June 2011



Dear Reader,

We hope you enjoy this latest newsletter of bookseller reviews and events happening at our stores. We have joined with Algonquin Books and four wonderful indie bookstores around the country to present the Free Beer Tour at our Oakland store on June 9th -- come one, come all! Books and beer share a long history and we are celebrating that tradition by jump-starting the summer with three Algonquin authors, Lagunitas beer, and our sensational neighbors, booksellers, and publishers. Don't miss the party!

Please check our event listings for the Free Beer Tour and all the other, more sober events we are having in the coming weeks. From the latest fiction and poetry, to books on psychology, Tibetan Buddhism, health, cooking, and surfing, we have a wide range of fun and fascinating author readings coming this month. We look forward to having these community discussions with you.

See you in the store!
John and all Dieselfolk

Staff Pick Badge
Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781416599593
Published: Scribner - May 18th, 2010

Standing on a subway platform in New York City, Foy is overcome by the intolerable noise of four trains arriving simultaneously, brakes screeching. It is quite literally deafening, and from this point we follow Foy on his journey to not only catalog the decibel levels of daily life but also seek out the quietest possible places. What he finds is that the world is a much brighter, faster, louder, and more populated place than it has ever been before, and silence is becoming increasingly difficult to experience. From a sensory deprivation chamber to a snow-covered New England farmhouse at night, a deep mining shaft to an anechoic chamber, Zero Decibels makes a strong case that some of the most far-reaching effects of the industrial revolution are only now becoming apparent. -- Grant Outerbridge

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Heads You Lose Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780399157400
Published: Putnam Adult - April 5th, 2011

Recently, I was feeling the need for some wildly entertaining comic relief, and I struck gold with Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward. Lutz is the author of a humorous and fun mystery series about the Spellman family, Hayward an editor and poet. The collaborative effort of this team of real-life exes is wild, and insanely funny! With Lutz writing the odd-numbered chapters and Hayward the even, neither knows where the other is going with plotlines or characters, and their notes to each other in between chapters are just as -- if not more -- entertaining than the crime story itself: a murder mystery about pot-growing siblings Paul and Lacey Hansen, who find a corpse with a "lost head" on their property. Not wanting to draw attention to their abode -- and the flora it contains -- the siblings move the body to another location, only to find it returned to them a few days later (rather more fragrant this time). I can't recommend this romp enough for those who, like me, are looking for nearly 300 pages of fun! -- Linda Grana

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The Pale King Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316074230
Availability: Not On Our Shelves - Available within 1 to 5 Days
Published: Little, Brown and Company - April 15th, 2011

Suffering for decades from severe, intractable depression, David Foster Wallace brought it to an end in September 2008. He left behind anguished, heartbroken family, friends, and colleagues, as well as many hundreds of pages of his novel in progress. It had been more than 10 years since the publication of Wallace's iconic, hilarious Infinite Jest, and while during this period he published several marvelous collections of short stories and essays, this work was his consuming focus. Writer's block does not seem to have been a problem -- a hugely brilliant and complex mind possibly was. It was through this lens of chronic depression that I read The Pale King, which even without this perspective would have been the most complicated reading experience I've ever had. In a very moving note before the novel opens, Wallace's editor of many years, Michael Pietsch, describes the process by which he organized the material -- not just manuscript pages but thousands of Wallace's notes regarding possible directions characters and plot might go. He freely admits it would probably have been a very different novel had Wallace ultimately shaped and finished it. "Although not by any measure a finished work, I wanted those who appreciate David's work to be able to see what he had created -- to be allowed to look once more inside that extraordinary mind," Pietsch writes, in an introduction which also poses all the unanswerable questions any thoughtful reader might have. Likewise, publishing many of Wallace's notes at the end was a masterstroke.

Only Wallace could have conceived of a novel whose overarching theme is sadness and boredom -- the stultifying effects of quotidian, repetitive existence -- and in the same work have created such startling, memorable moments and characters. Much of the book is set at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, circa 1985. One of Wallace's notes refers to "shifting points of view, structural fragmentations, willed incongruities," which seemingly might make a reader wanting a beginning, middle, and end run screaming from the room, but should actually have the opposite effect. The plot is part labyrinth (not maze), part Japanese puzzle box -- I started keeping a log of characters' appearances and disappearances not to control meaning but to join in the action.

