Bookselling is an unexpectedly creative trade. Along with requiring intelligence, resourcefulness, and frugality, it is best done artfully. We get a lot of responses from you all that our website is exceptionally eye-catching, beautiful, aesthetic. (Thanks for appreciating it!) The lion's share of the credit for this goes to Jon Stich. He is our Oakland store manager as well as being an artist, illustrator, and musician, and has creativity in abundance.
We have always said, "If you bought an ugly book, you didn't buy it at Diesel." Our original website in the '90s was more attractive than most, but Jon has taken the new site way past what any of the rest of us could have imagined. His banners, his navigation, his artwork -- he is the web master artist -- inspire us all, and do us proud.
He, especially -- with the assistance of his fellow booksellers -- put together our Poetry Month Videos last year. This was the single most viewed page on our site in the history of the stores. We have brought it back this year, with the addition of videos by new Diesel booksellers Cameron Carlson, Madison Felman, Linda Grana, and Daniel Nelson. Listening to and watching them again, I feel the gratitude of being able to work with such fun and creative people. Check out the newly launched Poetry Month Videos, along with Jon's wonderful artwork throughout the site.
We also want to thank Grant Outerbridge for his sharply skilled creative work on this newsletter for the last couple of years. He has made it attractive, interesting, and dynamic -- prompting each of us toward more writing and better writing, every month. It is vastly improved under his editorship. He has passed the newsletter over to Diesel Brentwood bookseller Anna Kaufman, as of this issue.
John and all Dieselfolk
Very occasionally over my reading life, a book will cause a subtle shift in my worldview, a cerebral or spiritual expansion, a crack in my cosmic egg. In 1976 such a book was The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston. Though my original copy is long missing, I still remember the rich deep maroon of the cover with the brightly colored images -- and imagery within that I will carry with me always. Thirty-five years later in I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, this extraordinary poet and activist reflects on the intervening years and the approach of an inconceivable 65th birthday ("I don't want to look like Grandmother..."). Writing with the grace, humor, and arresting language I've come to expect from her, Kingston excavates her ancestors, her life, and her world with elegiac exuberance. This is my handbook, my Lectio Divina, for the journey ahead. How perfect that the dust jacket is a rich spectrum of grays, not spectral but wise. Thank you, Maxine. -- Margaret Simpson
Kate Atkinson does not write mystery novels; she writes literary novels that happen to feature a character who's a private detective. However, it makes perfect sense to me that mystery fans (a group in which I sporadically include myself) have embraced her and tried to claim her as their own: her characters are consistently complex and sympathetic; her prose is fresh and compulsively readable; and her personality-driven plots never fail to excite as they dance with dangerous ambiguities. In Started Early, Took My Dog, Atkinson introduces Tracy Waterhouse, an aging English police officer whose single impulsive decision and subsequent moral reckoning nearly steal the stage from P.I. Jackson Brodie (not to mention the eponymous dog). This is not a "Whodunit?" so much as a "Whydunit?" -- and perhaps most crucially, a "What gets dun next?" -- Anna Kaufman
Kevin Brockmeier's latest is one of those novels that reaches out and instantly grabs you, sucking you into a world that is speculative and brilliant. The book takes the form of a series of interconnected stories built around a fictional phenomenon referred to as "the Illumination." Suddenly, everywhere, everyone's physical pain becomes visible to others in the form of light, instantly changing the way people perceive one another. I'm fascinated with this concept of pain becoming a visible thing, whether it's the soft glow or glitter from minor aches and wounds, or a resplendent blaze issuing from traumatic injuries or the crushing pain of terminal illness. Creating this world where one's physical, and in some cases emotional, pain is exposed to those all around changes the human condition in ways that seem endless. With virtually everyone suffering from some degree of pain, "the Illumination" becomes a metaphor for the single bond drawing mankind to one another, inspiring hope and compassion.
The common thread that Brockmeier chooses to link together the novel's various characters and stories is a journal of love notes from a husband to his wife, who was the victim of a fatal car accident. This journal, which ends up missing from the wife's belongings after the accident, finds its way from one suffering character to the next, and as we follow its travels, we see the myriad ways it affects the lives of those who possess it for a time.
An incredibly powerful book, beautifully written, The Illumination reminds me of Colum McCann's National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin -- one of my all-time favorites. I know that this book will continue to resonate with me for a long time; it's already one of my top picks for 2011. -- Linda Grana
In the same way that American Psycho is plausible because you just know Bret Easton Ellis is extremely disturbed, and City of Glass has a weird authenticity because you sense Paul Auster has fantasized about parading around New York as a detective, Sam Lipsyte's voice in The Ask is fantastically dark, hilarious, believable, and possibly autobiographical. An "ask" is what Milo Burke and his coworkers at a mediocre university for the arts in New York have condescendingly titled their job of fundraising, a job our hero happens to be strikingly below average at. His general aloofness, anxiety, and callous attitude culminate in a hateful condemnation directed at one snotty, privileged art student, a tirade that results in his immediate termination. After months of odd jobs, his former employer calls him in for one last "ask" -- a potential donation from an iconic figure who happens to be an old college friend. Milo's quest to get donation funding from his wealthy acquaintance is a magnificent commentary on what it feels like to be in America right now. Reading The Ask is like brown-bagging on a subway train while talking about the economic collapse and art school with Geoff Dyer, Richard Price, and Amy Bloom. -- Jon Stich
Who among us has been able to effect change to the good in this turbulent world? If you find the question dispiriting you must read Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. Written by a man of true intellect and compassion, it inspired me. After officiating at far too many funerals of young gang members, Father Boyle made it his life's work to give kids good reasons to abandon the gangs that have been rampant in Los Angeles. This priest has boundless energy, as well as a vast knowledge of philosophy, literature, psychology, and sociology. But he is also an entrepreneur and promoter who founded Homeboy Industries with the idea that "nothing stops a bullet like a job." I have been a donor to Homeboy Industries for some years but after reading this poignant, very readable, and inspiring book, I celebrated with a lunch at Homegirl Café on the edge of Chinatown. Waited on by former gang members, eating the delicious meal cooked by former gang members, I marveled at Father Boyle's amazing accomplishment. -- Diane Leslie
These pop-up bouquets will instantly bring a smile to your face. Each page springs to life with bursts of color and intricate designs: birds of paradise and water lilies; hyacinths and irises. Swimming koi fish and floating butterflies even adorn a few of the arrangements. There are five different bouquets to choose from, each of which makes a great centerpiece that will have your guests talking. And the best part is, you never have to water them! -- Cheryl Ryan
In the face of recent images of unimaginable destruction, All the Water in the World offers children (and adults) a healing reminder of water as a force of life and abundance. The authors' wondrously evocative rhyming language makes for lively reading out loud and would be enough to make a terrific book. What catapults the work into a Caldecott contender is Katherine Tillotson's astounding illustrations. In the juxtaposition of stillness and movement -- water meandering and rushing, from drips to torrents -- Tillotson's illustrations make clear that, even at its most peaceful, water is never truly still: it shimmers, it reflects. "All the water in the world...means green, means grow, means life will flow." -- Margaret Simpson