Happy Labor Day, and rest from all your labors day, to you! This time of year begins the biggest publishing season of the year with an incredible bounty of new books, new authors, and their related events, all converging in our store. As you may have heard, there is also very positive news on the ebook front -- with a new partnership between many indie bookstores and Kobo, the global provider of ebooks and ebook devices, whose motto is "Read Freely." We couldn't agree more. There will be more in the coming weeks about the exciting changes. For now here's to independent reading, independent minds, and engaged conversation. No matter the shape it comes in, indie bookstores are the place to go for the most interesting range of titles, authors, and readers!
Also, don't miss the wild changes, flashbacks, and format transformations at our Oakland store. In celebration of Michael Chabon's new book, Telegraph Avenue, we are becoming the mythical, magical Brokeland Records with a publication party on September 12th!
John & all Dieselfolk
Following her mother's death, Cheryl Strayed got divorced and hiked from the Mojave Desert to Oregon. Her style is clear and entertaining, explicit and compelling. I felt like I was on the trail with her, or would like to be in that solitude that wilderness indifferently provides. The descriptions of her experiences and the people she met gripped me at every step, in a way that only cogent, detailed note-taking could in a memoir of this size. And she is funny! There is one bit about a fellow who sees her beside the road and interviews her for Hobo Times, though she repeatedly insists that in spite of her stench, matted hair, and lack of abode, she is an expert hiker, not a hobo. That chapter was led with the Robert Pinsky quote, "When I had no roof I made Audacity my roof." One of the founders of the Pacific Coast Trail, Clinton Churchill Clarke, believed that "time in the wilderness provided a lasting curative and civilizing value." Strayed's purpose, in my estimation, was to live deliberately and free; I don't think she was seeking converts to the trail, though she found a fan in Oprah, who recently picked Wild for her book club. -- Mia Wigmore
I can honestly say this is the best book I've read so far this year! The Headmaster's Wager focuses mainly on a Chinese man living in Cholon, Vietnam during the '60s, where he is headmaster of an English Academy. It also touches on the history of China and Vietnam during that time period, in prose that is both vivid and exciting, giving the book a wonderful sense of place and culture. But the thing that really pulled me into the story was its characters: characters so well drawn that I missed them when away from the book. Headmaster Chen especially, since he learns so many difficult and life-altering lessons, causing him to wager much over the course of his life. But it's the twist near the end of the story that nearly took my breath away. There are several scenes in this book that, though disturbing, are so carefully wrought and beautifully portrayed that I had to read them over a second time, in spite of the gut-punch feeling they left me with. This is a gorgeously written epic of a father's love for his son that haunts me still. -- Linda Grana
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is just the sort of smart, genuine, indie-treat to cement me as a die-hard Jonathan Evison fan, as he continues to prove himself a master storyteller while maintaining that certain under-the-bleachers kind of cool.
The story is spun in two pieces: a buoyant journey in the present and an unnamed disaster in the past. Present-day Benjamin is caregiver to an angry, wheelchair-bound teenage boy who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy; he more or less tricks Benjamin into taking him on a road trip pilgrimage to see the boy's own screw-up father. The Benjamin of the past is a stay-at-home dad to his two small children, dealing with both the unglamorous realities and unparalleled joys inherent in that arrangement. Evison slowly works these two pieces together -- the loss of Ben's family, reunions in the families of others, the ways we try to cope and the ways we try to help each other out -- until the reader can see the whole wonderful, messy picture.
The Revised Fundamentals is classic Evison in the sense that it is, by turns, clownish and sorrowful, elegant and unapologetically crude -- something like taking Grace Kelly to a frat party. And, because it is not afraid of its own twenty-twelve-ness, the novel is far more lifelike than much of the contemporary fiction I read because it is neither affectedly snobbish nor cloyingly whimsical. It is a book that inhabits this world so well that you will be missing these new friends by your lunch break and you will be bereft at the close of the last chapter, when you have to let them go. -- Sus Long
I like Westerns and embrace the Western ethos: overly-romantic honor system, spartan living conditions, self-reliance in a fictional setting, etc. That being said, Westerns stop for me at Lonesome Dove and Blood Meridian, both published in 1985 and both showcasing an extreme development of long-standing Western forms (the quest through the unknown land and violent transgression of morality, respectively). So I approached The Sisters Brothers with conditioned skepticism, like a beaten dog sniffing strange men. Happily, those strange men proved to be humorous, desperate, saddle-born philosophers. Patrick deWitt pulls off a weird Western, weird because it seamlessly incorporates contemporary themes without ignoring the overladen associative mess that the genre has become. You get all the things you want -- duels, whiskey feasts, prostitutes, and crazy prospectors -- but deWitt follows the immorality all the way down. It's a sophisticated take for an era demanding moral complexity, and an era that needs a little roughing up. -- Cameron Carlson
"Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid." These are the deliciously acidic words of actress Hedy Lamarr, known as "the most beautiful woman in the world" -- and who was herself the farthest thing from stupid, not to mention decidedly unwilling to stand still. After fleeing her controlling first husband -- an Austrian arms manufacturer on whom she performed some casual espionage, looking glamorous in the vicinity of his weapon-designer friends and filing away everything she heard -- Lamarr set out to aid her adopted country in its war effort, inventing a torpedo targeting system that she patented and passed on to the U.S. Navy. The Navy never made use of the system during WWII, but the techniques Lamarr devised -- spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping -- are essential for every bit of wireless communication we use today. In other words, you probably would not be able to read this review were it not for the work of Lamarr and her partner, avant garde composer George Antheil. Rhodes approaches their collaboration from every angle -- the descriptions of Antheil's (literally) riotous prewar concerts are especially oddball and amusing. A fascinating look at how the footnotes of history can have lasting and unexpected power. -- Anna Kaufman
Here is a vegetarian cookbook that really stands out from the crowd. These recipes explore far beyond the now-familiar Middle Eastern culinary territory of hummus, falafel, and ratatouille. Branch out and try Artichoke Hearts with Pistachio Sauce or Cheese-Baked Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes. Sound good, don't they? I could go on, but my stomach is rumbling looking at all the enticing photos. What I really love about this book is the author's casual, no-nonsense humor, like saying you need "dunky bread" to mop up a sauce -- of course, that's exactly what you need! Every recipe has a little story or suggestion that I found utterly charming and informative. Butcher's knowledge of various regions is impressive without being pretentious. Some of the unique ingredients are near impossible to find; luckily, she tells you how you can make them at home. Many of the recipes are everyday dishes which would also impress your dinner guests. While the book is geared toward vegetarians, there are many vegan-friendly recipes and I doubt most carnivores would balk (myself being one). It's just simple, delicious food. -- Cheryl Ryan
Railsea is probably the funnest book I read this summer. It's a steampunky retelling of Moby-Dick, only everyone's on a train, and there are no whales, but instead, whale-size moles that our intrepid hero, Sham, is helping hunt down. The catch is that Sham isn't particularly good at this whole hunting business -- he's more interested in the weird technology that is buried in the world's poisonous ground. Everything changes, however, when he finds some buried treasure in the form of old photographs depicting something completely alien -- land not crisscrossed with meandering railways. Treasure that a lot of different people want. There's also a pair of adventurer-siblings, train pirates, a philosophical captain after the mole who took her arm, and the mysterious, diabolical angels who keep the Railsea in good repair. There's a whole lot in here, but it all works so well together that you can't help but be charmed by the Railsea's unapologetic weirdness. -- Joey Puente