The Lucky Tour: Diesel, a Bookstore

Intrepid former Algonquin intern David Bradley and his trusty sidekick, Lucky the Leprechaun, hit the road for a tour of (almost all) the coolest, hippest, greatest indie bookstores in the United States. Join us for the journey…

OAKLAND — Don’t wander into Diesel Bookstore accompanied by a creepy leprechaun mascot. I realize that this isn’t a concern for most of you — any of you — but still, the warning stands. Lucky and I have a complicated relationship. In the daytime, we’re the best of friends; joking, Diesel1jesting, and singing all the summer’s top 40 hits that will forever be burned into my head. At night though, Lucky changes. With just the overhead highway lights, Lucky’s deep-set eyes go black with shadow, and his visage takes an all too sinister turn. The joking stops and, for the sake of my sanity, Lucky often finds himself relegated to my book bag. Now, when I visited Diesel in Oakland, I told co-owner John Evans about Lucky’s creepy side, not realizing that John has an unmatched sLuckyense of humor. And impersonating Lucky with a voice that I swear came from the movie It — a movie that I’ve been frightened of since accidentally watching it as a child — John had me laughing and terrified.

Even if it put my relationship with Lucky on the rocks, the visit to Diesel was more than worth it. Besides the great conversation, Diesel also offers up a wide array of books and a perfectly curated selection of staff picks. It’s a store with a beautiful design and a welcoming feel, but one that reflects its co-owner’s brilliant sense of humor. Diesel is a seriously Diesel3awesome bookstore, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’d be surprised to hear of anyone walking through its doors without noticing the ringing sounds of laughter. And with hilariously odd paintings, some deer figurines with a great story, and staircases that lead to nowhere, how could you not have a good time at Diesel, A Bookstore?

Co-owner and conspirator-in-trying-to-make-me-fear-for-my-life John Evans answered the Algonquin Questionnaire.

What was in this location before Diesel, a Bookstore?

Most recently this location was a car repair shop, but going back to the 40’s, it was a bowling alley called 84 Lanes. It was actually a sarcastic name though, because they only had six lanes and they simply numbered them 79-84.

And what inspired the name Diesel?

Diesel4Well, we were struggling to come up with a name that we liked. We wanted something urban and cutting edge but still friendly and recognizable, sophisticated as the best bookstores but without any sense of snobbishness. One of the neighbors had a dog named Diesel, and it just sounded great and rolled off the tongue so we went with it. The full name is actually “Diesel, A Bookstore” so our customers know we are a general bookstore, not geared toward anything automotive.

What is your favorite title from Algonquin and your favorite summer book?

From this season I liked Amy Stewart’s latest, The Drunken Botanist, but going back a little bit I really enjoyed Richard Louv’s book The Nature Principle. For this summer I like The Son by Philipp Meyer. Great book, but his first name is difficult; I can’t ever remember if it’s two l’s and one p or the other way around.

Diesel2Does anyone on your staff have unique talents that would be fun to share on our blog?

Well, I want to mention Jon Stich, who made the big painting hanging over our fireplace which is pretty unique and fun. One of our booksellers John Peck runs Volta Press and plays in a band called American Steel. 

Is there an area of the store that people flock to?

The table displays and staff recommendations always attract a lot of attention. More than once I’ve had customers tell me that they “never get past the front tables.”

What is the strangest thing that has ever happened at Diesel, A Bookstore?

Oh, so many things come to mind. We had one author event with Geoff Dyer where a homeless man walked into the store in the middle of Geoff’s talk, walked up to the podium, drank Geoff’s water, put the glass down and left.

When we had Michael Chabon here for his Telegraph Avenue event, we made it a benefit for 826 and turned the entire store into a record shop.

My personal claim to fame is that, on one occasion, a customer came in and asked me “What book am I looking for?” and I guessed the correct book with no other information.

But maybe the most meaningful thing happened when we were moving from a temporary location into our current store. It was only a short distance down the street, so we formed a Human Book Chain with employees and customers to move the books over to the new store.


Next stop: Powell’s City of Books in Portland.

*Note: The Lucky Tour posts are not in real time. David and Lucky have returned from their travels with great tales and many, many books. Stay tuned for more road stories…

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