Happy May Day! With beautiful weather comes reverie, daydreams, imagination. What fuels the imagination more than books, of all descriptions? We have just finished our month-long poetry celebration with 30 video poems made by booksellers. It's always a wonderful experience to take the time to read poems out loud, as well as to read children's books out loud, and great fiction or creative nonfiction, too. Relax in the shade and read to each other and enjoy the experience of letting your mind flow with the words -- one of the exquisite pleasures of reading.
We look forward to keeping your reading aloud alive with our selections and recommendations. See you soon in the store.
John & all Dieselfolk
The author of several novels (including the wonderful The God of War) and a book of short stories, Marisa Silver has become a master prose craftsman. Based on the photographer Dorothea Lange and her iconic photograph of Florence Owen Thompson, Mary Coin is a fictive telling of their encounter and the impact of the photograph on their subsequent lives. More than this, it is a moving meditation on the nature of photography, truth, the shifting experience of time and identity, and the powerful mystery of human relationship and history. The story is gracefully, sensitively, even elegantly told, with the careful composition of a painting, or a photograph. The interweaving stories of cultural historian Walker Dodge, photographer Vera Dare, and the central Mary Coin, photographic subject and mother of six, or seven, children are presented in finely proportioned novella-like alternating sections that give you deeply immersive swathes of their lives. Along with the satisfyingly balanced structure, this is a powerfully emotional book profoundly delving into the Depression, polio, love, loss, and dislocation. It is an immensely satisfying novel across a span of time, reflection, familial relationship, and narrative suspense. I can't think of a person who wouldn't both thoroughly enjoy and be lastingly changed by this book, and that's saying something. -- John Evans
This memoir immediately plunges in and clutches your heart and doesn't let go until the last sweet sentence. The author's spare and poignant words are unadulterated as she recounts her first-hand experience of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, her devastating loss and struggle to continue on when much of what comprised her life is now gone. Slowly, she begins to unlock the floodgate to her past, until at last, her memories flow freely and the pain dissipates. As you read the book, you may find yourself inhaling sharply or experience a sense of emptiness permeating you. In fact, I almost guarantee it. As I was writing this review, a line from Robert Graves' poem "Ecstasy of Chaos" sprung into my head that seems to epitomize Deraniyagala's story: "Hold fast, with both hands, to that royal love/Which alone, as we know certainly, restores/Fragmentation into true being." -- Cheryl Ryan
With her third novel just published, I can say that Ruth Ozeki, the most innovative novelist I know, has never failed me. A Tale For The Time Being relates Ruth's (fictional) reactions when she encounters and reads the diary -- possibly washed all the way across the Pacific in the 2011 tsunami -- of a cheeky and irresistible Japanese teenager named Nao. Within this journal is the story of Nao's great-grandmother, a 104-year-old Buddhist nun who took up that calling after her son was forced to be a kamikaze pilot and died in World War II. She enlightens and entertains not only Nao but also Ruth and, most importantly, the reader. These three magnificent female characters are completely diverse in age, language, thought, and deed.
Ruth Ozeki never shies away from politics, history's cruel realities, or environmental catastrophes; instead these subjects are always naturally and seamlessly attached to the characters' lives. All this, and the narrator discusses the act of writing and its purpose.
If this masterwork doesn't win top honors from critics and booksellers, I'll throw the book at them. -- Diane Leslie
In my early adolescence, I read two books (in yellow-paged editions from the 1970s) that gave me a taste of what literature could be. They were Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan, and while they differed in tone and scope, both had an irresistible mix of humor and horror. If their books covered similar ground, though, the arcs of the authors' personal lives played out very differently. Vonnegut, ultimately, was an optimist, for whom war and atrocity were temporary afflictions in a greater comedy; Brautigan, whimsical as his writing could be, had a tragic worldview, culminating in his suicide in 1984. Jubilee Hitchhiker starts at the precise moment of Brautigan's death, and, as such, is a book haunted throughout by its subject. At 850 pages, Hjortsberg's bio is downright monumental, but it never flags in its pacing (he's also a novelist and screenwriter), and includes enough historical details to be a chronicle of the heady times it covers. It is strangely fitting to see such an economical writer treated to such an expansive biography; the feeling persists, after finishing Jubilee Hitchhiker, that Hjortsberg wants nothing left unsaid that could be said. -- John Peck
Being a fan of both historical fiction and Chinese history, I was enthralled to discover Ha Jin's latest novel, Nanjing Requiem. My first encounter with the tragedy of Nanjing was, of course, the nonfiction account written by Iris Chang over a decade ago. But Jin gives the story of American missionary Minnie Vautrin such life, character, and color that her entire world becomes as real as if you were actually there. Jin's is a haunting telling of one of the most brutal attacks on the Chinese in the history of their country, yet his brilliant and touching storytelling comes through in the strong, but compassionate portrayal of Minnie, a woman of courage who was able to instill hope in a people who had been downtrodden in a most violent way. Her hope and perseverance are ultimately inspirational, and her resilient character coupled with this fascinating piece of Chinese history will definitely make this novel a must-read for book clubs. -- Linda Grana
Torre David is a photography book about one of the most interesting urban communities in the world, a 45-story Venezuelan skyscraper inhabited by squatters. To this day the structure remains incomplete, as a result of the faulty global finance sector, but that hasn't stopped hundreds of people from moving in, building a community grocery, gym, and hair salon. This book visually captures the power of people who, neglected by systems of power, build their own in a carcass of economic hubris. -- Cameron Carlson
This charming little book tells the story of a cake-baking orphan and her fellow residents in the apartments above the mysterious Lost Luggage Emporium. Whimsical and bright with plenty of smart twists, Graff manages to keep a capering, interesting plot wonderfully innocent, delivering a slightly alternate reality that is close enough to home to spark some real imagination. By the last page, this book will have the whole family searching for their capital "T" Talents. --Sus Long