Chatter's blog

Help Us Out With Our Ownership Transition in Oakland

UPDATE (7/1/2017): The IndieGoGo campaign has closed. Thanks, everybody, for your support. Please contact Brad directly if you're interested in participating in the $1,000+ loan program.

As longtime owners of DIESEL, A Bookstore here in Oakland, Alison Reid and John Evans have seen the industry grow, become threatened, and rise again. One lesson they’ve learned: if you don’t shake things up yourself, it’s only a matter of time before somebody else shakes it up for you. They believe they’ve found in Brad Johnson not only a bookseller they could mold into the current store manager, but one to whom they'd like to sell the store. He could use your help make this happen!

Short Summary

For over 25 years, DIESEL, A Bookstore has been a vital part of the literary and cultural fabric woven here in the East Bay. We've been a community sounding board. A safe place. A discovery zone. In short, one of the best damn neighborhood bookstores here or anywhere. Yes, we may be proud about that, but it's never been just about us: this is YOUR neighborhood bookstore, after all. 

The East Bay is a complex place, but one of the constants is that it is always changing. People come and they go. Industries are in and then they're out. The ground moves beneath our very feet! The other constant is this: we rally together in the jolt of it all. (This is all the more true in the face of the current political situation. We need one another more than ever!)

So, yes ... it is not enough for we at DIESEL to be excited about this change. We need you to be, too! We're in this together, after all. With your help, East Bay Booksellers will be born. 

* * *

Who Are We? 

That's me over there, Brad Johnson. If you've been a regular DIESEL shopper for a while, you've probably seen some variation of this photo: me at the store, coffee in hand (or not far from my hand). For much of my adult life I pursued academia -- I wasn't expecting bookselling to pursue me instead. It didn't take long for me to realize this is what I was meant to do. (For more details, see a biographical piece I wrote for Literary Hub, "From the Seminary to the Bookstore.")

Let's get specific, though. I'm talking about bookselling in the East Bay! Sure, the whole Bay Area is changing. We all know this. And yet, there remains a strong intellectual and empathetic energy in the East Bay, an enduring sense of "I got your back" community, that makes our independent bookstore scene an envy of much of the country. 

* * *

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is DIESEL changing ownership?  Alison Reid and John Evans (the owners of DIESEL, A Bookstore -- in Oakland, Brentwood and Larkspur) are right now only looking to sell the Oakland store ... to one person, and that's Brad Johnson. Lots of reasons can be stated, but they all basically boil down to their recognition of themselves (as booksellers) in him. He is passionate and smart about the role in a way they respect, and they think he will carry DIESEL's legacy forward in a vibrant, new way. 
  • Okay, but why the change of name to East Bay Booksellers?  DIESEL's other two locations are not on the market, and will remain the same. Thus, the practical need for a new name. East Bay Booksellers is a declaration of identity -- that where we are matters as much as what we do. You won't meet many people as passionate about this relationship between place and profession as Brad. 
  • How much money do you need to raise?  DIESEL is known throughout the East Bay (and the bookselling world in general) as having an impeccably curated, diverse collection of books. East Bay Booksellers will be no different. We hope always to have the books you come in looking for, but our biggest pleasure is when you discover something you didn't even know existed. In our experience, it takes about $200,000, for the inventory and proper capitalization. A significant portion of this has been raised through a community lending campaign. Friends and neighbors have asked us repeatedly for opportunities to donate smaller amounts. We still need about 25% of our goal: now's your chance to help! 

* * *

The Impact

Good bookstores are not only profitable businesses, but are proven cultural institutions. It's taken a while, but the story of our impending demise is slowly being put to rest. Over the past seven years, independent bookstores have defied the reports of their demise. In fact, they are downright thriving

I'm especially happy to participate in the Bay Area bookselling scene, not least because of the social stands it allows us to take. The current political situation is a profound shock on multiple levels. But it also deeply affirms what it is we do and stand for. The relief in peoples’ eyes when I asked them in the days after the election, "How are you holding up?" cements to me the value of this space. It’s a place of commerce, but our goods are ideas and empathy. Neighborhood bookstores offer intellectual sustenance to some; safe haven for others. Our core values are conversation and community — which means openness, diversity, and change. This is all the more true going forward.

