There's been lots happening in DIESEL-land lately. We're always buzzing about this time of year, in preparation for the holidays -- the shelfs burgeoning with beautiful books. That's unchanged, but . . . well, let's face it, it's been a, let's call it "weird," year. We've lost musical legends. Political heroes. What's more, though the social and political landscape is always changing, the abruptness of it all this year has left many of us reeling. We won't just remember 2016 as weird or tough -- we'll be dealing with its consequences for a while.
It's a busy, anxious time, we know. Perhaps some top-notch book recommendations will take your mind momentarily off things electoral. See the link for the picks, but here's a word or two -- from the top to the bottom of the newsletter -- from John and Brad. (Reminder: you can use the links on the bottom-left of this page to sign up all our newsletters!)
Okay the season is upon us. No, not the election season, but the season of gathering together for large meals with extended family and friends. The season of gift-giving. This is so much fun in the bookstore -- readers looking for the finest, most unexpected, most desired books to give as gifts. The bounty of cookbooks that are released this time of year are filling our shelves awaiting readers' attentions for making delectable meals. Great gift books of all varieties abound in the store -- come in and peruse them!
I wanted to also draw a little attention to some writing that's been going on at DIESEL (please see Editor's Notes, below, for more). DIESEL bookseller and professional writer Aaron Bady has penned two worthy pieces recently: one was posted on Lithub -- Did Imbolo Mbue actually write the Great American Novel? (Lithub, by the way, is a great source for all things literary.) The other was an op-ed in the L.A. Times.
Check them out, along with all the other creative and imaginative events, book selection, display, and reviews radiating out of DIESEL this season.
John and all DIESELfolk
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Literary Hub published a piece of mine this week in their Bookselling in the 21st Century series, “From the Seminary to the Bookstore.” I feared what I’d submitted was overly confessional / personal. You who know me are maybe wondering: “Do you write anything else?” That’d be a fair question.
The response, however, has been as surprising as it has been moving. Readers seem (happily!) mostly to be looking past all the me in the story I tell, and are finding parts of themselves and their stories . . . whether traditional confessions still slip their tongues or have long done so between their fingers. Its publication coincided with a trade show in San Francisco, which occasioned people I barely knew — some not at all — to thank me for having written it. The clear emotional (or whatever) connection some have found in the piece has prompted me to throw braggadocio caution to the wind and tell others about it. Perhaps you, too, will find a bit of yourself in it.
I don’t like horror. I don’t read horror novels, I don’t watch horror movies and if I played video games, they wouldn’t be called Resident Evil. As a genre I find it boring, derivative, and generally lacking in imagination. “How is [insert murderous psychopath] going to gore, or mutilate, or terrorize the (flat and poorly written) characters?” Frankly, my dear…
And yet, as so many afflicted with the Netflix virus, I sat transfixed as the Duffer Brothers unraveled their nostalgia-horror story, Stranger Things. How clever! How Weird! “It’s like, if Spielberg [80’s Spielberg] gave David Lynch [any-era Lynch] a script and told him to go wild, but the whole thing still had to make sense, it would be Stranger Things!” I loudly shouted at baristas and joggers and other unfortunates in my neighborhood. Being late to the game, as I tend to be, I’m sure my already unasked for insights were even less interesting to people who had watched, talked about and moved on to the next thing weeks ago.
And now, what would otherwise have been a minor, behavioral aberration is starting to feel like a pattern. First I watched Stranger Things, then I read Slade House by David Mitchell. Before you judge me, I promise, I didn’t know it was a horror novel before I read it. Sure the summary on the back jacket says things like, “A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside,” or, “For those who find out, it’s already too late…”, but that could mean a lot of different things. It could be a sci-fi story about a house that transports you to another dimension, or a sword-and-sorcery tale of beleaguered knights becoming entrapped by an evil magician, or a whole host of others things it is decidedly not. For, as much as it pains me to admit to liking this type of thing, Slade House is a horror story. And a damn good one.
