The California Primary is next Tuesday, and after a year of campaign coverage and advertising it occurs to me, in a kind of pipe-dream reverie, how wonderful it would be if almost all of the money spent on campaigning went to sustaining an educated electorate. I imagine most of all of us would agree that glossy fliers, 30-second spots, and email spam is not the best way to understand policies, principles or character, or helpful in choosing elected officials.
That way, too, candidates could save their time fundraising, and instead educate themselves on all the issues they hope to become responsible to and explore more creative solutions to the considerable problems facing localities, states, and this wide nation. Places for public discussion, which indie bookstores still insist on being, are few and far between, as are comfortably impassioned conversations with those who don't share our views. Some of this is just our exchanging media-supplied soundbites, sharpened by news writers, to create sensational stories we will watch and read. Some of it is we've isolated ourselves in our internet bubbles, communing only with those with our tastes and ideologies.
One of the pleasures of being a bookseller is having the perpetual opportunity to have a public discussion across all boundaries, which furthers our civility and helps us to educate each other beyond ourselves. Whether it is philosophies, real-life stories, political views, facts or beliefs, bookstores are engaging places to explore new ideas and experiences, both in the books to be found here and in the people to receive recommendations from. Let alone all the events, discussions, book groups, and book parties that arise here, open to all, and full of animated converse. Come and join in!
See you in the store and at the polling place.
John & all DIESELfolk
Basma Abdel Aziz's background as psychiatrist working with torture victims at the Nadeem center in Egypt gives her a deep insight into the effects of torture and oppression on human beings and the culture at large. (The Nadeem center, incidentally, which was recently raided by the Sisi government in Egypt.)
The book opens in an unspecified Middle Eastern country after an uprising referred to only as "the Disgraceful Events" has been violently put down by the government. A building with a large gate is erected. The Gate will provide the necessary paperwork and approval for all, procedures or summons. The only problem is that the Gate never opens. A line forms the length of several city blocks. One of the main characters, Yehya, must wait in line to get authorization to have a bullet removed from his side -- a bullet that is not supposed to exist, as the government denies that any shots were fired during the disgraceful events.
Basma captures something in these characters that is often overlooked by others tackling similar subjects: the quality of waiting. Waiting for things to "return to normal," amidst confusion, violence, and the absurdity of a bureaucratic system attempting to create the idea of a normal way of life that will in all probability never come.
Carmen Maria Machado, a reviewer for NPR said, "The Queue is the newest in this genre of totalitarian absurdity: helpless citizens — some hopeful, some hopeless — struggling against an opaque, sinister government."
The Queue represents the best in resistance writing. Both subtle and filled with wry humor this book will undoubtedly become a modern classic.— Terry S.
Smoke is a literary alternative history novel. Besides Philip Pullman, I kept thinking of Mark Twain's radical mashup Mysterious Stranger No. 44. The writing matches Graham Greene's and Somerset Maugham's for it's beauty, inventiveness, and immediacy. It is a twisting, swirling moral tale of power, sin, belief, and societal delusion which keenly echoes both Victorian England and our own culture now. Did I say it was fun? It's fun! Entertaining, literary, haunting novel of ideas -- sounds like perfect reading to me. — John E.
Numbers are the markers of human life: dates, ages, addresses, social security numbers, bank accounts. With numbers we seek to sketch the outlines of -- or worse, define absolutely -- an identity. Memories will fade and stories warp, but records can indicate that so and so was born on this day, that he graduated on this date, that he lived this many years. By tracing the record of when and where, we can attempt to reconstruct a life. But of course there is more to a life than the simple record of place and time. What is a life of a hundred years, marred and disfigured too young, a life of anger and bitterness compared to the brief four months of a young, passionate love affair? How does one truly measure the value of a life lived? Audin doesn’t presume to answer, but her mesmerizing first novel poses the question with artful grace. -- Chris P.
Adored by the titanic likes of Octavio Paz, Roberto Bolaño, and Julio Cortazar, amongst many others, it is something of a mystery why Alejandra Pizarnik has remained largely unknown in the United States. If you’ve been privy to her for as long as you can remember and cherish your private holding of her as you might any rare treasure, I apologize. For these poems, quite simply, must be experienced.
(Another due apology: to the friends who have been receiving, during the darkest parts of the evening, text-messaged photos of her poems, with attending exclamation marks in lieu of sufficient commentary.)
There is a prismatic quality to Pizarnik’s language. Her poems are often simple, in the most immediate sense. Each resembles to me a discrete solid thing — as though you might reach through the page and touch it, as one might a stone. But in her tragic pursuit, by way of poetry, of a silence that can only ever be put into language, we find a stone that refracts light in unexpected ways.
Similarly, though the comparisons between Pizarnik and Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath seem concrete and helpful pegs for our understanding, something happens as we read — our Anglo eyes darting to the Spanish, mouthing her words alongside their translation. We are exposed to (and perhaps by) Pizarnik’s sense of a profound (because it is shared) betrayal that is an indelible part of the human experience. Her ultimate vision is a dark one, to be sure. But by the light of her brilliant language we see something in the dark that is not of the dark. So we keep reading, knowing full well it could be but a trick of the eyes. -- Brad J.
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, but some of the best are the ones you never expected. Isabel, a mom and unhappily married, never planned on befriending the 90-something, recently widowed Edward, but that is indeed what happened, (Edward however, was not surprised at all.) The two bonded over the simple, yet meticulously prepared, meals that Edward delights in making for company. Over the years, Isabel slowly transforms, with Edward's sage and subtle advice, into the woman she unconsciously wanted to be. Edward, who never dreamed he wanted to live without his dearly departed wife Paula, discovers there is still much to live for, though nothing can ever take the place of her.
This is a charming story, perfect for fans of Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night and Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. The recipes will no doubt have your mouth watering. -- Cheryl R.
This book is completely over the top with the most creative, decadent, bizarre burgers, condiments and sides you've ever seen. The varieties are astounding and include meat, poultry, fish and veggie burgers -- there's even a watermelon patty. The buns take a walk on the wild side, too, with fried mac-n-cheese buns, cheeseburger pop-tarts, waffles, biscuits and the insane potato-chip crusted foie gras gougeres. Hold the ketchup and mustard, give these tasty toppers a whirl: bacon jam, kimchi ketchup, black garlic aioli, or boozy cheese sauce. Thirsty? Sure, you can make the bacon-infused bourbon, but how about a cocktail with White Castle hamburger rye? (Who would have thought!?)
The kitschy slang descriptions can get a bit tedious, but the recipes include lots of tips and easy to follow directions. There are full-page, color photos throughout that will make your mouth water. So fire up your grill, break out the cast-iron pan, get your deep fryer ready, and get cooking! -- Cheryl R.
All of Marilyn's friends have monsters, but Marilyn doesn't have hers. She brushes her hair to be appealing to her monster, but wonders if her monster is invisible or hiding. Wonderfully illustrated, this book would make a great read aloud for ages 3-5. -- Mia W.