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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Authors and the Narcissism of Correspondence

 On Authors and the Narcissism of Correspondence

 

I recently finished a novel by Carlene Bauer, Frances and Bernard, which loosely reimagines the correspondence between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. It’s a lovely novel, as charming and witty as I hope O’Connor and Lowell to have been, and it speaks to a fascination that we bibliophiles have with the private letters of the great minds. In a related vein, there was another book, some years back, called First Words, which collected early short story efforts of prolific writers (with the author’s blessing), so that the reader could develop a more round perception of the fully formed artist. There’s something about the stuff we were never meant to see that is so interesting and exciting. There’s no editor. There are no rules. There’s nothing standing between us and the work.


All the same, I also always assumed that authors live with the expectation that all written efforts will, someday, be anthologized. Juvenilia, first drafts, journals, letters, line drawings, grocery lists—don’t all writers write knowing that those emissions might be collected and studied? I thought that was the great hope, even if we’re being coy about it. Why else save all those scraps and be so damn winning in your Christmas card?


Today, my deep and abiding love for Willa Cather is torn in two. On one hand, I’ve sat and studied at her feet (may they rest in peace), absorbing the brilliance of her books, ever hungry for more insight into her spectacular mind. On the other hand, this study has bred a sort of fierce loyalty to the woman herself—the woman and her wishes. Next month, Random House is releasing The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, 566 of the more-than 3,000 archived letters that have been discovered since Cather’s death. The problem, of course, is that Cather has always insisted upon being judged solely on her work and forbade the publishing of her letters. The question, friends, is: how serious was she about this embargo? How vengeful is the ghost of Willa Cather? Will she fully curse me if I buy the book? Or will it be more of a passive haunting? And if that’s the case, do you think her ghost would be willing to, like, field a few questions?


--Sus Long

 

March Madness: Quarterfinals

Hey sportsfans, 

The Tournament of Books is well into the Quarterfinals. Visit the Morning News tournament website for the play-by-play.

 

The March Bookseller of the Month

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

 

1. What kind of reader are you?

I like reading sacred texts, they keep me on the straight and narrow at least for a moment or two. Other than that I'm just drawn to certain books, mostly fiction and memoir.

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

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell was creepy and creative. I loved Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Panorama City by Antoine Wilson.

3. What reading experience surprised you recently?

I was reading the life of BKS Iyengar, yoga master, and was astounded by the trials he persevered through. He is considered one of the great yogis of all time and writes of his own struggle at the beginning to do breath practice for more than a few breaths at a time for a couple of years. Now he practices for hours; that gives me heart.

4. What upcoming book are you looking forward to?

Something wonderful, I don't know what it is yet. Something like Just Kids, Year of Wonders, A Fine Balance; something spectacular.

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

I already got to sell books at an Anne Lamott event, I love the Annie. And BKS Iyengar, whom I plan to meet in India next September!

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

 

March Madness: The Tournament of Books

 

Happy March, everybody. I hope you've been reading hard because it is time, once again, for The Hunger Games! Just kidding, The Tournament of Books!

For those of you who don't know, this is the 9th Annual TMN Tournament of Books, a fight to the death between 16 of the year's best and brightest novels, as decided by a panel of fiction's best and brightest reviewers. May the odds be ever in your favor.

You can follow the tournament HERE

And these are your 2013 champions:

  • "HHhH" by Laurent Binet
  • "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich
  • "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn
  • "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
  • "Arcadia" by Lauren Groff
  • "How Should a Person Be?" by Sheila Heti
  • "May We Be Forgiven" by A.M. Homes
  • "The Orphan Master’s Son" by Adam Johnson
  • "Ivyland" by Miles Klee
  • "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel
  • "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller
  • "Dear Life" by Alice Munro
  • "Where’d You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple
  • "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter
  • "Building Stories" by Chris Ware
  • And the winner of the play-in round

 

All of these titles are available for purchase online through DIESEL or in any of our three locations! We'll be reporting on the tournament all month and would love to hear your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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