May Day 2014

As is our tradition, our Oakland store will be closed today, May 1, in honor and celebration of May Day. Whether you’re working or not, though, are fingers-crossed in sympathy or locked-arm in solidarity with the struggle of May Day, we hope you have time today to haunt a capital-C Capitalist with its spirit. 

Springing Links

(1) The action remains fast and/or furious -- choose your own appropriate conjunction! -- in this year's Tournament of Books. Some upsets in the first round, I have to say. Who foresaw The Luminaries flaming out so early? Certainly not the author of its first-round opponent, Hill Williams, who didn't even want his book involved in the competition. I like to think Ruth Ozeki kicking his tail in the second round hurt at least a teensy bit. Sad to see The Son going up so soon against Eleanor & Park. Nobody wins this one, I'm afraid. Both are too good: we all lose when either bow out. 


(2) Jarret Middleton's essay on "the beauty of forgetting" is wonderful, whether you know who Jacques Ranciere is or not. 

"Returning to so many early influences has again reminded me to thrive in partiality. Like a good mentor, I have been prompted not to be a vampire, to not be a tourist, to make the first maneuver toward originality by looping back around and returning to where I departed, reexamining the point of origin and all the detritus that litters and hides it from me. Not to relearn what has been forgotten, but to forget what has been learned. To search deteriorated notions and oppressed positions. These microscopic transgressions form the phenomenal ground of varied arts that help me live. The message has been a relief: adhere to the indeterminate in all of us. Go small, go slow, go weird and unknown, and you won’t have to worry about being interesting."




(4) Christopher Tignor sets to music a recording of John Ashbery reading his 1956 poem "A Boy," and upward the heart jumps and ears perk. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous. (Hear the rest of his album, "Thunder Lay Down in the Heart," at his website.)

Weekly Links: Make no mistake, the Ides of March is as wary of you as you are of it

1) The art blog Colossal links to some exquisite images from the recent exhibition of Tyrus Wong's pastels. I really can add nothing to this amazing biographical paragraph. It's like a mini-short story. 

"Painter, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, designer and kite maker Tyrus Wong was born in China in 1910 and emigrated to the United States with his father at the age of 9. As a child his teachers noticed he possessed exceptional artistic skills which would land him a scholarship at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. By 1930 he was working in Hollywood for Warner Bros. and from 1938 to 1941 he became a 'Disney inspirational sketch artist' where his lush pastel drawings of forests and deer would serve as inspiration for the movie Bambi where he served as lead artist on the film. Wong retired in 1968 and began a second career of making kites which he would fly on the Santa Monica Pier. He is now 103 years old."

See your local DIESEL to inquire about the availability of the catalog.


2) "Cat in an empty apartment," by Wislawa Szymborska



3) Journalism lost another great this week with the tragic death of Matthew Power while on assignment in Uganda. The New York Times obituary perhaps says it best: “He was always searching for the human truth beneath the sorry facts." In remembrance of Power as a friend and in celebration of his work, Harper's Magazine is granting free access to many fine essays he published in their pages. All are well worth your time, though my personal favorite is "Mississippi Drift," about his time spent on the Mississippi River with a collective of anarchists.

Weekly Links: To What or Whom is the Artist Responsible?

(1) Stacia L. Brown's essay reflecting on the Oscar-winning success of Lupita Nyong'o, "When a (Comparatively) Carefree Blackgirl Wins An Oscar," will get you thinking.



 "While I don’t get the impression that Nyong’o, having spent the last two years of her life immersing herself in study and portrayal of the American slave experience, would hold the same perception of American blackness as Adichie initially did, it is safe to say she can still hold herself aloft from it. For her, blackness, in a context of white American oppression, is a role. It is not intrinsic to her identity. [...] I already know what Hollywood will try to make her. I know the gradations of blackness they will implore her to learn. But I do not know how she will resist. I do not know what she herself will teach. But she is entering the field with just enough privilege and confidence to inspire my hope that she will do just that: instruct rather than simply accept — and learn from black actresses (rather than white directors) how best to navigate this space."


(2) I'm too afraid to look at how many times I've gone on about Karl Ove Knausgaard in this space. But hey . . . as you can see in this recent piece in the Guardian ("Norway's Proust and a life laid painfully bare"), he gives good copy. Volume three of his absolutely stellar (& provocatively titled) memoir project, My Struggle, will be available in May. Plenty of time to catch up on volumes one and two

"The critical reading of the texts always resulted in parts being deleted. So that was what I did. My writing became more and more minimalist. In the end, I couldn't write at all. For seven or eight years, I hardly wrote. But then I had a revelation. What if I did the opposite? What if, when a sentence or a scene was bad, I expanded it, and poured in more and more? After I started to do that, I became free in my writing. Fuck quality, fuck perfection, fuck minimalism. My world isn't minimalist; my world isn't perfect, so why on earth should my writing be?"


