Happy New Year to you!
The last few years have been very challenging, for many of us individually, for all of us societally, and most of us economically. Last year, we went through a painful closing of our Malibu store and a joyous reopening in Malibu, two months ago. A new year is a time to renew commitments and recalibrate our energies and intentions. As many have come to recognize, our economic choices have broader social, ecological, and cultural consequences. Furthering the efforts of those who are working to improve the quality of our lives is becoming a clearer priority. We create the world we live in, not only in our attitudes and philosophies, but also in what businesses we choose to support. So, may we be more discerning, making fully satisfying choices that honestly assess what our dollars do in our communities. We hope you have a most enjoyable, wise, and wonderful year, rich in books and all you get from them.
John and all Dieselfolk
I've always believed that the only visionaries worth listening to are those who are reluctant to claim the title, and few authors have shunned the mantle of futurist prophet more than William Gibson. While this is a collection of nonfiction -- his first -- the themes of his novels are all here: human evolution; the legacies of the dead; technology as a prosthetic addition to human consciousness; cultures high, low, perverse and arcane; and the invisible web of interconnectedness that we (for now) call the Internet. The iconoclasm of Henry Miller, the humor and humanity of George Saunders, and the fierce intellect of Virginia Woolf are all here. And while Gibson downplays his skill and vision in the (often hilariously) self-deprecating notes at the end of each piece, he again and again performs that delicate alchemy that the best essayists have always somehow managed: he takes subjects that sound flat, mundane, or overanalyzed, and makes them utterly and wondrously new. If you find yourself near a copy, take two minutes to read "Dead Man Sings" (p. 51) or "Mr. Buk's Window" (p. 93) -- both are short, almost poem-like pieces that serve as beautiful examples of the crystalline strangeness of Gibson's best work. -- John Peck
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is exquisite poetic prose drawn from first person accounts of Japanese immigrants to America in the early 1900s. First told from the perspective of picture brides crossing the ocean to unknown husbands, it then follows migrant farmers, cleaners, maids, ranch hands, and prostitutes. As the brides raise families and become entrenched in American culture, Otsuka unleashes the harrowing reality of Japanese internment camps, which were pitched as "protective custody arrest for the duration of the war." The Buddha in the Attic was a 2011 National Book Award finalist; it's a concise, clean gem. -- Mia Wigmore
Rereading this book for the first time in 15 years, the most prominent thought in my mind was "My 12-year-old self was an idiot." Or, more accurately, "This book is amazing and my 12-year-old self was an idiot not to get that." So as not to do my young self too much disservice, I will say that on my first read I liked Charlotte Bronte's most famous novel fine; I liked the lonely moors and the mad wife in the attic and, increasingly, Jane's modest pluck. But I think at the time it remained to me just a story -- a long one, and one that my mom was making me read, at that. I couldn't relate to it; I didn't feel it.
What a difference a decade and a half makes. I am newly floored by how romantic and marvelous this novel is, by the beauty of Jane and Rochester's connection. It is all talk. Did that bore me at 12? I'm not sure what I considered romantic then, but the endless discussion, the soul-bearing, the banter, the subtle reveals, the verbal teases, the talk talk talk -- yes. It hits me like a knife blow now. Could there be anything hotter?
This summation is not making my 27-year-old self appear much more mature and sophisticated than the 12-year-old who thought it was a good idea to eat three bags of Skittles before dinner. And I may not be. But in my defense, reading this book now -- seven years older than its main character instead of seven years younger -- I felt a new connection to Jane: her desire for family and her struggle to stay true to herself. The drama of her time with St. John Rivers becomes so much more compelling when read not just as an obstacle between Jane and her return to Rochester, but between Jane and her own self. This novel is I think best remembered for its gothic touches -- the aforementioned moors and mad wife -- but in reading it, its psychological realism is in fact much more striking.
An army of academics could argue for a thousand years about what constitutes a classic, but I think a pretty good definition would include any book you can revisit throughout your life, and each time discover it again as a work wholly new and newly illuminating. If you've read Jane Eyre before, you owe it to yourself to journey with its heroine to Thornfield at least once more. And if you've never read it -- oh, oh! You have such a treat in store for you. -- Anna Kaufman
Rosamund Lupton's Sister is a compelling, page-turning, gothic thriller. But it is also an accomplished study of the bond between sisters, capturing the narrator's innate knowledge that her sister's death was not a suicide, as the authorities believe, but that she must have been murdered. The determination and perseverance the narrator employs to uncover the truth is laid out in the form of a letter to her dead sister. This sibling allegiance and the surviving sister's grief are beautifully portrayed, making this twisting, gripping, literary mystery something unique and special. With this psychological aspect to it, as well as other controversial issues woven into the story, I see this novel having a huge appeal for book clubs. -- Linda Grana
Those of you who have seen or heard Chris Hedges know what an articulate and passionate polemicist he can be. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it is a pleasure to engage with someone who is as brilliant, well-researched, and inspired as he is. This book presents the role of the liberal class in a democracy, both as the conscience and reformist element of the political system and as the cushion between the abusive power of ruling elites and those victimized by those abuses. After laying out the basics (accompanied by an amazing array of wonderful quotes, by the way) Hedges gets down to the dirty history, from WWI to the present, of the decline and collapse of the liberal class in the United States. The history is chilling when seen through this lens and his conclusions are profoundly disturbing. But in his heart he is an activist and revolutionary who believes that if enough people understood the situation, both historically and currently, we would act to turn the tide. Originally published in October of 2010, and now available in paperback, this is already a classic of the Occupy era and deserves a reading by anyone of any political persuasion, for its history and its heartfelt and well-reasoned call to action. -- John Evans
Simple Italian food is the finest cuisine in the world. Bocca, chef Jacob Kenedy's new cookbook, contains over 200 recipes from Italy and his restaurant Bocca di Lupo (mouth of the wolf). American Italian is too often soggy noodles and cheap piles of cheese. Bocca is absolutely not American Italian. Each recipe includes a brief synopsis of its historical, regional pedigree and range from Lombardy Hare in Spiced Wine to chocolate filled donuts from Lazio. The recipes are easy to make, fast, and authentic. It's impossible to open this book and not salivate like a wolf. Highly recommended for those looking for real Italian recipes. -- Cameron Carlson
My declaration of bias: I grew up on Lemony Snicket (aka Handler) and his Series of Unfortunate Events, moved onto his novels as an adult, and once attended a concert just to hear him play the accordion -- so it's understandable that I had a teenie-bopper Beatlemania reaction when I discovered he had a new young adult novel coming out. I would read Daniel Handler's knitting patterns. Why We Broke Up is a marvel of voice, as the narrator is a very real, out-of-the-box 16-year-old girl, who is recognizable without being stock and interesting without being outrageous. The story itself is down-to-earth in a way I didn't anticipate: a girl is giving her ex his stuff back, piece by piece, replaying the relationship as she goes. Employing the art of Maria Kalman, each chapter presents the reader with an object the protagonist is returning and an episode from the relationship. The characters are very real and charming and the dialogue clever, as always. I would recommend this book for, not just teens, but anyone who's experienced that first broken heart and lived to tell the tale. -- Sus Long