Wallace was creating a novel of ideas, many of which I have scarcely grasped, but his way of making you look at something really deeply changes you and your world view. Is that too hyperbolic? I don't think so. It is often those exquisite (and sometimes horrifying) descriptions of mental or verbal tics that only you have experienced that shake you from your solipsism and open your eyes more fully.

I was completely riveted by this novel: there are scenes I will return to over and over, some because they are so funny, others because they are brilliantly apt, still others for the power of Wallace's language to evoke the strange and wondrous in human existence. -- Margaret Simpson

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Reservation Blues Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802141903
Availability: Not On Our Shelves - Available within 1 to 5 Days
Published: Grove Press - February 7th, 2005

Imagine that famed blues musician Robert Johnson -- he of the alleged crossroads deal with the Devil -- never died, but instead wandered the earth before winding up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in the '90s. There he passes on his enchanted/cursed guitar to Thomas Builds-the-Fire, launching a series of chance meetings, assorted road trips, and an amazing explosion of music. Sherman Alexie's first novel is funny and lyrical and hopeful and tragic. Alexie's subtle use of magical realism is alluring, never alienating, as even when the narrative embarks on certain flights of fancy, he keeps the story grounded in his characters the entire time. What a wonderful, exhilarating book. -- Anna Kaufman

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The Fran Lebowitz Reader Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679761808
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - November 8th, 1994

I want to be Fran Lebowitz. I want to live in New York, wake up at two in the afternoon, smoke a pack of cigarettes before breakfast, walk to the tavern on the corner for lunch, have dinner with a writer friend I know I'm better than, and then prove it to my typewriter until four in the morning. Okay, so maybe I don't want to be Fran Lebowitz. But I do want to be her friend (the one she feels she's better than). But since our friendship won't happen until I get to New York, I'll gladly settle for reading her. Fran Lebowitz is the quintessential New York writer: witty, snarky, and definitely not afraid of her own opinions. She most likely had a blast being the subject of Martin Scorsese's HBO documentary Public Speaking, where we get to know a truly entertaining mind, always funny and capable of being shatteringly profound every now and then. Though not lacking in coldness and cynicism, the writing of Fran Lebowitz contains just the right amount that I find myself agreeing with it all. -- Geo Ong

Staff Pick Badge
The Art of the Racing Motorcycle: 100 Years of Designing for Speed Cover Image
By Phillip Tooth, Jean-Pierre Praderes (Photographs by)
ISBN: 9780789322135
Availability: Not On Our Shelves - Available within 1 to 5 Days
Published: Universe - March 22nd, 2011

The Art of the Racing Motorcycle is a wonderful book, perfect as a gift for fathers who are especially gear-minded. Skilled action photographer Jean-Pierre Praderes and Phillip Tooth have compiled a wonderful survey of motorcycle racing and the visual evolution of racing bikes, including early, overtly-mechanical death machines; Britannia's first-place pedigreed Triumphs; quirky Italian exotics of the '70s; and more. Motorcycle racing navigates a perfect and deadly equilibrium of form and function, and this book beautifully describes the seduction of speed in one of its most enduring and mesmerizing incarnations. It makes a great embellishment for any workbench, nightstand, or library! -- Cameron Carlson

Staff Pick Badge
Little Beauty Cover Image
By Anthony Browne, Anthony Browne (Illustrator)
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ISBN: 9780763639594
Published: Candlewick - September 23rd, 2008

This is the classic "gorilla meets and falls in love with an innocent creature only to drive said creature away with its fiery temper" story. However, the most impressive aspect of this book is not the storyline but the illustrations. As depicted by Browne, it is excruciatingly sad when the lonely, innocent-faced gorilla communicates, through sign language, "I want a friend." Browne has an incredible talent for capturing the raw emotion of loneliness -- and, eventually, joy, fear, and regret. At first Beauty, the kitten the gorilla wants to befriend, is a reluctant companion, but in no time the pair do everything together. Luckily the story has a happy twist at the end -- otherwise I don't think I would be able to look at the gorilla's honest face without tearing up. -- Elise Clarkson