(3) Cory Doctorow has been blowing minds for years in his sci-fi novels. His recent essay for Locus Online, "Cold Equations and Moral Hazard," isn't fiction, but it is no less incendiary. Here he blows the lid off what he sees as the responsibilities of our storytellers, and what's at stake when they don't meet them. 

"The thing about lifeboat rules is that they are an awfully good deal for lifeboat captains.

"Even saints get exasperated with other humans from time to time. What a treat it would be if the rest of the world would just realize that what’s best for you is simply the best course of action, period. That’s the moral hazard in cold equations, the existential crisis of lifeboat rules. If being in a lifeboat gives you the power to make everyone else shut the hell up and listen (or else), then wouldn’t it be awfully convenient if our ship were to go down?

"Every time someone tells you that the environment is important, sure, but we can’t afford to take a bite out of the economy to mitigate global warming, ask yourself what’s out of the frame on this cold equation. Every time you hear that education is vital and taking care of the poor is our solemn duty, but we must all tighten in our belts while our lifeboat rocks in the middle of the precarious, crisis-torn economic seas, ask yourself whether the captain of our lifeboat had any role in the sinking of the ship."


Cry "Havoc!" & Let Loose the Tournament of Books


Are you a sports fan? Maybe an ambivalent observer? Whatever your position or persuasion -- whether you're a shooting guard whose shot rarely falls or a championship parade party-pooper -- if you're reading this chances are good you've imagined, in a feverish dream or daytime diversion, your favorite books lacing up, trash-talking, and competing against one another. I'm sensing some shaking heads. Bear with me, metaphors are wont to run wild -- they have their own March Madness.

That's right, fellow page-flippers, it's Tournament of Books time! [cue the dramatic music]

This is the tenth year of the Tournament, which means (if all the ancient oracles are to believed), the winner will enlarge in size such as to destroy a city the size of Oakland. I might've misunderstood the prophecy, though. (Short version for the uninitiated: sixteen of the past year's best and brightest novels are seeded and progress to a winner-take-all championship by way of quirky reviews written by some of the best and brightest reviewers.)

City-destroying destruction notwithstanding, you should definitely follow the tournament HERE.

Ongoing now is an epic play-in round, refereed by the great Geraldine Brooks:



You'll have to click the image to find out the victor! 

The opening round kicks off March 6. See below for what you can look forward to.

March 6 -- The Luminaries v. Hill William (Rachel Fershleiser)
March 7 -- A Tale for the Time Being v. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Mat Johnson)
March 10 -- The Good Lord Bird v. The Tuner of Silences (Sarah Schulman)
March 11 -- The Signature of All Things v. The Dinner (Roger D. Hodge)
March 12 -- The Lowland v. Eleanor & Park (Jami Attenberg)
March 13 -- The Son v. At Night We Walk in Circles (John McElwee)
March 14 -- The Goldfinch v. Long Division (Héctor Tobar)
March 17 -- [Pre-ToB Playoff Winner] v. The People in the Trees (John Green)

All of these titles are available for purchase online through DIESEL or in any of our four locations! We'll be reporting on the tournament all month.

Celebrating a Life, Reading Diagrams, and Thinking About Charts

(1) We lost one of our great storytellers last week when Mavis Gallant passed away. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of her superb Paris Stories. In the meantime, you can watch her here in conversation with Jhumpa Lahiri.



(2) I defy you not to get a twitchy purchasing-finger looking at this gorgeous collection of Reed-Kellogg diagrams of famous novels' first sentences designed by the folks at Pop Chart Labs




(3) The 2013 VIDA count was released last week to much deserved hullabaloo. If you're unfamiliar, the folks at VIDA are interested in holding editors and publications accountable for their (often quite shocking) disparities between male and female representation. As much as one might wish to hope good writing should somehow be genderless . . . well, let's just call that a pretty bloodless perspective, shall we, and leave it at that. 



Weekly Links: Novelty Knows No Bounds



1) New York-based poet Lucy Ives is contributing this month to the Poetry Foundation's bookmark-and-read-this-daily blog, Harriet. Each post thus far has been interesting, but especially so her most recent one on "Novelty."

"Were it not for my propensity to become inconsolably and sometimes hysterically dissatisfied by the definitions and descriptions—composed by individuals otherwise pretty much miraculously good at writing things—of the ways and reasons writing should get done, I would probably be living a full and productive life. As it stands, it’s possible that my life has been ruined by literature; more specifically, by something called poetry. It seems even more ludicrous that such a state of affairs has come to pass when one considers the afore-suggested fact that I have no idea what poetry is, much less, historically speaking, what it was."