* * *

Risks & Challenges

Naivety doesn't endure very long in the book business. Margins are tight. Costs are always rising. And the allure of discounts online (whose ultimate high costs are always hidden) cannot be denied. It's not an easy business. 

The challenge may be a daily one, but so are the opportunities. We are committed to bookselling as a profession, rather than simply a job. It's easy to sell the same bestseller to everybody who walks in the door. (Especially when they come in looking for it.) Listening to people first, and recommending second -- that's the art of what we do, and it is one of the reasons we stock such a diverse array of books. There is no one-size-fits-all book. There's no algorithm for the associative feeling you get from reading a book while you're in and out of love. There are, thankfully, flesh-and-blood booksellers who have gone through the same.

* * *

Other Ways You Can Help

We know that these are trying times, and donation dollars can sometimes get spread a bit thin. If you're not in a position to help financially, your enthusiasm for what we have cooking here in the East Bay cannot be understated. Help us spread the word about the campaign! And when time comes for the doors to open as East Bay Booksellers, come by and say hi. We look forward to your contribution to the store's latest chapter. 


Word of the Worlds May 2017

The May Issue of Word of the Worlds is out! This issue, bookseller David presents Collective Resistance in Scifi. If you'd like to receive Word of the Worlds via email (and who wouldn't?), click here to sign up. --Chris


May Day 2017

As is our tradition, our Oakland store will be closed on May 1, in honor and celebration of May Day. Whether you’re working or not, though, are fingers-crossed in sympathy or locked-arm in solidarity with the struggle of May Day, we hope you have time today to haunt a capital-C Capitalist with its spirit. 


Word of the Worlds April 2017

The April Issue of Word of the Worlds is out! This issue, we're excited to focus on Women Writers in Scifi, too often forgotten. If you'd like to receive Word of the Worlds via email (and who wouldn't?), click here to sign up. --Chris


National Poetry Month 2017

National Poetry Month Banner

For the month of April, we have created a video poem for each day. Check each day to see what's new. Spread the word and, most importantly, enjoy!

Word of the Worlds March 2017

March 2017

Oakland's February Bestsellers!

Look at all this James Baldwin Oakland was reading in February! 


Lincoln in the Bardot, by George Saunders

Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller1984, by George OrwellStories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang


Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Two, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

March, Book One, by John LewisGo Tell It On the Mountain, by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room, by James BaldwinOutline, by Rachel Custk





Tell Me Everything You Don't Remember, by Christine Hyung-Oak LeeMephistos and Other Poems, by Michael McClureSketch Your Stuff, by John Stich

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

What We Do Now, eds. Dennis Johnson & Valerie Merians


The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. VanceHope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit

I Am Not Your Negro, by James BaldwinJust Mercy, Bryan Stevenson





We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour

Might Might Construction Site

Rad Women Worldwide, by Kate SchatzGhosts, by Raina TelgemeierWho is Barack Obama

We Found a Hat, by Jon Klassen

A is For Activist, by Innosanto NagaraAnne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

Not Quite Narwhal, by Jessie Sima

Word of the Worlds February 2017

February 2017

The fiction you’re not able read right now builds worlds; poetry breathes.

I've been hearing & reading a recurring sentiment since the election: I can't read fiction right now. That I hear it most commonly from those I consider "serious readers" (those who don't read fiction strictly for entertainment or diversion), is cause for concern -- as I understand both the importance they place on reading and the mournful loss they're experiencing at not being able to do so.

I have a suggestion. It will sound so pithy that some of you will stop reading. But here goes: try poetry.

Let me stop you at the first all-too-common, immediate objection: "But I don't know how to read poetry." Nonsense. You're not dead. If you're this far into this post, you're obviously still breathing: that's all it takes. The rest is negotiable. 

Some poems are meant to be read quickly, the ideas seemingly less important than their expression. I'm not going to tell you whose or which these are. Because like anything worth reading, poems beg to be read askew (I like that word): at different paces, in many places, and in enclosed (for a moment, like a photo) by as many frames as there are minds. The poem will tell you when to breathe -- but here's a secret, you can tell the poem, "No ... not just yet ... not here." The poet might object, but the poem won't suffer for it. It's really okay.

