We have wonderful events happening this month in our stores: graphic novelist Daniel Clowes, Iron Chef Cat Cora, Jennifer Egan, Gregg Hurwitz and Aimee Bender! And don't miss Diesel bookseller and events coordinator Grant Hazard's CD Release Party for his solo record, Genus Euphony, this Sunday in Oakland. The bounty never ceases here at Diesel -- everchanging, always interesting. We look forward to seeing you in the stores for one of our events, or for all of those great books!
John & all Dieselfolk
There's no question that William T. Vollmann loves to write. It's evidenced by his mammoth-length novels and his equally comprehensive nonfiction studies on varying themes, from violence to railroad hopping. Fresh off his 1300+ page examination of Mexico-California relations, 2009's Imperial, Vollmann gives us Kissing the Mask, a critical study of Japanese Noh Theatre. Vollmann, whom I can adequately describe as "meticulously creative," states in the preface: "This short book is an appreciation, sincere and blundering, resolutely ignorant, riddled with the prejudices and insights of an alien, a theatergoer, a man gazing at femininity." I find his sincere attempt to understand something possibly ungraspable endearing - and extremely interesting to read. His desire to delve deeper and deeper into unknown territory--be it war zones or the intricacies of identity--is something I find completely enthralling and inspiring. -- Geo Ong
A lovingly written, meticulously researched and fully engrossing novel of the Vietnam War, The Lotus Eaters concerns Helen, a female photographer who arrives early on in the war to learn the truth about her brother's death. She believes that a photographer's credentials will give her more access to delicate information and is soon enamored with the country, the culture and its people; she also realizes America shouldn't be fighting there. Though Helen must confront the old boy's network of photojournalists (who don't take kindly to her), she falls in love with a heroic lensman, a romantic bad-boy type. He and his Vietnamese assistant, Linh, assume responsibility for helping Helen travel to the areas she wants to capture on film, and the war as seen through Linh's eyes is spellbinding. Though the narrative is told mostly from a woman's point of view, the author doesn't shy away from describing battles or the cruelty and crassness of soldiers. "Every war photo is an anti-war photo," Helen says. Tim O'Brien gave this novel a superlative endorsement (as did reviews) and I heartily agree with him. -- Diane Leslie
Perhaps it's a need to make sense of what can never be understood, but I am drawn ineluctably to novels set in Europe during the Holocaust. And yet, were it not for the opening line, "Later he would tell her that their story began..." I'm not sure I would have willingly entered the world Julie Orringer has created in The Invisible Bridge. However these first words signal survival, allowing the reader to fully succumb to the sensual and intellectual enchantments of Paris student life in the Fall of 1937. A Jewish quota system already in place in their native Hungary sends brothers Andras and Tibor abroad to pursue their studies - Andras on an architectural scholarship to the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris, and Tibor less happily to Italy in medicine.
Orringer's truly luxurious descriptions of Paris, modernist visionaries and roiling political ferment set amidst medieval cobblestones and gargoyles, provide the perfect backdrop for a mesmerizing love story. A series of fateful turns of plot lead Andras into the arms of the secretive Klara, a fellow Hungarian émigré, several years his senior. I, for one, know that "real" life is filled with improbable coincidences and Klara is a deeply nuanced character worth storming barricades to get to.
As the anti-Semitic incidents increase in Paris, visa issues force Andras and Klara to return to Hungary. The story shifts with a savage elegance to a Nazi-doomed landscape of shattered families and lovers, and where Andras is first conscripted to Munkaszolgalat, a forced labor camp and later shipped to the Ukraine for hard labor.
Now is the time to recall the first line of the novel.
Make no mistake, once begun I read this novel feverishly, hours at a time, and upon completion was exhilarated and longed to talk to someone about it. The Invisible Bridge is a stunning first novel with the scope and diversity of Tolstoy, and as stylistically different from her equally brilliant short story collection How to Breathe Underwater as could be imagined. There are few writers with this breadth, putting Orringer in the league of David Mitchell and Richard Powers. High praise indeed. -- Margaret Simpson
A journalist in the midst of a hair-dying midlife crisis, whose passion and autonomy has been depleted during his soul-crushing employment at a UK magazine, is sent to Venice to interview someone he doesn't particularly care about as well as attend the opening of la Biennale di Venezia. Already complaining about the sweltering heat and convinced that this trip will be a wash, Jeff Atman bitterly arrives in the city he compares to The Truman Show in that "every day, for hundreds of years, Venice had woken up and put on this guise of being a real place even though everyone knew it only existed for tourists." However, it is during the Biennale's name-dropping, pretentious bellini-soaked events that Jeff meets the lovely Laura, a woman who not only gives him hope that this trip might not be so bad after all, but who will lead Jeff in a direction that he never thought his dull life would go. Geoff Dyer constructs this novel brilliantly, and the writing is so laugh-out-loud funny that you may never be able to attend an art opening again without laughing at the foolish behavior around you. If you are or ever have been a twenty-something (or forty-something) you really need to read this novel. -- Jon Stich
Javier Marías is one of those names one often hears tossed around, usually coupled with, "is going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature!" Yet when I peeked at his most famous work, Your Face Tomorrow - which I've heard described as "1,000 pages detailing 10 minutes of espionage" - it seemed to consist of a single paragraph and some infinitely long sentences. But then Bad Nature arrived, and it was of a much more manageable size, and it had an amusing subtitle. I opened it up and yup, there were those long, twisty sentences again, but suddenly I found them addictive and compelling; they grabbed me like an undertow and dragged me into this bizarre, hilarious, and wonderfully dark tale of Elvis' Spanish translator and the scary shenanigans he and the King get up to. This short little book really is like a whirlpool: it's exhilarating to find yourself sucked in, tossed around - narrowly avoiding some sharp rocks - and then chucked back out again. I resort to metaphor because a large portion of the joy of this story is discovering it for yourself and being surprised by it. I for one was not expecting such humor and verve. If they're at all like this, then 1,000 pages detailing 10 minutes of espionage do not sound at all bad to me. -- Anna Kaufman
This amazing book, previously only available in extremely limited hand-assembled versions, is finally out in a beautiful hardcover edition. While the original "Choose Your Own Adventure" books from decades past provide some context for Shiga's masterwork, this book goes leaps and bounds past those source texts, in both subject matter and format. Multicolored tubes travel three-dimensionally through the book, via tabs at the outer edges of each page. The result is beautiful, brilliant, confounding, and utterly unique - and, despite its generally whimsical artwork, probably not suitable for children. -- John Peck
If you're in elementary school (as either a student or teacher) then Louis Sachar is a must read. His new book, The Cardturner, is a level above Holes in terms of reading level and content, and tells the story of a high school boy, Alton, who is forced to be a card-turner for his cranky, blind Uncle Lester. Lester treats Alton like dirt, but in hopes that his wealthy uncle will leave his poor family a large inheritance, Alton silently accepts the verbal attacks. Although he acts like a fly on the wall, Alton learns a lot about bridge and his uncle's mysterious past - including insane asylums, abuse, forbidden love, and suicide. Alton grows more and more interested in bridge and puzzling together his uncle's past and what exactly happened so many years ago at the Bridge National Championships. One of the keys to piecing together this mystery is Toni, his smart, shy, and cute cousin (well, he's not so sure about that last part). He does become sure of a few things: his growing fondness of bridge, Toni, and Uncle Lester, as well as this nagging desire to push his uncle to accomplish the goal he couldn't before - winning the nationals. -- Elise Clarkson