Tag Archives: jon stich

On Our Nightstand, September 21st-27th

Here’s what we’re reading this week at Diesel!

Anna in Brentwood
Earth (The Book)
By Jon Stewart, et. al.
Written in the style of a guidebook for all the alien species who may have discovered our planet after we’ve destroyed ourselves, the followup to America (The Book) is hilarious…and just a little bit sad. But focusing on the hilarity–my favorite bit so far may be this description of Saturn: “God liked this planet. So he put a ring on it.”

Cameron in Malibu
By Ryszard Kapuscinski
Infamous Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski records his encounters with the Soviet Empire in this series of essays. Beginning with his father’s disappearance in Belarus, Kapuscinski describes the peculiarities of Central Asian satellite republics and the eventual fall of Soviet Russia.

Geo in Brentwood
Henry and June
By Anais Nin
A rather intimate (understatement?) look into Nin’s diaries reveals a provocative and racy account of sex, literature, and psychoanalysis.

Jon Stich in Oakland
Strange As This Weather Has Been
By Ann Pancake
Set in the West Virginia mountains, this novel details how the mining industry has helped to create unnatural disasters whose effects are described through a cast of characters. It reminds me a lot of Timothy Egan‘s The Worst Hard Time, writing and subject wise.

Thomas in Brentwood
Selected Poems
By Paul Verlaine
Un coup de pied au cul.
Une gifle dans le visage.
Un brise dans le coeur.

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We Are the Walrus


As you may have heard by now, the I Write Like widget is serious business: copy and paste some text into the box, and it’ll tell you which (for the most part white, male) author you write like. With 100% accuracy, of course! We started with some of our staff members (Anna = Vladimir Nabokov; Geo = Charles Dickens; Grant = James Joyce; Jon Stich = Kurt Vonnegut; Margaret = Ian Fleming; and Alison, Cheryl, John Evans, Kim and Thomas all = H.P. Lovecraft—wow we’re a morbid bunch). But then we got creative:

Did you know…?


*Pablo Neruda = Raymond Chandler!
*Michael Moore = Dan Brown
*President Obama’s inaugural speech = H.P. Lovecraft (that guy! so versatile)
*Darth Vader = Anne Rice
*Lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey = Ursula K. Le Guin
*Unabomber Manifesto = Stephen King
*Lyrics to “A Whole New World” in Aladdin = Mark Twain
*Jack Kerouac = David Foster Wallace = James Joyce = Grant. Duh.

Gosh, we’re thinking about the relationships between these writers in whole new ways! (Huh. That sounds like a line from Mark Twain…) We feel like we’ve learned something. Don’t you?

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On Our Nightstand, June 29th-July 5th

Here’s what we’re reading this week at Diesel!

Anna in Brentwood
A Single Man
By Christopher Isherwood
I never got a chance to see the Oscar-nominated film adaptation, but reading the descriptive, dreamlike, emotionally-charged novel, I don’t see how the experience could be made any more visceral.

Colin in Oakland
Guards! Guards!
By Terry Pratchett
I normally don’t read sci-fi/fantasy, and I thought I was too cool for Terry Pratchett. But it turns out he’s smarter than I am! This book is funny and witty and just really, really good. Consider me converted.

Geo in Brentwood
By Robert Walser
These 25 short pieces are the first English translations, selected from Walser’s six-volume German original. Walser printed these stories on tiny strips of paper, legible only through a magnifying glass or microscope. Luckily for us, they’ll been enlarged for our reading pleasure. This edition, however, includes facsimilies of both the original microscripts and the German texts.

John Evans
By Roberto Bolano
In a beautiful edition from New Directions — small format black and gold covers, without jacket, red endpapers, creamy paper and black ink — Antwerp is a poetic distillation of Bolano’s sensibility. Reading it slowly.

Jon Stich in Oakland
Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It
By Geoff Dyer
False advertising alert: this book is not actually about yoga. Instead it’s a collection of travel essays. Very funny, in that distinctly British sort of way.

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Another One Fights the Dust

Jon Stich in Oakland reports:

In the past four years of my employment at Diesel, I have seen far too many other indies go under.

Black Oak Books in North Berkeley, a location near Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard Collective, Cafe Gratitude, and other well-respected, well-mannered, and well-off establishments, went out of business in 2009 after years of struggling. Stacey’s Bookstore, located on Market Street in San Francisco near the Financial District, a store which had been at that location for 85 years, closed in 2009. A Clean Well Lighted Place For Books, located on Van Ness in San Francisco near the SF Opera House and City Hall, closed after 25 years in the summer of 2006. Cody’s Books, the iconic bookstore of Berkeley which had been around since 1956, its primary location a few blocks from what is considered to be one of the more prestigious and selective of the California universities, a bookstore which had fearlessly defended protesters of the Vietnam war and remained open despite extremist firebomb attacks in response to a display of Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses, closed its doors in 2006, with its other locations in San Francisco and West Berkeley to follow soon thereafter.