Some poems are stuffed with ideas. They're in a rage about something, even if you don't know quite what. You're not even sure if they do. The good ones are talking their way into a problem; beware the ones with solutions you immediately agree with. The ones that too quickly talk themselves out of trouble are usually not to be trusted. They're either a huckster or a friend -- though possibly both. Poets like C.D. Wright, my obsession this year, don't want to be your friend -- and the aces up their sleeves are clearly from another deck. They want you inhabiting the ideas. With or without them, they'll nudge you further along, in search of the last reference, until you're alone with it. From there, you're on your own. But only until the next page -- really, trust me, it's okay.

But why poetry at all, you might be wondering? There's political theory! There's philosophy! There's work to be done, Brad!

Because from time to time, you need to eat.

Who should you being reading now? I'm asked this from time to time. My interest and evangelism for the section at the store is known. It's usually a question asked by people who are not already reading poetry. Once you are, oh, you become the best browser ever! At Diesel, we don't carry a lot of multiple copies in our poetry section. I want to pack in as much as possible. Hulking epics flank the wispiest seventy-page masterpiece. You're going to miss things -- your eyes will not seize them that time around. Poetry readers get this -- it happens every time they open a book. Just as we read in order to re-read, we return to the shelves of our bookshops often. We keep discovering things that were already there. (Or, yes, sometimes previously sold out. The Revolution hasn't happened yet, we suddenly recall from that political theory.)

But seriously, who should you reading right now? Okay ... Some suggestions:

  • Your local poets. Ask booksellers and librarians if you don't any know. Go to a reading. If it's not to your liking, sneak peeks at the books everybody brought with them. Here in Oakland, I'm fortunate to have places like Small Press DistributionCommune Editions & Timeless, Infinite Light. Fortunately, for you, they all have websites.
  • C. D. Wright -- There are so many places you can start with C.D. Or you can do like me, and just read it all. If you're not like me, grab what you can find. It doesn't matter if it looks more like essays or lectures either -- it's poetry all the same. What's more, it'll turn into an encyclopedia of poetry before your very eyes. Humane: it's such a dry, dull word. And yet the one I keep associating with her, and realizing it's become so foreign.
  • Robert Creeley -- He is C.D.'s titanic lion ... and in many respects opened many ears (mine anyway) for the poets we so desperately need to be reading today.
  • Daniel Borzutzky -- He won the National Book Award for poetry this year. I know, you don't trust award committees. (Maybe reassess that with poetry, by the way. There's not a ton of people reading it seriously [or at all]. Usually, I feel like Fiction prize juries really should hang out more with Poetry prize juries. Do some trust-falls at a camp or something. Grab a coffee at the very least.) There is a rawness to Borzutzky's anger (principally at a capitalist system not meant to fit the living world) that could, with a lesser writer, slip out of his control. It never does.
  • Solmaz Sharif -- I thought her debut collection Look would win the National Book Award this year. I was wrong about that, but certainly not at its enduring place in our thinking about role language places in assessing, processing, admitting, and denying identity.
  • Ari Banias -- There's a wonderful funny tenderness to a lot of Ari's poems in his debut collection, Anybody. But not in a facile sort of way. Rather, more like that of a body -- wonderful because it is so permeable and present, but precarious for the very same reason.
  • Harryette Mullen -- A co-worker, a poet (naturally), got me to read Sleeping With the Dictionary. Oh my . . . some books change not simply the way you see the word, but the way it sounds.
  • Dawn Lundy Martin / Tonya Foster / Robin Coste Lewis -- Again, lumping together for the sake of space. These three rocked my world, in the sense of opening it to each of theirs. They remind me that my greatest political contribution might be to shut up and listen.
  • Susan Howe / Tess Taylor / Etel Adnan -- Wildly different, all three, but I thought of them together. They all orbit that brilliant star called by the scientists "Emily Dickinson," and contain multitudes. .
  • Mary Ruefle -- Ah, dear Mary! Quirky and funny, until you realize she's gone pitch black dark on you in a second. Kind of like life.

Okay . . . that's enough right now,  I think. There's so many more -- Fred Moten, Nathaniel Mackey, Douglas Kearney, Eileen Myles . . . somebody stop me.

Basically, the answer to "What poets should I read now?" is simple: read the poet who at any given moment doesn't so much take your breath away (again, you need to keep doing that if you want to read poetry at all) . . . but rather seizes it, holds it but for a moment, and returns it, changed into oxygen.  

The fiction you're not able read right now builds worlds; poetry breathes.