Chatter's blog

Saturday Evening Video:

You know you work at a bookstore when your first thought when watching something like this is "Ooo, I hope they didn't damage any of the books!"


California Bookstore Day!

A wonderful thing happens when you walk into a Diesel bookstore: you cannot help but notice you're in a space that is not only filled with books, but that you're surrounded by people who love them. As the pace of life and commerce continues to quicken, faster now than a point and click of a mouse, independent bookstores have become all the more important. Here, there is as much room for the busy, quick-in and quick-out shopper as there is the "Sunday-stroller" out on a Tuesday; the woman who knows what she wants and where it is, as well as the guy who just loves the smell of books. Independent bookstores are -- and we think will remain -- cultural destinations. And for this reason, we're excited to tell you about California Bookstore Day

On this special day, May 3, 2014, a number of extremely limited-edition, unique, word-based items and books will be available in more than one hundred independent stores across our great state. Note: these aren’t going to be your run-of-the-mill signed first editions. We're talking literary art projects, one-of-a kind books -- collector’s items created for this event only. And, of course, as California goes, so goes the rest of the country! By 2015, we hope to make Bookstore Day a national celebration.

We can't do it without your help, though, and look forward to working with you to make this happen. For specific details, visit the California Bookstore Day IndieGoGo fundraising page. Join us, and let's spread the joy and love of bookstores. 








Diesel Presents - Javier Marias

Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland, is starting a featured section. Every couple of weeks, we'll highlight an author, a literary theme, or topic that we feel you might want to know about. We started with Roberto Bolaño, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of his passing. This week, we bring you:

Javier Marías, 1953 - Present

Javier MariasA bit of a celebrity in his native Spain, Javier Marías is a prolific writer, translator, and columnist. He is perhaps best known for his novel All Souls, ostensibly a fiction set in Oxford University, though there are many who believe it is a not-so-subtle roman a clef. In fact, the reception of All Souls prompted Marías to write Dark Back of Time – a “false novel” according to him -- which starts off discussing the effects of publishing All Souls and the ripples it sent through the Oxford community. The book also chronicles the series of events that led Jon Wynne-Tyson, the reigning king of the small, Caribbean island of Redonda, to abdicate the throne and leave it to Marías.   

That's right. In 1997, Javier Marías became King of Redonda. As king, he has bestowed a number of duchies to artists and writers, such as the poet John Ashberry (Duke of Convexo), director Francis Ford Coppola (Duke of Megalopolis), and writer Orhan Pamuk (Duke of Colores).  Marías also created an annual literary prize, the winner of which receives a duchy of their own. Recent winners were Alice Munro in 2005 (Duchess of Ontario), Ray Bradbury in 2007 (Duke of Diente de Leon) and Umberto Eco in 2008 (Duke of La Isla del Dia Ante).   

From the Paris Review: “Marías is forever redrawing the thin line that separates illusion from reality, and they are central elements of his work. It is not only his narrators who are unreliable; the entire world of his novels is unreliable. His books enact the Nabokovian principle that memory is ultimately false, which gives his stories a sense of timelessness.”

His new book, Infatuations, will be available from Diesel on August 13th.

Try Javier Marías if you like Roberto Bolaño or W.G. Sebald.

Melancholy and Creativity

There is, as has been ably demonstrated by the likes of Kay Redfield Jamison in her splendid study Touched with Fire, an undeniable link between melancholy, madness, and creativity. When we consider the frayed and fraught weave of these connections, though, I think we should be careful to draw a too-quick equivalence between depression and melancholy. If nothing else, this sort of care is the least we can do for our mythological forebears.

The link between Kronos/Saturn and melancholy, of course, is well-known and time-honored. But it is interesting what revisiting it from time to time reveals. To re-rehearse: Kronos was a particularly naughty boy. Killing one’s father tends to earn that label. Castrating one’s dead father and casting his testicles into the ocean, that just makes one disturbed. Such being the happy accidents of mythology, though, this insult upon injury at least gave rise to Aphrodite/Venus and the nymphs -- which at last gave the world somebody to blame when its lust was too often excessive and its love too seldom returned. As naughty as he was, neither was Kronos a fool. For he knew that if he could do in Daddy, surely his own children would eventually desire to do the same to him. So, naturally, he ate them.

Down the hatch, one, two, three, four, five times, until finally, when the sixth was born, Rhea managed to convince him that, yes, a rock and a baby do in fact taste very much the same. And so it was that Zeus was spared because of his father’s undiscriminating palate.

