Chatter's blog

Let's Sip Some Sentences

One needn't have an excuse so humdrum & ordinary as a birthday to quote the great William H. Gass. But hey, if you're lucky, you only turn ninety once. And today is Willie's turn! So let's raise our glasses high, friends, and sip some sentences with him.

“[The ideal reader] is skilled and generous with attention, for one thing, patient with longeurs [sic - intentional?], forgiving over error and the author’s self-indulgence, avid for details . . . ah, and a lover of lists, a twiddler of lines. Shall this reader be given occasionally to mouthing a word aloud or wanting to read to a companion in a piercing library whisper? yes; and shall this reader be one whose heartbeat alters with the tenses of the verbs? that would be nice; and shall every allusion be caught like a cold? no, eaten like a fish, whole, fins and skin; . . . oh, [the ideal reader] will be a kind of slowpoke on the page, a sipper of sentences, full of reflective pauses, thus a finger for holding its place should be appointed; a mover of lips, then? just, so, yes. large soft moist ones, naturally red, naturally supple, but made only for shaping syllables, you understand, for singing . . . singing. And shall this reader, as the book is opened, shadow the page like a palm? yes, perhaps that would be best (mind the strain on the spirit, though, no glasses correct that); and shall this reader sink into the paper? become the print? and blossom on the other side with pleasure and sensation . . . from the touch of mind, and the love that lasts in language? yes. Let’s imagine such a being, then. And begin. And then begin.”

– Preface to In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

Close readers & clickers of links will notice that the wonderful NYRB Classics is  breathing new life into Gass' indispensable collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country this fall. Sentences are dribbling down my chin at the thought!

Congratulations, Maxine Hong Kingston!

Enormous congratulations are due Oakland’s own (&, let’s be real, she’s also one of Diesel’s beloved customers) Maxine Hong Kingston, for being awarded the 2013 National Medal of Arts.  Awards are rarely so deserving as this one.

For a wonderful interview from a few years back, where she reflects on what it means for an artist and activist to age, see here.

A Day in the Life of Diesel: 25 Things Overheard

(1) "A bookstore!"
(2) "I'm so happy you're still here!"
(3) "Is Goldfinch out in paperback yet?"
(4) "I need coffee."
(5) "Do you have Americanah?"
(6) "I just want you to know, I tore up my Amazon Visa."
(7) "This is the store I was telling you about."
(8) "Do you have Americanah?"
(9) "Can I help you find anything?"
(10) "Do you have a bathroom for my son?"
(11) "Oh! I missed Geoff Dyer?!"
(12) "You really should sign up for our weekly newsletter."
(13) "Do you have a bathroom for my husband?"
(14) "Yup. I'm holding a copy in my hand. You want me to hold it for you?"
(15) "Where on earth is my husband?"
(16) "I'm looking for this book called Americanah. Have you heard of it?"
(17) "Look at all this H.D.!"
(18) "Who needs coffee?"
(19) "Is it true this used to be a bowling alley?"
(20) "Stop what you're doing and read this."
(21) "You didn't cry at A Fault in Our Stars? You're a monster!"
(22) "What do you know about this Norwegian author everybody's talking about?"
(23) "Which one of you wrote this shelf talker?"
(24) "This bottle of wine is not going to drink itself!"
(25) "C'mon, let's go in the bookstore!"

Three Links for Independence

(1) The Abbey Bookshop in Paris, France is mad as hell, and they aren't going to take it anymore.  Amazon, as you know, is a world-wide company. As such, it is also a world-wide threat to small businesses, whether it be an independent bookstore in Oakland or Oostend. Which is why we're so very enthusiastic about the Abbey Bookshop's recent "Pledge of the Independents": "In an effort to preserve the free and widest circulation of information and ideas, as well as the diversity, vitality and integrity of an increasingly uncompetitive and dehumanized book-trade, I pledge to buy my books mostly from independent bookshops, and above all without resorting to Amazon or its affiliates.

From their press release:

"Taking the 'Pledge of Independents' means spurning books from Amazon or its affiliates, and preferring independent bookshops over other suppliers. In return, customers will receive from the bookshop the maximum allowable discount on book purchases (5%), other concessions, and assistance in finding alternatives to Amazon.

City-hall statistics (see confirm Paris’ Latin Quarter has lost more than half its bookshops over the last 25 years. We are losing more than just neighborhood businesses and personal service, the greatest threat of Amazon’s near monopoly is the risk to our freedom of expression: already accused of tax optimization and degrading labor practices in Europe, Amazon is now also blocking sales of major publishers’ books (see recent dispute with Hachette U.S.). Cornering the market on selling cameras and clothes is one thing; controlling access to the printed word is another. We have arrived at an alarming point: authors and publishers are afraid to even speak out about Amazon because of their fears of reprisals.

Amazon’s prices come with a social, cultural, and fiscal cost. Now is the right time to act."

Liberté, Fratérnité, Egalité, mon amis.

(2) Javier Marias, one of Spain's most beloved authors, has seven very interesting reasons not to write a novel, and one very good reason to do so. All of which makes me wonder about the possibility of a similar piece about reading them. 

"Earlier, I said that fiction is the most bearable of worlds, because it offers diversion and consolation to those who frequent it, as well as something else: in addition to providing us with a fictional present, it also offers us a possible future reality. And although this has nothing to do with personal immortality, it means that for every novelist there is the possibility— infinitesimal, but still a possibility— that what he [sic] is writing is both shaping and might even become the future he [sic] will never see."

