On "Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace"

I remember the day vividly: sitting in the stacks of the Cincinnati Public Library, my feet propped up, headphones on. I'd been self-educating myself in jazz the past year or so, and I was wading into the deeper waters of Max Roach's We Insist! album. And then “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace” came on. With it, a whole new world of music, history, political protest, and possibility broke upon me — not bad for a nine-minute song with no recognizable words.

What I appreciated most about “Triptych” then, and still today, listening to it as I type these words, is how Abbey Lincoln so completely inhabits her lament and her anger . . . and maybe her sensuality as a whole. Her voice in this track, as it were, takes on physical form. Coupled with Roach’s drum especially, you’re thumped in the chest, first with her thumb, then her elbow; you see her chest heave, almost luridly; and you feel her breath inside your ear and against your neck. By the time the song ends, you’ve not so much “seen through her eyes,” as you’ve been seen, finally, by her. Oh, Abbey Lincoln . . . how we miss you.    -- Brad J. 

Best of the Best Books of 2014 Lists

It's that time of year . . . the Best Books of the Year list season! What is your custom to ring in this special time? Maybe you swap considered opinions with friends during dinner and grumble grievances alone over leftovers. Do you cobble together your own lists, in defiance of what "They" (whoever they are) say? Or perhaps you're "Normal" (whatever that is) and have a few regular lists that you trust, take a few notes, and shuffle over to your local Diesel to give them a look?

The list below does not intend to be comprehensive. Consider it a sort of Best of the Best Books of 2014 Lists. And be sure to check back on it from time to time this month. It's early December, after all, and arriving late to the party is as much a holiday tradition as throwing one in the first place. 

  • Our friend and colleague at the Larkspur store, Clare Doornbos, knows children's books like nobody's business. We are so lucky to have her insight . . . which she recently lent to the website, Marin Mommies, for a very helpful listing of what she considers the best children's books of the year.
  • Because it's The New York Times, there is always a great deal of hullabaloo when the "100 Notable Books" of the year are announced. If you're a contrary sort you'll publically disavow it, eventually and reluctanctly read it, and usually be surprised. Thus is my annual custom anyway.
  • I'm not particularly fond of how NPR lays out their list, but if they're going to showcase such a diverse range of excellent titles as this they can present it however they please! 
  • Publisher's Weekly has assembled a delightful series of lists, ranging from weighty, furrowed-brow non-fiction to giggly children's books. Publisher's Weekly is always a great resource for booksellers, but this time of year it's especially helpful for customers looking to get a lay of the literary landscape. Highly recommended.
  • Eileen Battersby's list is perhaps not one most Americans would think to check, unless you're a devoted reader of the Irish Times, but . . . my goodness. It is so wonderfully different from everybody else's, I simply could not help but link to it.
  • Flavorwire's list of "50 Best Independent Fiction and Poetry" deservedly knocked the socks off Literari Twitter when it was released. It is very good, and a great entry-point to a wide world of writing that often stays deeply under the radar.
  • Entropy Magazine has quickly become one of the most exciting online literary and culture magazines available. It is unsurprising, then, that their series of lists have been so impressive. Definitely for the adventurous readers out there or in your life. 
  1. Best Non-Fiction
  2. Best Poetry & Collections
  3. Best Fiction
  • Electric Literature  has a fine eye, and rightly dubs this the "year of the debut novel." 

Whichever list(s) you prefer, calling a book "Best" is a difficult thing, and not nearly as important or mysterious as "Beloved." At Diesel, we're here to help you with both.

National Book Award Announcement Tonight!

As you may know, the National Book Awards are handed out tonight. The Oscars of the American book scene, with much of the glitz and the pomp, I'd love to be a fly (if they were not all swatted away at the door ... or killed by the New York cold) at the table of the nominee I expect, or perhaps hope, wants to be there least: Marilynne Robinson. I could be mis-reading what I know of her entirely, but I just have a hunch Robinson would not be star-struck at all. Oh, she'd be graceful about it all, for sure. But I suspect, too, she might look about, sipping her wine so as to glance at her watch, wanting most to return to her hotel room, where she might write the sentence she thought of in the cab. "My money's on you to win, Ms. Robinson," I'd say. To which she'd reply, "Oh, but you're a fly. You have no money. But I'm glad you made it in." And then her name would be called, and untold copies of Lila would wear that medallion sticker. This is what I imagine. You are invited to imagine quite differently. 

In the meantime, this is a wonderful article about her latest novel from the UK Guardian

National Book Award Short List: Poetry

In preparation for the announcement of the National Book Award in a few short weeks (Nov. 19), we thought we'd link to a few excerpts and/or reviews to each book shortlisted. Awards aren't such an important thing to us here at DIESEL, but we do love the attention they often bring to books that otherwise might escape the radar of even some of the best readers. This week, we're profiling the Poetry Short List. 

(1) See & hear Louise Glück reading from her lush and lovely new collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night. (N.B.: I read from this book at a recent Literary Karaoke, and oh my does it feel nice on the lips.)


(2) Read an excerpt from Fanny Howe's utterly powerful new work, Second Childhood.

(3) Maureen McLane hits it out of the park in this excerpt (she is the first reader in the video) from This Blue.

(4) If Patrick James Dunagan's review in The Rumpus does not send you to a bookstore shelf in search of Fred Moten's Feel Trio, you either are not a reader of poetry or you should check your pulse. (N.B.: More of this are coming to the store very soon. Order one from your local DIESEL!)

