officially named. We owe it to the voiceless victims of night raids, nameless detainees in secret prisons, faceless targets of cruise missile and drone strikes -- to the full range of "collateral damage" of the Global War on Terror -- to at the very least momentarily stop and consider what is being done in our name and allegedly on our behalf. The documentary companion to Dirty Wars opens in the Bay Area June 14.





In the meantime, you can join us in our ongoing reflection on wages and wagers of war.


Customer Book Review: Holding Silvan

We at Diesel like books. We're more-than-friends with books. And we have the best customers because they, too, love books. Here's a review from one of our customers:

* * *

Holding Silvan by Monica Wesolowska

A Fierce and Courageous Story of a Mother’s Love

Monica Wesolowska has written a fierce and compelling account of love and loss and more love. This story should be read by anyone who has been engulfed by a tragedy and who has lived on to risk and love again.

Holding Silvan is a beautifully written and glaringly honest account of a crisis faced by a couple and the family, friends, nurses, and doctors who surrounded them.

I recommend this beautifully written memoir to friends, therapists, pastors, and anyone who wants to be reminded of the transformative and unexpected choices we can bravely make for those we most deeply love. This book will deepen your appreciation for all of the blessings in your life and give you greater compassion for those among us who must make the hardest of choices.

--Anna Weidman

Three Good Things

1) The lolling lilt of Marcella Riordan reading Molly Bloom's famed soliloquy at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses is a joy and a treasure unlike many other.

2) Speaking of Joyce's classic, Dublin has unveiled its newest postage stamp, and it features a short story written by one of its local teenagers.

What's the 250-word (or so) essence of your home city?

3) There's been a lot of debate and wringing of hands concerning which is better, the original art adorning F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or that of the movie adaptation, but I've heard precious few people argue that there should be a handwritten manuscript edition. Well, we have page one at least.


Readings at Diesel are Events!

I have worked at Diesel since we opened on June 1st, 1989.  We've had amazing events over the last 24 years, too many to recount here.  Some of the best have had hundreds of people, a couple have had only one person attending.  When the magic happens, it happens no matter how many come.  Last week we had two extraordinary events and I was lucky to be at both of them: James Kelman at our Brentwood store on May 14th and Anchee Min for a Luncheon in Malibu on May 16th.  What a week!

Kelman was introducing his latest novel, from Other Press, Mo Said She Was Quirky.  Kelman is the author of many novels, including the Booker Award-winning How Late It Was, How Late (which, if you haven't read it yet, you should read immediately).  He read the beginning section, immersing us in his masterful command of language and in the mind of Mo.  Then, as usually happens when the reading becomes powerfully singular, the discussion begins.  Whether it is the attentions of the audience, the tone of the store, the introduction given -- something helps to catalyze the author's responsiveness.  Some authors seem to come fully armed to transform you, but most come willing to be prompted to a greater glory.  Kelman was on fire.

I can't summarize the whole evening but to give you a sense, he discussed a tradition of Scottish sensibility, ontology, speech, and writing practice both distinct from and in conflict with Anglo-American tradition.  This is bigger than language, bigger than dialect, more fully lived than cultural difference or cultural practice would suggest.  He spoke to ways of life, and of the way in which writing in the third person takes on a different caste -- neither stream of consciousness nor analytically distant but particular and social at the same time.  How to articulate, in vernacular literary speech, ways of being that are not countenanced by dominant society.  Related topics ranged from Virginia Woolf to Albert Camus, Deism, Scottish Common Sense Philosophy, Beckett, Amos Tutuola, and Emile Zola.  The discussion from all points was prompting and inspiring.  I wish you were there.

I also wish you were able to see Anchee Min (The Cooked Seed) wow us with her storytelling prowess last week.  My introduction referred to a recent NPR show discussing how Chinese students at Berklee School of Music were nine times more likely to have perfect pitch than American English speakers due to the difference of Chinese being a tonal language.  This seemed to prompt Anchee Min to perform a piece of Madame Mao's Peasant Opera called "Celebration" -- gloriously loud on the patio at The Godmother's in Malibu.  It was a stirring, energizing start to a two-hour lunch of insightful recounting of her life and her writing life.  Again in response to thoughtful questions from the crowd she rose to the occasion of describing her writing process: first plotted and constructed in Chinese, then writing "like music" in English.  She described the way she constructs the story out of all the separate tracks -- sound, image, relationship, plot, character, identity, conflict -- literally crafting, juxtaposing, constructing the story.  She brought in histories of the cultural revolution and art, Michael Ondaatje, her first ESL textbooks, the evolution of her writing, family stories, and perceptions of living between two cultures to provoke and fascinate us.  Like Kelman, she articulated a passionate commitment to a tradition: in her case two traditions, of melding the roundabout beauty of Chinese literary practice with the open directness of American writers.  Her phenomenal intensity and fervent commitment to writing were transmitted directly to us.

