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On Our Nightstand, June 1st-7th

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

Anna in Brentwood
The Possessed
By Elif Batuman
Batuman’s funny, thoughtful journey through the world of Russian literature will make you want to (re)read Anna Karenina. It will not make you want to go to Uzbekistan.

John Peck in Oakland
American Vertigo
By Bernard-Henri Levy
Noted French thinker Bernard-Henri Levy travels through America in the footsteps of Tocqueville. Part travelogue, part essay, entirely engaging.

Kim in Malibu
The Routes of Man
By Ted Conover
A fascinating, readable, and humanistic account of how several key roads worldwide are changing and the impact this has on political, environmental, medical, and social concerns. The best piece of nonfiction I’ve read since Citizens!

Steffi in Oakland
Let the Great World Spin
By Colum McCann
Written in a series of diverse and compelling POVs, this National Book Award-winning novel presents very believable and intriguing characters tied together by a fascinating storyline.

Thomas in Brentwood
Just Kids
By Patti Smith
Rock icon Patti Smith’s memoir is written with the greatest abundance of love for the hustlers, poets, thieves, mystics, and transients in her life. And of course, for her Robert Maplethorpe, who embodied all of the above.


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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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Put Another Dime in the Jukebox, Baby

May is Music Month here at Diesel, and we’re all getting down with our bad selves. In video form!

Here are our first few, um…”music videos”–none of which, sadly, feature Beyoncé. But we hope you enjoy them anyway.

First up, here’s Alison discussing Greil Marcus with Colin in Oakland:

Thomas in Brentwood introduces the 33 1/3 series, and his favorite, Mike McGonigal‘s take on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless:

And finally, Anna in Brentwood talks about her love/hate relationship with Chuck Klosterman:

Rock on.

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On Our Nightstand

Taking a page from NPR, here’s the first in a series of (hopefully) weekly updates on what we’re currently reading here at Diesel.

Anna in Brentwood
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

Cheryl in Brentwood
Extraordinary Knowing by Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer
Extraordinary Knowing is an attempt to break through the silence imposed by fear and to explore what science has to say about various “inexplicable” phenomena. From Sigmund Freud’s writings on telepathy to secret CIA experiments on remote viewing, from leading-edge neuroscience to the strange world of quantum physics, Dr. Mayer reveals a wealth of credible and fascinating research into the realm where the mind seems to trump the laws of nature.

Geo in Brentwood
No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
Based on Twain’s boyhood memories of the Mississippi River Valley and of the print shops of Hannibal, the story is set in medieval Austria at the dawn of the printing craft. It is a psychic adventure, full of phantasmagoric effects, in which a penniless printer’s apprentice—a youthful, mysterious stranger with the curious name 44—gradually reveals his otherworldly powers and the hidden possibilities of the mind.

John Evans
Rhythmanalysis by Henri Lefebvre
Rhythmanalysis displays all the characteristics which made Lefebvre one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the 20th century. In the analysis of rhythms–both biological and social–Lefebvre shows the interrelation of space and time in the understanding of everyday life. With dazzling skills, Lefebvre moves between discussions of music, the commodity, measurement, the media, and the city. In doing so he shows how a non-linear conception of time and history balanced his famous rethinking of the question of space.

John Peck in Oakland
You’re A Horrible Person, But I Like You: The Believer Book of Advice
A compendium of advice from the producers, writers, and actors of The Office, Saturday Night Live, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Knocked Up, Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, Arrested Development, Reno 911!, and The Hangover along with other people who should really never give advice.

Kim in Malibu
2666 by Roberto Bolano
The lives of a throng of unforgettable characters—including academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father—intersect in the urban sprawl of SantaTeresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.

Margaret in Oakland
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
Julie Orringer’s astonishing first novel, eagerly awaited since the publication of her heralded best-selling short-story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, is a grand love story set against the backdrop of Budapest and Paris, an epic tale of three brothers whose lives are ravaged by war, and the chronicle of one family’s struggle against the forces that threaten to annihilate it.

Thomas in Brentwood
The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich
The finest introduction to art ever written!

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3 Quick Questions With David Mamet

Author-playwright-essayist-screenwriter-director David Mamet has a new book out—Theatre (come by the Brentwood store to snag a signed copy!)—and unsurprisingly, plenty of opinions!

Presenting David Mamet’s…

Favorite Book
The Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian

Favorite Movie
Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Favorite Music
Bach’s Toccatas

And speaking of favorites…remember to vote for your fave poetry video here! Though first, check to see if you’ll get swayed by today’s selection, Thomas in Brentwood reading Rae Armantrout‘s “Simple”:

(Psst! The full archive’s still here, by the way!)

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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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A Bug in Your Ear

Today we have Geo in Brentwood reading Don Marquis‘ “Random Thoughts by Archy”:

Intrigued? Geo (and Thomas) is ready with the full backstory on Archy and his unique philosophy:

Check out the full archive of poetry videos here!

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