2) NYRB Classics is releasing a new edition of William H. Gass's audacious philosophical ode to the color blue, On Being Blue. "What's so interesting about that?" you might be wondering. Michael Gorra's introduction sets the table wonderfully for Gass' verbal feast: (via NYRBlog)

"Gass has an ear like a Pantone chart, exquisitely alert to the semitones of sound and sense, fifty red words here and a hundred greenies over there. His blues themselves are enough to swallow you down. Consider the book’s first sentence, with its rattletrap inventory of some few of the things that particular color can be:

'Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit—dumps, mopes, Mondays—all that’s dismal—low-down gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?)….'

"It continues for a full page."


3) Feasts fit for Hemingway! (via The Millions)

"[P]ractical lessons lurk even in the most quintessentially modern texts. Ernest Hemingway’s 'Big Two-Hearted River,' the last story in his 1925 collection In Our Time, is essentially an instruction guide for camping and fishing. In it, Hemingway’s stand-in character Nick Adams goes on a solo fishing trip, seeking release from the past. The 'hard work' of hiking to his campsite pleases him: 'He felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs.' [. . .] I decided to test the theory by treating “Big Two-Hearted River” like an instruction manual: I would cook every “recipe” it contains.


4) Zora Neale Hurston on Zombies?


Links Aplenty: The Good and Bad of Doing Easy and Reading Elite

1) William S. Burroughs two weeks in a row! But, hey, what can I say, his influence endures. After posting last week's video, somebody sent a link to his wildly instructive, maybe downright wise, essay, "Doing Easy," and I knew I had to share.

"Remember every object has its place. If you dont [sic] find that place and put that thing there it will jump out at you and trip you or rap you painfully across the knuckles. It will nudge you and clutch at you and get in your way. Often such objects belong in the wastebasket but often its just that they are out of place. Learn to place an object firmly and quietly in its place and do not let your fingers move that object as they leave it there. When you put down a cup separate your fingers cleanly from the cup. Do not let them catch in the handle and if they do repeat the movement until fingers separate clean. If you dont [sic] catch that nervous finger that won’t let go of that handle you may twitch hot tea across the Duchess."



2) Over at the New Yorker, George Packer asks "Is Amazon good for books?" His answer (SPOILER ALERT, it's basically "Are you {bleeping} kidding, of course it's not!") is perhaps of less importance than his studied, patient reasoning. We very highly recommend you give this a look. 





3) More media people asking questions. This time it's Laura Miller at Salon wondering "Is the literary world elitist?

"Intellectual insecurity is, alas, a pervasive problem in the literary world. You can find it among fans of easy-to-read commercial fiction who insist (on very little evidence) that the higher-brow stuff is uniformly fraudulent and dull, and you can find it among those mandarin bibliophiles who dismiss whole genres (on equally thin evidence) out of hand. One of the favorite gambits of people secretly uncertain about their own taste is identifying some popular book of incontestably lower quality than their own favorites and then running all over the Internet posting extravagant takedowns of it and taunting its fans. Yeah, I’m not crazy about “Fifty Shades of Grey,” either, but I’m not going to invest that much energy in proclaiming this sentiment to the world. To do so suggests you’re less interested in championing good writing than you are in grabbing any chance to feel superior to somebody else."

(Slipping my take under Miller's, so do what you want with it, but how nice would it be if more people felt as indignant, morally or aesthetically, to the abuses of an elite with, you know, real power? Ahem . . . stepping away from soapbox before I slip off.)

Links in Search of a Unifying Theme

1) Happy 100th, William S. Burroughs. Well, as happy as you'd ever have wanted it to be anyway. When looking to celebrate Burroughs with a video clip, there are several prime ones to choose from. His Thanksgiving prayer, for example, is for those who are not so faint of heart. I was, however, especially keen to find this interview between him and literary comrade-in-arms, Kathy Acker (made all the more poignant for having been conducted months before both of their deaths).


(2) In her two novels, Telex From Cuba and (most recently) The Flameflowers, Rachel Kushner proved herself to be a prodigiously gifted writer. In a recent fascinating interview with The Quietus, she points to her influences:

"I'm pretty inspired by Bolaño, it's true. It was somehow though only the second time I read The Savage Detectives that I saw him tear a kind of hole in story-telling to tell more stories, and then more inside those, all the while, keeping this very steady tone. His technique is still a bit mysterious to me, but maybe I felt a more confirmed permission, if you will, to let other characters take over the narrative from the narrator. DeLillo has also been someone I greatly admire. But there are many others: Anne Carson, Joan Didion (her novels, not her essays), Denis Johnson, William Gaddis (dead, but possibly still "contemporary?"). I like Bret Easton Ellis, and I like Michel Houllebecq, but I don't think either's influence is explicitly detectable in my work."


(3) This is too heartbreaking to say much about. Just this: rest in more peace than you could find here, Philip Seymour Hoffman