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.