Most of us know the story from here. Zeus eventually manages to induce in his father a profound bout of nausea the likes of which the world has never before or since known, causing him to spew out, newly living, with nary a chew mark even, Zeus’ siblings. And so began the war with the Titans from which Mount Olympus would arise.

Unlike his father, in the case of Kronos’ overthrow the insult was the injury. Whether he was spared his testicles (and instead cut into a thousand pieces) or he was castrated (and remained otherwise intact), the stories vary, his defeat made him subject to everything his peculiar taste in baby had allowed him to avoid. Namely, the onslaught of time. Time/chronos, we might say, finally caught up to Kronos — the cycle of create-to-consume was ended. The specter of death, or at least of life’s limits, had dawned.

And thus, too, was born melancholy, that most heroic of the temperaments, we’re told, of which Aristotle writes:

“Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics . . . ?”

Of course, not all melancholics are creators, but there is surely a sense that all creators are inevitably melancholics. This is because to create is to submit to creation, whether it be by castration or a thousand-some cuts beyond the bone. Because beginnings lead to many different and possible middles, as many as one might imagine along the way . . . to what? To that ending -- the final page of finitude -- that prompted all these beginnings in the first place and that clings, like an as-yet unfulfilled promise, to every step of the way.

Kronos could not, properly speaking, create at all until he no longer could. This, I'd suggest, not unlike our present world, makes him a depressive. Self-perpetuation, particularly when in the form of a self who at all costs seeks expansion or extension, only gets one so far — which is to say, if the myths are to be believed, to nowhere at all. Something always slips between the cracks, and only by way of this mistake or deceit — stones mistaken for babies — depressives almost always end up creating something in spite of themselves. The unfortunate thing is that, like Kronos, and, yes, like our present world, this “something” is too often their only creation: the means of their destruction.

This is why what is classically exemplary of Kronos is not to be found in the monstrosity of his depressive cuisine, but in the creatively melancholic realization of its failure to fulfill. Here, then, is the crucial distinction, between depression and melancholy. There will be some blurring of the lines between the two, but they are not, indeed must not be, the same if anything is ever to have been or be created. Zeus has seen to that.


 -- Brad J. 

Four Good Things: Women Serve Notice

1) One of the best things that's happened in publishing this year is NYRB Classics re-releasing Renata Adler's Speedboat and Pitch Dark. In these brilliant and innovative novels, Adler mixes deadpan wit with cringe-worthy rhetorical jabs and creates a prose style distinctively her own. Hers is a raw emotional fragility and hardened fortitude, reminding many of Elizabeth Hardwick and David Foster Wallace. We're so happy these novels are available once again. (For more on the Renata Adler "Renaissance," see the Guardian . . .)

2) A fantastic interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author most recently of Americanah): "I wish there was a bit more understanding of the many blacks, and the many sort of permutations of blackness. I would like every black immigrant who comes here to take a course in African American history. But speaking of stereotypes, the African stereotypes are very easily absorbed in the African American community as well. I remember how amusing I found it that African Americans were shocked that I can speak English. Because, you know, you came from Africa." (for more, see the Boston Review . . .)

3) "These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Like many young adults, I didn't necessarily want stable. I wanted to drive On The Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don't take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men. . . . 'Great' books, as defined by the Western canon, didn't contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. Of the 100 Best Novels compiled by Modern Library, only nine have women in the leading role, and in only one of those books--The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark--do the leading women strive to do more than find a husband or raise their children. Statistically, one percent of the Best Novels are about women doing something other than loving" (For more, see The Atlantic . . .)

4) Recently the ARU Feminist Society and Cambridge University Students' Union Women's Campaign canvased the streets and campus of Cambridge with a simple-sounding question: Why do you need feminism? The responses are at turns harrowing and humorous, probing and provocative. 

 (View more responses here . . .)

"Ironic" Made Ironic

I know, I know, making light of Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic," ironically titled given the lack of irony in its actual lyrics, has been done time and time again for nearly twenty years now. Ah, but sometimes it is done right. Case in point, Rachael Hurwitz's recent contribution, which is not only a funny send-up of Morissette's hit but a full-on English lesson. English majors around the globe thank you, Rachel! 


Three Good Things: New Books Galore


1. "Two new books — “My Lunches With Orson” and “Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations” — unearth vintage conversations with the stars in their final years, when they were broke, in bad health, unable to get work and mourning their lost grandeur. But oh, what gorgeous wrecks they were, and what mesmerizing stories they told, these Sunset Boulevard Scheherazades." (Read more at the New York Times . . .)