A meal at Chez Panisse is about $100 a plate. A ticket to the SF Opera is around the same. The estimated cost of living for an undergraduate on the UC Berkeley campus for the 2010-2011 school year is $31,044. Every single one of these shops was located in a community that is well-off, intelligent, and progressive, yet somehow they did not survive. So how is it these communities allowed their iconic independent bookstores to die? Have books become obsolete? Or have online retailers like Amazon and Walmart devalued books to the point that to pay the cover price is simply asking too much?

As depressing as this is, the fact remains that with the arrival of e-readers like the Kindle and the iPad, the bookselling world must change drastically in order to survive. E-books are available at independent stores like Diesel, and shopping online at an independent’s website still keeps money in the community. Amazon and Walmart could care less about community. But there is no question that the landscape of the book world four years from now will look drastically different than it does today. And at the current rate, one can only hope that indie bookstores will be a part of it.

For more insight, read this piece about what we have to hope are not Adobe Books‘ last days.

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It’s Better Than Nothing in This Cockeyed Caravan

One of the things we worry about late at night when we should be asleep, dreaming our Borgesian dreams, is the state of modern literary fiction. Gorgeously written, incisive and meaningful books hit our shelves all the time…but we worry that modern literary authors are afraid to be funny lest their work not be taken seriously. Not so! Here our some of our favorite humorous works of literary fiction.

American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis
I think American Psycho is one of the funniest books ever written. Bret Easton Ellis knows his magnificently rich, vain, arrogant asshole main character a little too well. There’s no way Ellis is a good person in real life, but I don’t care: I’d still like to meet him and have him critique my worthiness based on a simple handshake. — Jon Stich

The Breast
By Philip Roth
Roth’s hilarious tribute to Kafka is exactly what it says: a man turns into a female breast. While it may seem like a one-trick pony ride, the novella sustains the concept excellently. As our tragic hero is institutionalized for being trapped within the soft, tender, limbless tissues of the female mammary gland, you quickly appreciate why it is so great not being a breast. — Thomas

By Elizabeth Gaskell
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen‘s novels are infinitely amusing–even without zombies. Gaskell, however–another 19th Century writer and friend of Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens–is, I think, sadly overlooked. Her Cranford, about the society women form amongst themselves in a small English village, is both touching and hilarious–in that inimitable wry, Victorian way. It’s a loving satire of the best sort. — Anna

Gravity’s Rainbow
By Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow will remain one of the most complex literary experiences I’ll ever undertake. As usually happens with books over 750 pages, I don’t remember everything from the book. Its encyclopedic nature, covering everything from the physics of missile trajectories to the history of German silent film, exacerbates the novel’s ruthlessness on my normally efficient memory. But the thing I remember most about the book (aside from its fantastic ending) is its humor. Pynchon somehow fits slapstick pratfalls and oddly-hilarious one-liners (“…it can get pretty fascist in here…”) in with the occasional piece of meta-humor, such as when a German character gets injured and moans in pain: “Öööööö!” — Geo

The World According to Garp
By John Irving
Because what could be funnier than a blow job gone horribly wrong? No, no, I kid. John Irving’s books are often described as eccentric and unpredictable, which they are, but they’re also touching and thoughtful and very, very funny in ways not related to oral copulation. Comedy is tricky, and Garp manages to strike a balance between truthfulness and the absurd. In a crazier vein, check out: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Absurdistan by Gary Shyteyngart, and Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders. — Kim

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And the Children Shall Lead

Elise in Oakland reports:

For those of you out on the interwebz who don’t know much about me, let me start this post by telling you that I have two jobs. My primary job, simply put, is teaching elementary school students how to read. On a daily basis I will see 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. I love my job and am borderline obsessed with trying to get these kids into reading.

My second job is at a certain bookstore. I also love this job. I get to spend my weekends talking about and selling books (lots of kids lit!) and making displays.

Can you sense a common thread here?

In an effort to develop professionally and sell more books, I have embarked upon a self-motivated, self-created challenge. That challenge is to read at least one of the Newbery Medal winners or Newbery Honor Books awarded each year for the past 15 years, as well as the same number of Caldecott Medal winners. While I may derive some personal pleasure and satisfaction from this, I swear it is strictly about professional development.

I keep a record of my adventures in kids’ lit on my blog, so you can follow along with me through Newbery and Caldecott winners past. Most recently I empathized with the work of Kevin Henkes and enjoyed The Best Week Ever with Marla Frazee.

You can keep expanding your horizons with Jon Stich in Oakland’s reading of Eric Baus‘ “Dead Birds, There Is No Natural Light in Here”:

Check out the full archive of poetry videos here!