(3) Argentina's César Aira is like very few. Defying convention with each new book and embracing new forms at every turn, he is a store favorite. This interview with Peter Adolphsen at the Louisiana Literature Festival is a wonderful introduction.

Three Links: World Cup Edition

(1) There was much sadness in Diesel-land this week, with the United States men's soccer team falling to Belgium in one of the thrillers of the World Cup. Ah, but let's not hold it against our friends in the Lowlands of Western Europe. Without them we wouldn't have this transcendent cover by Nina Simone. Few imagined Jacques Brel's original could be rivaled. Ah, but like a late goal by an American in extra time, au contraire. 


(2) Speaking of the World Cup, that month every four years set aside for many of us to celebrate until the final whistle tells us it is time to sorrow, this is a striking bit of Facebook research.

Facebook has analyzed posts during the World Cup to see which countries celebrate goals the “loudest”—that is, add the most characters when typing the words “goal” in English, “gol” in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, “golo” in European Portuguese, and “tor” in German. (While other languages have their own written words for soccer goals—such as ゴール in Japanese or ประตู in Thai—Facebook says those are the only four where they saw “significant use of redundant characters in exuberant posts.”) 



Take from that what you will. 

(3) Jack Spicer's poem "The Sporting Life" isn't explicitly about soccer, but you who read this space know we're in the business of musing impressionistic and side-glancing stream-of-consciousness. Which is to say, we love excuses to quote writers we love.




Three Poems: Charles Wright

As you no doubt have heard, Charles Wright was recently named U.S. Poet Laureate. He is, it nearly goes without saying, very worthy. Here are three of our favorite poems by him, but we highly suggest you give his collections a look when you're next browsing our Poetry shelves







The Links of Summer

(1) The folks at Three Percent are celebrating World Cup soccer season in fine style by hosting the first annual World Cup of Literature. As you'll see when you click the tournament bracket to the left, what they have in mind is a 32-book knock-out tournament, with literary representatives from all the countries currently kicking and sweating in Brazil.

With a nod to the Morning News Tournament of Books, each “match” pits two books against one another, with the victor decided by a predetermined judge. I especially love this: "(No draws! Because we are America and America is about winning . . . .)" 

It's been great fun so far and a great introduction to world literature.


(2) Via Biblioklept, we have Flannery O’Connor's to-the-point assessment of Ayn Rand. 


(3) Looking for an accessible page-turning mystery that won't turn your brain to mush this summer? Look no further than William McIlvanney's "rediscovered" (in quotes because those in the know -- e.g., Ian Rankin -- have known about this forever, passing it to one another like a secret stone and whispering its title into ears like a hush-hush memory) underground classic, Laidlaw


Wonderful Night with Garrison Keillor

Diesel in Malibu had a wonderful time yesterday hosting (& photobombing -- we see you there, John Evans!) the legendary Garrison Keillor. Dick Van Dyke was, of course, charming in his introduction, which naturally encouraged Martin Sheen and Keillor to lead the store in a sing-along. It's not every day one gets to type that.

All this is to say Diesel, all four locations, host pretty amazing events you might want to keep an eye on! Be sure to sign up for your location's newsletter the next time you're at the store.

Get to Know a Bookseller's Shelf



Great books are a sad sight without great readers. Piled in the corner, they end up burdened by more dust than dog-eared or highlighted pages. We at Diesel are fortunate to have in our daily midst, as customers and coworkers, some of the greatest readers around. Case in point: longtime Oakland bookseller, Margaret Simpson

Margaret's reading tastes run diverse -- from picture books to young adult fiction to modern poetry to religious studies to contemporary literature, she's immersed herself in it all -- and this is one of the reasons we treasure her. (Another being her generosity when she's not reading!)

Time, as it does, though, is passing -- from new job to seasoned vet and now for her into retirement. With much sadness that she is leaving, partially offset by celebration of what she has meant to us all, this edition of "Get To Know a Bookseller's Shelf" (still haven't thought of a better title!) is in honor of Ms. Margaret Simpson. There'll never be another like ya at Diesel.


The World Misses You, Maya Angelou


As you no doubt have heard, we lost one of our great warriors and poets this week, Maya Angelou. We at Diesel are stung by this news, but take comfort that her legacy will endure long past the period of mourning.

There are, of course, many fine things one might read or view in homage to her, but I am particularly fond of the letter she wrote to her younger self a few years ago.

Dear Marguerite,

You’re itching to be on your own. You don’t want anybody telling you what time you have to be in at night or how to raise your baby. You’re going to leave your mother’s big comfortable house and she won’t stop you, because she knows you too well.

But listen to what she says:

When you walk out of my door, don’t let anybody raise you—you’ve been raised.

You know right from wrong.

In every relationship you make, you’ll have to show readiness to adjust and make adaptations.

Remember, you can always come home.

You will go home again when the world knocks you down—or when you fall down in full view of the world. But only for two or three weeks at a time. Your mother will pamper you and feed you your favorite meal of red beans and rice. You’ll make a practice of going home so she can liberate you again—one of the greatest gifts along with nurturing your courage, that she will give you.

Be courageous, but not foolhardy.

Walk proud as you are,

(from What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self)