2. Sam Lipsyte, author of (among other very fine things) The Fun Parts: "Some folks say if you have nothing to hide, you needn’t worry. But those people dream of wearing jackboots with their pressed jeans. I have plenty to hide. We all do, even if we think we don’t. We have no inside tip on which ideas and behaviours the future will persecute us for. Maybe it’s time to make a run for it." (Read more at the Financial Times . . .)

3. Few books have excited this blogger as much as Karl Ove Knausgaard's massive, six-volume memoir My Struggle (volumes one and two are available in English). His interviews are consistently a treat, too: "I can’t speak for other writers, but I write to create something that is better than myself, I think that’s the deepest motivation, and it is so because I’m full of self-loathing and shame. Writing doesn’t make me a better person, nor a wiser and happier one, but the writing, the text, the novel, is a creation of something outside of the self, an object, kind of neutralized by the objectivity of literature and form. The temper, the voice, the style. All in it is carefully constructed and controlled. This is writing for me—a cold hand on a warm forehead." (Read more at the Paris Review . . .)


Commemorating Roberto Bolaño


Diesel, A Bookstore commemorates Roberto Bolaño, who died ten years ago, on July 15th, 2003.

Chilean-born author Roberto Bolaño has seen an explosion in popularity and acceptance ever since his untimely death in 2003. Though he considered himself first and foremost a poet, Bolaño is best known for his novels, particularly The Savage Detectives and 2666. Something of a literary misfit and enfant terrible in his early days, Bolaño was notorious for his disruption of poetry and literature readings and later for his scathing attacks on the Latin American literary establishment, particularly Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Bolaño represents one of the first major successful breaks from the juggernauts of the Latin American Boom generation, eschewing the magical realism of Garcia Marquez and the epic history of Fuentes and Vargas Llosa for something uniquely his own.

This is not to say he avoided historical events; Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup in Chile (which Bolaño protested as a leftist 17-year-old) was the catalyst for much of his work. But the stories of his characters, rather than focusing on their parts in historical epics or baroque family sagas, instead center on personal turmoil and private quests for peace in the aftermath of upheaval.

In a tribute to him six months before he died, his close friend, novelist Rodrigo Frésan said, “His books are political, but in a way that is more personal than militant or demagogic, that is closer to the mystique of the beatniks than the Boom.” 



Three Good Things: New Store Edition

1. Semicolons these days have somehow gained something of a bad reputation, with a good many going the way of Cormac McCarthy and rooting them out near and far. Not me! Count me in with the likes of Mary Ruefle; for there may be no punctuation truer to our speech.

Now here is something really interesting (to me), something you can use at a standing-up-only party when everyone is tired of hearing there are one million three thousand two hundred ninety-five words used by the Eskimo for snow. This is what Ezra Pound learned from Ernest Fenollosa: Some languages are so constructed–English among them–that we each only really speak one sentence in our lifetime. That sentence begins with your first words, toddling around the kitchen, and ends with your last words right before you step into the limousine, or in a nursing home, the night-duty attendant vaguely on hand. Or, if you are blessed, they are heard by someone who knows and loves you and will be sorry to hear the sentence end.

When I told Mr. Angel about the lifelong sentence, he said: “That’s a lot of semicolons!” He is absolutely right; the sentence would be unwieldy and awkward and resemble the novel of a savant, but the next time you use a semicolon (which, by the way, is the least-used mark of punctuation in all of poetry) you should stop and be thankful that there exists this little thing, invented by a human being–an Italian as a matter of fact–that allows us to go on and keep on connecting speech that for all apparent purposes is unrelated.

You might say a poem is a semicolon, a living semicolon, what connects the first line to the last, the act of keeping together that whose nature is to fly apart. Between the first and last lines there exists–a poem–and if it were not for the poem that intervenes, the first and last lines of a poem would not speak to each other.

-- from the opening lecture of Madness, Rack, and Honey


2. Have you ever been surfing online -- you know, those moments you're not checking Diesel's Chatter blog -- and find yourself wondering, "Oh, what good is the internet, really?!" Well, wonder no longer, my friends, and while you're at it get the popcorn ready. In his classic and famed short film, Tale of Tales, Yuri Norstei (of Hedgehog in the Fog fame) serves notice that animation is an artform of the highest order.  

3. Lovely, exhausted smiles + Gorgeous, filled bookshelves = Diesel's new Larkspur location is open for business!! Come visit us!

The Taksim Square Book Club

Al Jazeera's post this week about the Taksim Square Book Club is a stunning reminder that amidst the violent tumult -- whether it is a product of protest or life in general -- there is always also a certain screaming silence. In this case, these protesters having chosen to make their point by standing communally and reading quietly.

Posted below are a few of the images, but definitely click over to see the full slideshow. A meditative, moving scene.