& lastly (5) Claudia Rankine . . . what can I say about her Citizen? Hers is a new American epic. It is something you simply must experience.



"So, what are we doing here, Brad?"

Oakland Booksellers Brad & Chris discuss the hoary, aged-old question, “Why are we having an IndieGoGo campaign?"


Three Links: Of Fear, Fast-Track Publication, & Breakfastfood Freedom

(1) “'We do not believe. We fear.'” -- Oh me, oh my . . . there is so much to chew on (& be chewed on by) in Mary Ruefle's essay on fear, originally from her very fine book much lauded in these parts, Madness, Rack & Honey.



(2) Itching to read something by the newly-named Nobel Prize winning novelist, Patrick Modiano? Our friends at Yale University Press are here to meet your needs by hastening their release of his novella collection, Suspended Sentences, to Nov. 3. Pre-order your copy here.





(3) This week was E. E. Cummings' 120th birthday. If Lawrence Fishburne's recitation of "as freedom is a breakfastfood" is any indication, Mr. Cummings has aged quite nicely.


Let Them Eat Cake!

So many thanks to everybody who came out to celebrate with us at DIESEL in Oakland during our 25th Anniversary Weekend. There was champagne and pie (a natural combination if ever there was one). There were cookies and milk (a previously unheard of combination if ever there was one). There was music and dancing, courtesy of our good friends Dodge's Sundodgers. There was an open mic and bourbon (oh my!). Oh . . . and stupendously gorgeous cakes that tasted as good as they looked, courtesy of the dear folks at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop.


Silver anniversary achieved, we're pushing onward now to gold. For twenty-five years we've been in conversation with our neighbors in Oakland, as highlighted in last week's excellent feature on our store in Oakland North. Our bellies filled with cake and heads with books (as are yours apparently), we're asking now for help to to make the conversation even better.

In the video below John & Alison quickly tell the story of DIESEL's past and their vision for its future, and unveil our IndieGoGo fundraising appeal. We hope you'll watch, click, & share. 


Three Authors, Three Congratulations

This year marks 25 years of bookselling for DIESEL, A Bookstore in Oakland and maybe it hasn't always been easy, but it has always been fun. We love this place. Over the years, we've had some fantastic authors and readers come into the store and fall in love with it too. Here, wishing us a warm congratulations, are three of them.

Up first is beloved local author, Michael Chabon, whose book Telegraph Avenue is perhaps one of the biggest bestsellers in our bookselling history. Thank you, Michael!

Up next is Mac Barnett, the author and illustrator of some of the best children's books ever, from the awesome Battle Bunny (repurposed from the far sappier and more boring, Birthday Bunny), to the new generation of kid sleuths series, The Brixton Brothers. Thank you, Mac!

And finally, we have author Edan Lepucki, whose book California rocketed into the bestseller stratosphere after booksellers, fellow authors, and the public united behind her (man, we wish all debut authors received such fantastic attention). Thank you, Edan!

People like Michael, Mac, and Edan are part of what makes bookselling a wonderful experience. They're the kinds of authors who understand the need for community and appreciate the chance to connect with the fans who love them. Help us keep bringing authors and readers together for another 25 years! Check out our upcoming Indiegogo campaign by clicking on the link at the top right.

Three Links: Three Books

(1) Given the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, which brought to brilliant light an issue too many for too long chose to ignore, one of the more timely paperback releases last week was Radley Balko's provocative book Rise of the Warrior Cop. Glenn Greenwald's endorsement graces the cover of this edition, and he goes considerably further in this piece at his new news site, The Intercept:

"Balko, who has devoted his career to documenting and battling the worst abuses of the U.S. criminal justice system, traces the history and underlying mentality that has given rise to all of this: the 'law-and-order' obsessions that grew out of the social instability of the 1960s, the War on Drugs that has made law enforcement agencies view Americans as an enemy population, the Reagan-era 'War on Poverty' (which was more aptly described as a war on America’s poor), the aggressive Clinton-era expansions of domestic policing, all topped off by the massively funded, rights-destroying, post-9/11 security state of the Bush and Obama years. All of this, he documents, has infused America’s police forces with “a creeping battlefield mentality.”


(2) Peter Mendelsund's new book What We See When We Read is delightfully puzzling -- the sort of thing you're unsure about until the very moment you realize you haven't set it down for nearly an hour. Because it is about what our mind's eye is serving up to us as we read, it's naturally enough hard to fit a description of the book itself purely into words. Thanks to the folks over at the Paris Review for serving up an excerpt-sized taster. Do check it out.  







(3) In his prime and well-beyond, Orson Welles could be one of Hollywood's most ornery visionaries and talents. As demonstrated in the recently transcribed lunch conversations he had with (and that were recorded by) his friend Henry Jaglom, My Lunches With Orson, Welles was as accustomed to holding court off-screen as he was on. Such was the lesson learned (and also recorded) by the producers of this commercial for frozen peas. 


Three Links: Living Between the Forgetting & Remembering

(1) It’s “funny,” isn’t it, how the most sobering of thoughts is often the very one most apt to send us rummaging for the closest intoxicant at hand?

Having said that, Charles Simic is always a joy. Choose for yourself whether his "Portable Hell" is a prose-poem, editorial-poem, or poem-poem. (via NYRBlog)




 (2) Philip Larkin's haunted commemoration of the First World War rings true still today.



(3) Who hasn’t awoken late at night — or possibly midday — and thought to themselves — or possibly out loud to nobody — there really should be — or possibly there is already — a Tumblr of Samuel Beckett Motivational Cat Posters?