This is the month of thankfulness, with Thanksgiving crowning it with horns of plenty and tables surrounded by family and friends. We want to thank all you passionate, avid, and occasional readers who cross our threshold, talk with us about books, and support us, the authors, and the culture at large by shopping at an independent bookstore. Thanks for keeping it local, and keeping it real -- it's a pleasure and we look forward to keeping it up for many years to come.
John & all Dieselfolk
Who did Harry Kessler know? Verlaine, Degas, Renoir, Rodin, Maillol, Rilke, Cosima Wagner, Strauss, Diaghilev, and Nijinsky. Those don't include the politicians, with whom Kessler became intimately acquainted during his stints as spy, diplomat, and count. Kessler was extraordinarily intelligent, as these journals reveal. His insights into the rapacious English school and class systems reveal a wisdom
disproportional to his age. The journals cover 1880-1918, during which Kessler was in a uniquely privileged social context from which to observe the Belle Époque giving way to a war-torn, terror-stricken Europe. Enjoyable for both its sophisticated language and historical insights. -- Cameron Carlson
After a haunting stint as a soldier in the First World War, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia to man a lighthouse off the coast. He meets and marries vibrant Isabel, and they set off for their idyllic, if remote, life on their island. When they struggle to start a family, the choices they make and the consequences that ensue gripped me to the end. I was captivated by character and plot, and Stedman's beautiful imagery of light and darkness, integrity and deceit, isolation and community. -- Mia Wigmore
Maria Semple's second novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, isn't just a funny book -- it's sharp, clever, smart. Told in an assortment of documents -- emails, letters, articles, school and police reports -- the book is a series of clues that ultimately answer the query of the title, but also the more significant question of who Bernadette is. It's a patchwork portrait that, like an impressionist painting, is more vivid and revealing in its pointillist glory than a regular realist work could hope to be. And in Bernadette, Semple has created a wonderfully complex and sympathetically flawed woman; she and her world seem larger than life, but remain eminently relatable.
Semple was a writer for Arrested Development, and -- besides being hilarious -- the way Bernadette is most reminiscent of that show is in its use of a community of complicated individuals, all caught up in their own interests and often blind to the realities of those around them. Semple's satire of the privileged Seattle neighborhood where Bernadette, for reasons to be explored, has become moored, is biting, but never needlessly nasty. All of Semple's characters may be subject to ridicule, but equally they are all granted the opportunity for redemption. Ultimately, and to its credit, this is not a cynical book.
What it is is a terrific mother/daughter story, and to me an unusually realistic one. In unraveling the mysteries of her mother, the precocious Bee achieves a greater understanding of Bernadette as a person. Their relationship is never done up in cupcakes and flowers, but events conspire to bring a much more satisfying sense of sympathy between them. Read this book: you'll laugh, you will not cry, you'll want to go to Antarctica. -- Anna Kaufman
Alex Capus' Léon and Louise is a slim novel about love, war, and life's complexities that in less capable hands could have been cliché-ridden and maybe even sappy. Trust me, it's neither of those things. Instead, it's a beautifully rendered novelization of the life of the author's French grandfather, beginning in the summer of 1918 and spanning more than 50 years. As teenagers, Leon and Louise meet, fall in love, are violently separated during World War I, then meet again during World War II with Léon now married and a father. They must separate a second time, as Louise refuses to harm Léon's family, and they are caught up in the German invasion of Paris. Every character's story is told with great humor, poignancy, and vivid depictions of the impact war has on the lives of those trying to survive it. You will come away from this book having met wonderful, fully realized people who will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. -- Pam Stirling
Not since The Glass Castle have I read a memoir that is so brutally honest, and told without an ounce of self-pity. Weir just lays out her story for us, in brilliant little pieces, leaving the reader at once charmed and aghast. From her mother waiting broke in a strange town with her hungry children, having been fooled yet again by another man she put her trust in, to Weir's own whirlwind courtship, waking up the day after her wedding to an apple farmer who was, in essence, a total stranger. From the legend of a girl named Lily, who drank the herbicides her father sold to farmers to prove how "safe" they were, to the descriptions of the chemicals that were used years later on the author's very own apple farm -- descriptions which left a dry, dusty bitterness in my mouth, evoking the "garlicky odor" those chemicals left on clothes, walls, and hair. This book produced a string of emotions that had my hand flying up to my mouth time and again, and not only made me realize, "This woman can write!" but also made me appreciate the importance of this book, and how it reaches far beyond Weir's own story. -- Linda Grana
In its subject matter, cartoonist Chris Ware's Building Stories falls somewhere in the tradition of epic universe-of-small-stories books such as The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, or Ulysses. In its form and structure, however, it's a relentlessly modern work -- in fact, from the double meaning of the title to the foldout building diagram that serves as the book's centerpiece, the word "structure" has rarely been given such a workout. A decade in the making, the book is a boxed collection of 14 pamphlets, map-style foldouts, cloth-bound hardcovers, and other book structures, each of which provides some small window into the lives of residents of a single apartment building. As with much of Ware's past work, the tone is (to put it lightly) downbeat, focusing on the strung-together failures and small domestic tragedies that always sum to something short of a fulfilling life. Taken as a whole, though, the book has a slow-burn radiance that permeates even its dreariest corners. Unpacking this gorgeous meta-book is reminiscent of unboxing and setting up an unfamiliar board game: it's clear that each piece plays some part, but what that part is may not be immediately clear. All told, this is a milestone in graphic fiction, and makes for an unnerving and transformative reading experience. -- John Peck
My macabre sense of humor was instantly piqued when I first laid eyes on this. It is a collection of clever, funny, dark poems about animals who have met their demises. The illustrations are charming and hilarious. Well, maybe charming isn't the word everyone would use to describe them, and this book is not for them. Last Laughs was written for children but really it is fun for all ages. If you are a fan of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams, you will absolutely get a chuckle out of these poems. -- Cheryl Ryan