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The Game Is Afoot

Bookgasm has got the scoop on one of our favorite Dumb Book Stories in a long time. It seems the highly reputable business depicted above has sadly closed, due to involvement in a Ponzi scheme. “The name of the guy filing motions for the sale of Sure Lock’s assets? Moriarty!” So truth is stranger than fiction. Or truth steals all its best bits from fiction, anyway.

Meanwhile, we were amused when we saw that Neil Gaiman had posted on his Twitter that this Which Crazy Writer Are You? quiz claims he’s Tom Wolfe. Then we took it and discovered that we’re J.D. Salinger. We’d be disturbed by this level of accuracy, but we’re too busy packing up shop and moving to our compound in New Hampshire. (That said, we’d still be amused if you posted your results here.)

We could probably find some obscure and clever way to pretend the above two items are related, but they are not. Neither is Jon Stich in Oakland’s reading of Ferrucio Brugnaro’s “Buy, Always Consume,” but it is eerie and awesome:

Check out the full archive of poetry videos here!


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Travel Far, Pay No Fare

This cool post about literature that inspires travel inspired us to think about some of our favorite armchair adventures!

I spent one summer, one very long summer, reading Marcel Proust‘s Swann’s Way, getting wrapped up in the reverie and romance of 20th-century Paris, wanting to walk alongside his characters (or maybe a little bit behind them) down the Champs Elysees. I read the book in my backyard, waiting for the day I’d see Paris. The time finally came, and Paris for the most part lived up to my high expectations. Except for the Champs Elysees. I don’t think Proust’s avenue was lined with shoe stores and posh boutiques, was it? — Geo

When I was in elementary school I read Marjorie Braymer’s The Walls of Windy Troy: A Biography of Heinrich Schliemann, about the archaeologist who unpredictably located the actual legendary city of Troy. It lit my imagination so brightly that for the next five years or so I wanted to be an archaeologist. I started reading mythology, histories of the ancient Mediterranean, and the novels of Mary Renault. All of this helped to create an imaginary Mediterranean world that I was certain I would one day visit. In college, I took a semester in Vienna and went to Greece on spring break, spending two weeks by train, boat, bus, and ferry traveling through nearly all the parts of the country I’d been vividly imagining since childhood. I was accompanied by my new favorite book on Greece, The Blue Guide, which opened up a world of travel guides to me. — John Evans

Joanna Kavenna‘s The Ice Museum, which tracks her present-day search for the land of Ultima Thule (the mythical Northern land first described by Pliny the Elder), is both a travelogue and a brooding tribute to the icy North. I’ve been to a few of the remote locales in this book (most notably Iceland), but it made me want to visit nearly all the others—Greenland, the northern coast of Norway, Svalbard, and particularly the Estonian island of Saaremaa, where Kavenna stands at the very spot that may have spawned the word “Thule.” It’s a fantastic read for anyone who, like me, has a bit of Tolkien-esque nostalgia for the mysterious lands of bygone eras. — John Peck

Paul Auster‘s books had been recommended to me before, but it wasn’t until City of Glass was heavily campaigned to me by the cute girl at the coffee shop two doors down that I decided to give Auster a shot. The story of a phone call to the wrong person set in New York City, this novel was so good I had to do two things upon finishing: 1) Buy everything Paul Auster has ever written and 2) Go to New York City. — Jon Stich

By Night in Chile, one of Roberto Bolano‘s shorter novels, flings you into a variety of new worlds. With great design, he sporadically jumps between the bucolic, metropolitan, and holy orders of Chilean cities and European countries. It’s always a god-awful hour as you’re murmuring and shouting among the political and literary circles of Chillán, Santiago, or La-bas. Dark evenings where night classes on communism are underway for men of the Chilean interior. Patios and endless paragraphs are overgrown with lush South American foliage. The Araucaria trees stand proudly. The bird life has not completely fled the industrial noise of humans and quick European trips across the old landscapes steer into cathedrals and monasteries protected by menacing falcons (not to mention the falconers themselves). A great trip through winding cities and the labyrinthine mind of Bolano. — Thomas

Neil Gaiman‘s Neverwhere is about an entirely fictional place: a mysterious, magical second London that exists beneath its streets and in its forgotten places, a London of everything—and everyone—that’s ever fallen through the cracks. London Below may not be real, but Gaiman’s descriptions of the (real enough) neighborhoods the characters visit are intensely vivid, to the point where even their names become imbued with special meaning: Blackfriars, Earl’s Court, Islington, Hammersmith, Knightsbridge. When I finally got to go to London—my white umbrella with a map of the Underground on it stuffed into my bag, of course—I found myself shivering pleasantly every time I passed a place-name I recognized, as if I’d brushed up against the uncanny. — Anna

Continue on your voyage with Cheryl in Brentwood’s recitation of Sylvia Plath‘s “Soliloquy of the Solipsist”:

Check out the full archive of poetry videos here!

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