Chatter's blog

January's Bookseller of the Month


Our Bookseller of the Month for January is Cameron Carlson. Each month, we ask a staff member a few questions about their relationship with books, and reading in general. Below are Cameron's responses.

1. What kind of reader are you?

I read everything, mostly nonfiction; history, 
journals, philosophy, and religious texts. I also enjoy non-American 
literature and American Noir. I read several books at once. I'm not sure 
how many I'm currently making my way through but definitely four books 

2. Name three favorite titles that came out in the last three years.

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq, People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry, and 
The Tiger by John Vaillant

3. What reading experience surprised you recently?

I expected Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory to be sort of 
nihilistic like Bret Easton Ellis' writing, based on his reputation, but I 
find it very honest and compassionate. Also, I picked up Patrick White's 
Voss, which I knew nothing about and was floored by his dense, 
medical precision with emotional language.

4. What upcoming book are you looking forward to?

The next book that I would buy based on an author's reputation, would 
be John LeCarre, out of curiosity. I think James Ellroy was undertaking a 
new series. Also, John Jeremiah Sullivan.

5. If you could spend a day with one living author, who would it be and why?

This is a difficult question for me to answer because I prefer to spend 
time with people I know well, and having interviewed some authors in the 
past, know that I am incapable of asking a fascinating, observant, and 
intelligent question in the moment. So this would have to be like who 
would I want to hang out with in a bar or in a storm shelter for a couple 
hours. Jim Harrison or Lydia Davis. Definitely Umberto Eco or James 
Salter. Joan Did's. Zadie Smith is really beautiful. Really anyone, now 
that I think about it.

Women Who Raised Me: Episode Three



I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I grew up with a wonderful, attentive mother. Super parents, both. Really. But a young girl and developing bibliophile requires a whole host of literary mothers to show her the way. It takes a village.

Episode Three: Ursula Hegi

The year is 2002 and I am in the eighth grade. That's the top of the middle school heap, folks. And, at thirteen, I'm feeling as grown up as I've ever felt (peaked too soon). My English teacher is young and full of radical, anti-establishment ideas about the futility of benchmarks and we have rallied around her in the revolutionary spirit and burned our spelling workbooks. She tacked a list of banned books to the wall and had many of them in her room to loan out; I could mainline the inflammatory literary smut they wouldn't keep in the middle school library. My first selection? Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi.

War, sex, Nazism, dwarfism, and a librarian heroine? What's not to love? And, until this moment, I had read only young adult fiction, never something so complex and beautifully written. Not to say that young adult authors can't be masters of craft, but Hegi is particularly daring and shocking. The story is about both Trudi, a dwarf woman reconciling her otherness in World War II-era Germany, and the greater implications of Nazism on the lives of Trudi and the members of her town. I want to make this clear: it blew my mind. Hegi opened me up to a number of great novelists that year--Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway--things that I didn't think I was ready to read because no one had ever told me it was okay.   


Next Time: I find out that women write the best horror.


Read Episode Two: Kate DiCamillo

Read Episode One: Maud Hart Lovelace


Three Good Things: Presents, Presents, Presents



1. Best part of the holidays? Love and togetherness, of course. The second best part? The freedom to just tell people that you want certain things from them.

Check out these great DIESEL picks for your wish list!

2. 'Tis also a grand season for mail. I love the packages of candy, tins of wild-flavored popcorn, chocolate fruits, cured meats--CHEESE. Best of all are the Christmas cards. More than you ever wanted to know about your college friends' illnesses accompanied by a photo of the whole family in white linen.

Read this article about Bill McMillen, a man who has taken the art of the Christmas card to a new level. He and his wife send out a new holiday novella each year.  

3. Feel no distress, this holiday season, as you shop for those loved-ones who love their e-readers! Here's the breakdown, from Book Patrol, on how E-Books and Print Books Can Coexist. And, remember, if you want to gift eBooks, gift with Kobo

Women Who Raised Me: Episode Two



I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I grew up with a wonderful, attentive mother. Super parents, both. Really. But a young girl and developing bibliophile requires a whole host of literary mothers to show her the way. It takes a village.

Episode Two: Kate DiCamillo

It's the year 2000 in Lafayette, California. I've been reading the Series of Unfortunate Events and wielding my new vocabulary as best a ten-year-old possibly could. Too much Daniel Handler has made me a little rough around the edges, so my mother has given me a book by a woman, Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo. This is obviously a girl book for girls and I protest, but mom points out that there's a dog on the cover, which would make it a dog book, and that might be okay.

The story is about a ten-year-old girl, Opal, who has just moved to Florida with her emotionally distant father and befriends a rascal sort of dog, who she names Winn Dixie (after the supermarket). Having myself recently moved across the country, to the vast and lonely California, I had that first taste of seeing myself in the characters of a novel. As she lived I could see myself live. As she made choices, I weighed the equivalent conflicts in my own life. And when she thought that maybe Winn Dixie had run away, I cried and cried, right along with Opal. DiCamillo writes with empathy and an understanding of the emotional landscape of a child. She changed my view, at that young age, of what a novel could do, because it suddenly became something more than a form of entertainment. 