As another NPR piece said: hearing is touching at a distance.  Being able to be this close to an author, to hear them in the same room, and to discuss with them the nature of their passions for writing, for politics, for cultural engagement is a privilege, a delight, and a transformative opportunity.  I hope you don't miss the next ones, and hope to see you, and hear you, here.

-- John Evans

Adventures in Poetry Reading

A couple of nights ago, on mostly a whim, I participated in my first ever poetry reading. I’ve done plenty of readings in my day — academic papers, prose pieces here and there, even a sermon once upon a time — but never a poem. (Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. The sermon‘s centerpiece was a reading of Wallace Stevens’ "The Idea of Order at Key West." Maybe, then, better to say I’ve never publicly read my poetry.)

The venue was lovely, the chairs haphazardly strewn about the room with care. Perhaps a bit too dimly lit for my feeble eyes, particularly when I was at the microphone, desperately maneuvering my paper this way and that in hopes of apprehending just enough light that my verbal stumbling might not match my clumsy approach to the stage. All in all, this, it seemed, was as good a place as any for my virginal gropings with the form.

You see, I’m not very confident when it comes to dealing in verse. The paragraph is my more natural environment, with its  scenery of appropriately placed subordinate clauses and the like. I am as invested in language as any poet, or at least the ones I most value, but to self-identify as a poet, or to set my pieces in the forms of verse, this very often feels like a pose I cannot dare live up to. But what can I say, sometimes whimsy and courage become the kissingest of cousins.

That said, I wish I could report that putting my dizziness on public display went well. Oh, the reading was fine, even if I couldn’t quite see my punctuation and my sentence flows occasionally were floods. No, the problem was one of tone. As it turned out, the setting for poetry being read is nearly as important as the meter in which it was written. What the chairs didn’t tell me upon arrival, the host’s invitation for all in attendance to make their favorite zoo animal sound, for reasons quite beyond me, did: namely, that this simply was not my scene. It was then that I noticed the sheer amount of alcohol making the rounds. Beer and wine was being sold, not unexpectedly, of which I partook. More troubling were the nearly-drained bottles of whisky and bourbon I saw in the hands and at the lips of those who very savagely, in my view, were pacing about, like the very animals they were mimicking. As my fellow poets read, there were, in the words of my Southern upbringing, hoots and hollers of apparent affirmation — affirming whom, the hooter or the hooted, I could but wonder (or whether there was a difference). It all felt vaguely like the raucous church services you sometimes see on basic cable, the very ones I used to attend, with its preachers in suits ill-fitting and parishioners in pews swooning.

I don’t wish to say the readings were bad. Because sandwiched between the self-astonished cliches and monotone metaphors, as rife in my work as anybody elses, there were several moments of genuinely wonderful writing. One gentleman in particular matched his vivid, somewhat Oedipal imagery with a haunted vocal performance I only wish I could replicate. It was stirring, and I was quite happy I did not have to follow him.

None of this should have surprised me as much as it did, but the truly enduring lesson of the night was that the first-person pronoun is alive and doing quite well -- it is, in fact, learning more about itself each day. That sounds more mean-spirited than I intend. If memory serves, mine was the only work that did not so much as whisper the word “I." This was not so much a rebellion against the prevailing custom as it was, quite by accident and realized only in hindsight, socially appropriate. It would, after all, be very rich indeed if I, a white straight man, the face of literary propriety for far too long, were to insist others should be as self-effacing as I when they’ve not had the built-in opportunities to be self-assertive without even trying or wanting to be so. This is to say, I get it, their self-discoveries and affirmations; their wide-eyed wonderment at what a body can do, theirs in particular; their animal calls and sexual frankness. I get and appreciate the celebration, but it is one I think I will in the future miss on account of staying home and reading Rilke.
-- Brad Johnson

Vote for Your Favorite Poetry Month Video!

 Hey Diesel friends,

Visit our facebook page and comment to let us know which Poetry Month 2013 was your favorite! Everyone who votes will be entered for a chance to win super-secret-poetry-prize. 

May Day 2013

Celebrate May 1st with this piece by Salman Rushdie:

 "It’s a vexing time for those of us who believe in the right of artists, intellectuals and ordinary, affronted citizens to push boundaries and take risks and so, at times, to change the way we see the world. There’s nothing to be done but to go on restating the importance of this kind of courage, and to try to make sure that these oppressed individuals — Ai Weiwei, the members of Pussy Riot, Hamza Kashgari — are seen for what they are: men and women standing on the front line of liberty. How to do this? Sign the petitions against their treatment, join the protests. Speak up. Every little bit counts." Read the article. 

And for the edification of all:

Let Mom Know How Much You Care




Mother's Day is SUNDAY, MAY 12th.


This year, Kobo and Algonquin Books have teamed up to offer you a great gift deal. Buy a Kobo at your local, independent bookstore (that's us!) and get a free ebook copy of What My Mother Gave Me.

Questions about Kobo, look here.

More questions? Visit us in the store to try the Kobo for yourself.