There is lots going on at DIESEL this month and every day. Our Larkspur store is having its Grand Opening Party on Sunday, September 29th, from 1 to 5pm. It will be full of festivity and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and essayist Gary Snyder will be reading and signing at 3pm! It's a great time to visit the Bay Area, so if you are up there please come and join the celebration!
Author events, reading groups, school reading lists, recommending, and book discussions are all happening in the store. Customers are suggesting great reads to each other, booksellers are providing news and reviews of upcoming titles, and new books are being displayed and shelved every hour. It's a cultural crossroads, bringing the world to us, where we can openly engage it together. See you in the store!
John & all Dieselfolk
Close your eyes; put Tom Robbins and Thomas Pynchon in the Vitamix which is your brain; frappe; open your eyes: and what comes out would resemble Babayaga by Toby Barlow. Clever, funny, astonishing, page-turning, supernatural-spy thriller-romance-history, this is one of the most entertaining books you'll read this autumn, or this decade. A pleasure for the literary reader, and an inspiration for the genre-bent, this is a great book for every gender, every country, and for ages 14 to 74. (I gave a copy each to my two nephews, ages 20 and 25). Don't miss it, your brain will thank you. -- John Evans
In the Kitchen with Alain Passard grabbed me with its singular subtitle: "A graphic novel, with recipes." Blain's portrait of Michelin-starred chef Alain Passard at work falls squarely in the French tradition of understated, journalistic graphic novels, and approaches its subjects with a refreshing mix of wonder and skepticism. In addition to the recipes ("Green Beans, White Peach, and Fresh Almonds" and "Squab Dragee with Mead," to name two), the book is a treasure-trove of culinary techniques such as putting three slits in a bay leaf to maximize its flavor, or covering simmering vegetables with parchment paper so they stay colorful. To top it all off, Blain is adept at capturing phrases that approach poetry: "The pear will confront the tomato," says Passard in a meeting with his sous-chefs; "chestnut with turnip is counterintuitive, but it works." He ends with a phrase that is perfect in its zen-like simplicity, and sums up the book as a whole: "Food is alive, and must be carefully considered." -- John Peck
This is the first sentence I ever read by Javier Marías: "No one knows what it is to be hunted down without having lived it, and unless the chase was active and constant, carried out with deliberation, determination, dedication and never a break, with perseverance and fanaticism, as if the pursuers had nothing else to do in life but look for you, keep after you, follow your trail, locate you, catch up with you and then, at best, wait for the moment to settle the score."
Okay, take a breath. Marías is, undeniably, a demanding author, requiring your focus and attention: to the words as they flow on the page and to their meaning, which swells like a wave rushing toward the shore. Marías' newest novel, The Infatuations, contains a wealth of digressive, centrifugal dialogue -- ruminations on death and its effect on those left behind in its wake -- that when mulled over slowly, read in a way that I, terrible speed-reader that I am, have almost forgotten how to read, reveal themselves to be some of the most thought-provoking passages I've absorbed since my collegiate years spent armed with a yellow highlighter. My reading of this book felt full of a thousand tiny deaths and resurrections, ideas that built and burst like champagne bubbles in my brain. It was contemplative, unnerving, invigorating.
That said: Marías is also hilarious. He's sly about it; that first first sentence quoted above is from a novella called Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico, and it features the King getting his Spanish-language translator into a whole heap of terrifying/ridiculous trouble at a bar south of the border. Said translator makes a cameo in The Infatuations, which along with being the best book of inadvertent philosophy I've read since freshman year is also a Hitchcockian psychological thriller. So somehow this is both Marías' most accessible novel and one of his most intellectually stimulating. The infatuation is clearly mine. -- Anna Kaufman
Sutton by J.R. Moehringer begins with Willie Sutton being released from jail on Christmas Day, 1969. Moehringer uses a genius plot device of the characters Reporter and Photographer, who, having bartered an exclusive from Willie's lawyer, get the bank robber released into their hands. Together they travel throughout New York City, to revisit scenes of childhood, love, and crime harking back to the '20s and '30s. During the Depression, Willie robbed the banks that were perceived to be hoarding wealth while many Americans were living in cardboard Hoovervilles; and as he himself never killed anyone, and took precautions not to hurt anyone either, he was considered a folk hero. Moehringer also wrote The Tender Bar, one of my favorite memoirs, and co-wrote Andre Agassi's Open; he writes narrative nonfiction tremendously well. Like Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses, a biography of her grandmother that she had to novelize for want of accurate source material, I believe Sutton is mostly based on fact, too. Since Moehringer drew from multiple contradictory accounts of Willie's exploits (including autobiographical ones!), Sutton allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about Willie; it would thus lend itself to vibrant book club discussions. Moehringer's writing is so captivating, human, and witty that I considered this book a friend and refuge. I was enthralled to the end. -- Mia Wigmore
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is the amazing story of Edward Curtis, the most famous American photographer at the turn of the century. At the apex of his career, Curtis decided to photograph as many Native Americans as possible. The results are some of the most stirring photographs in American history. The adventurous exploits of a charismatic artist in the dying West make a great story for anyone interested in photography, Native American culture, or exploration. Highly recommended. -- Cameron Carlson
Move over Anthony Bourdain, there's a new crush in town! I just bought Smoke & Pickles and I'm swooning. The quandary is, what do I make first? Should it be the Pickled Corn-Bacon Relish or the Braised Brisket with the Bourbon-Peach Glaze...or both? Asian meets Southern in the most delightful and decadent ways. Then there are the essays interspersed between the chapters that begin with sentences like "It started with a Johnny Cash song" and "Sin on a Sunday, repent on Sunday" (that one heads the section "Bourbon & Bar Snacks"). Yes, I'm gushing, because that is how much I love this cookbook. -- Cheryl Ryan
Ghost Hawk is a historical novel that marries two cultural perspectives long considered to be radically different. It's also a touching and personal story about growing up. It begins with Little Hawk, an 11-year-old Native American boy, who comes back to his village from his spirit walk into manhood to find almost everyone he knows dead from scarlet fever. The second half of the book follows John, a European boy who considers the ghost of Little Hawk to be his friend and teacher. As John grows to manhood he quietly challenges the attitudes of those around him. The book ends with the outbreak of King Phillip's War. What struck me about this book is how well it presents the human desire for stability. We are often unaware that history is happening all around us: major events may take place, they may even be close to home, but most of us are focused on our home, family, and friends. There are minor characters in the book who make bloodthirsty calls for war and posture with both loaded words and weapons. But they are nothing but a vocal minority. The heroes and heroines of Ghost Hawk, who we see on both sides of the cultural divide, are those who recognize trade and communication as valuable tools for stability as a means to keep their homes and families safe. The domestic nature of Susan Cooper's sympathies alleviates some of the horror of the history which she relates. The result is a truly brilliant book in which a difficult subject is approached with humanity and tenderness. I believe Ghost Hawk will be a popular book in middle school for many years to come. -- Clare Doornbos