Next Time: I get my hands on a list of banned books.


The Melville Summer



My favorite reading experience was during the summer of 1976, after my first year of college. I was living at home, working, hanging out with friends and all that, but when I wasn't doing those things I was reading Moby Dick. My sister had graduated from college and moved to Kansas City, so I took over her room which was larger than mine, with a dormer in front. I put an Indian bedspread over the entrance to the dormer, moved a small bookcase into it along with an old armchair our dog had chewed the wooden arms of, which my parents were going to throw away. With a floor lamp and my stereo and records I was set. All summer, when the time was right, I'd put a record on, sit in the chair and slowly, deliciously, read Moby Dick. My memory now is that this lasted all summer and all I actually remember of that summer is the supreme pleasure of being in my little cubbyhole surrounded by warm light, books, and good music and reading to my heart's content.

--John Evans




DIESEL A.V. Club: Adaptation Trailers



Great things are happening. Great, big, star-studded things are happening at a theater near you. Life of Pi is finally becoming a movie. Watch the trailer, below, it looks like an epic, Dali-inspired acid trip. Then there's The Hobbit, the closest thing to a cinematic sure-thing we could hope for--Peter Jackson's cup runneth over. And finally, the adaptation I talk about at least twice a day, Cloud Atlas. How can it work? How can it possibly work??!

Also look out for: Anna Karenina, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Great Gatsby, and The Bell Jar. It would also seem that the second part of the Breaking Dawn movie is coming out in a few weeks...

1. Life of Pi.


2. The Hobbit.


3. Cloud Atlas.



Papa Hemingway




Ernest Hemingway is one of those ancient relics of English class that you always hear about growing up, but never actually read in a meaningful context. Sure, there are snippets and excerpts in the textbooks, but they're necessarily sterilized for consumption by public school students. You're fed just enough as a kid to know he is a Big Deal, there are cats named after him!

My only real, tangible contact with Hemingway while growing up was watching The Old Man and the Sea on the couch at my grandma's house during some holiday function. My dad was there watching it with me and he said that it was one of his favorite movies. Being somewhere between eight and twelve years old, I completely didn't understand the story. Spencer Tracy on a tiny boat with a big, dead fish that sharks are eating. Okay, whatever. I sat through it, though, because my dad isn't the kind of person to whom you can say "I don't like this thing you just said you loved.” Not that he gets angry, it's the opposite, his disappointment in you is crushing. I learned this early.

My second major encounter with Hemingway was in college. We were handed a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xeroxed copy of The Snows of Kilimanjaro to read. For those unfamiliar, it's a short story about a white guy in Africa dying of gangrene he got while on safari there. This is an offensively obtuse summarization, but the point is that I was still in the wrong mindset for this whole Hemingway thing until I got to this passage:

He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook. What was this? A catalogue of old books? What was his talent anyway? It was a talent all right but instead of using it, he had traded on it. It was never what he had done, but always what he could do. And he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil.

My blood ran cold. Seriously. I read it again. And again. And again. I've all but memorized it in the years since that day in class. It was like Hemingway looked me in the eye and called me out on all the bullshit that I told myself about myself regarding what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to go with it. This was a new, fresh sort of horror that I hadn't had any concept of until that very moment.

He had destroyed his talent by not using it.

100 Fluid Ounces of Theraflu




When I was sixteen I flew to London to visit my sister at graduate school. It was June and I had been in Europe with my sophomore history class on a tour of many major cities and their churches. We finished in Paris. My classmates’ flight back home to San Francisco left at 6:30AM and my flight to Heathrow left at 9:30PM, so all I had to do was sit still for fifteen hours. Before I left home, weeks before, I had stolen my mom’s copy of 100 Years of Solitude for hormonal reasons.

Europe made me vaguely uncomfortable. Everything smelled weird; everybody knew how to dress themselves. I also thought it was pretty inconsiderate of my teachers to exist outside of the classroom, sort of like when you meet someone famous, and realize they’re short and don’t actually wear leather: you don’t feel ‘let down’, you just sort of feel guilty. Once I met a hungover Sean Hunter from Boy Meets World in Sebastopol, but that wasn’t my fault either.

Sixteen is an important age for most boys because it lasts well into our twenties. At the time I think I was mostly re-reading The Lord of the Rings, while occasionally cleansing my palate with stuff like Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Two Years Before the Mast. I will always love fantasy and adventure fiction because they encourage me to feel set-upon, which is a gateway feeling to other feelings, like self-importance and romantic impatience, and when I combine them with other substances I can usually even heighten these effects. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly from a young age. But, even at sixteen, I think part of me realized that experimentation is also an important part of growing up, and so that morning I was only a little surprised to find that it was 100 Years of Solitude, rather than the 900-page Dragonbone Chair, looking up at me from under my Dixie cup of orange juice in the downstairs café of Charles de Gaulle.