As far as I can tell, David Mitchell is a master of character writing. The quick and frequent changes in tone and voice he employs in Cloud Atlas make it a bewildering and delightful novel. The ability to embody so many different bodies, and ones that are fully realized, with all their depths and flaws and desires, is extremely difficult, especially when done in the space of a single novel. In Slade House, Mitchell pulls an even niftier trick and does the same thing in an even tighter corner, that of a novella. In fewer words, he is able to put us inside the heads of his menagerie of characters: a boy on the autism spectrum, an unsavory policeman, an awkward fresher and quite a few others. Each are real, in that they have histories from before the story began; they have motivations and behaviors which fit their own internal logic and never do their voices overlap or become confused; each are singular and clear. This is of course not even to mention the story’s baddies, a truly horrifying pair of siblings Mitchell must have borrowed from a Hannibal Lecter fever dream.
David Mitchell is a wonderful storyteller, and in Slade House he has taken the trappings of a stale genre and baked a delicious bread pudding; something reminiscent of its former self but chemically transformed into a sweeter (or more savory, if that’s your thing) version, better in smaller, infrequent servings.
This Halloween don’t be surprised if you see characters from Stranger Things traipsing through your neighborhood, if you happen to live in a neighborhood that 20-and-30-somethings frequent for nighttime festivities. And this evening, don’t be surprised if terrifying images make you question your perception of reality, if you happened to have read Slade House. -- David
It was inevitable, I suppose, that Elena Ferrante's true identity -- whatever that is -- would one day be uncovered. One would hope, though, that it would've been on her terms, as one's true identity -- again, whatever that is -- is rarely something that somebody owes another.
It was also inevitable that such a thing would cause conversation. Happily, I think, most people seem less interested in the Who behind the author than they are the Why behind the exposure. Among our favorite contributions to the chattering storm comes via a friend and neighbor in Oakland, Lili Loofbourow. We highly recommend you spend some time with her piece, "The outing of Elena Ferrante and the power of naming." It is a doozy.
The Washington Post recently reported on a National Endowment for the Arts study that found American adults aren't reading (novels, short stories, poetry or plays) like they used to.
Suffice it to say, that's kind of a bummer. What can we do about this?
- You're reading this, so presumably you're in the empathetic and long-living minority, so this one might be moot: keep reading!
- Give books as gifts! And not just any old book either. The books you give are a reflection not simply of what you think of somebody else (about their tastes, interests, etc.), but of how you want them to think of you. Book-giving is serious business, which is why we're trained professionals who can help.
- Talk to others about what you're reading! Look, everybody is watching Stranger Things, okay? That conversation is going going to peeter out before the steam on your coffee. The chats about the emotional depths of Laia Jufresa's storytelling in Umami or the ambitious density of Mauro Javier Cardenas' The Revolutionaries Try Again . . . those are going to get you very caffeinated.
- Tell us what you think! Didn't like a book, let us know and our suggestion algorithm (aka, listening skills + knowledge about books) will adapt accordingly. Loved a book, we definitely want to hear that.
- Get involved! Attending author readings/conversations is a great reminder that no matter your tastes, there's a community of people who share it (in all sorts of wild, weird, wonderful ways).
Aaron is one of our brand-new booksellers in Oakland, and he has a thing or two -- many more than that, even -- about international literature. When he's not at the store, you might find him in conversation with the likes of Jennifer Makumbi or Carmen Boullosa, or writing insightful commentary and reviews for OkayAfrica on books like Hisham Matar's The Return.
"Indeed, his novels are so close to his own life that at one point in The Return—as the two are boarding a plane to Libya—his mother asks a “mischievous question,” as he calls it: “Who’s returning? Suleiman el-Dewani or Nuri el-Alfi?” These are the names of the protagonists of his two novels, fictional versions of Matar himself that—in his mother’s very serious joke—were suddenly brought to life. After a life spent dreaming about return, and in his fiction, trying to imagine the truth of his lost father, The Return is Hisham Matar coming face to face with reality—or trying to—but finding it to be as ambiguous and depthless as any novel, an ocean without a floor."
Mr. John Evans himself took to the NPR airwaves with some summer reading guidance!
Mondays are one of Brad's days off, but that won't stop him from bookselling! Today's installment of "A Bookseller at Home" features Joy Williams' short story collection, Ninety-Nine Stories of God.
An added bonus this week: Joy Williams herself will be reading at the store in Oakland on Tuesday, July 19th at 7pm! Suffice it to say, I think, we're pretty excited!