Bookstore Diesels into Malibu

Diesel co-owner John Evans with employee Hilary Kern.

The new store will offer a 10,000-plus-book inventory.

By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times

No one in Malibu reads anything except scripts. Or so goes the common wisdom whose advocates cite the closing of Crown Books about five years ago and, before that, a well-liked independent bookstore.

John Evans and Alison Reid, partners in life and the book business for 25 years, disagree. (Evans reminds us that Crown Books closed, not because of sales, but because of a family feud, which shuttered all outlets nationwide). More important, the couple have put their money behind their conviction that it’s again time for a bookstore in Malibu. On Memorial Day weekend they opened Diesel, A Bookstore, next door to Marmalade restaurant in the Malibu Country Mart.

Diesel? An unexplained homage to fuel or to Vin Diesel, the popular action adventure hero?

“We were trying to create a bookstore that is light and friendly … and certainly not pompous,” Evans said in a recent interview. “So we thought an animal name might be appropriate since lots of literary and floral names had been taken, and we didn’t want to do that. The woman next door to our home kept calling out ‘Diesel,’ the name of her dog, a Pointer. And since we were located near the railroad tracks in the sort of [Raymond] Chandler-esque town of Emeryville, we named it ‘Diesel.’ It was sort of a joke at first, but the name stuck. It was fun and urban. We were actually written up once for the successful use of a name for a business unrelated to the business.”

The arrival of Diesel in Malibu was hardly an overnight move; in fact, the couple have been planning it for 16 years. “We’ve been coming here three or four times a year for 25 years,” Evans said. “In 1988, we decided we wanted to open a store here, but at the time Malibu had a very nice independent bookstore, so we decided to open one where we lived in Emeryville at the foot of the Bay Bridge. Ten years later, we moved it over to North Oakland. Last fall, when we were in Malibu, we looked into the idea again and were sort of swept along by everybody’s enthusiasm. People were incredibly excited over the possibility.”

Based on the couple’s experience with their Oakland store (twice the size of the 1,800 square foot Malibu facility) as well as their previous store in Emeryville, Evans has no doubt that the choices reflected in Diesel’s 10,000-plus book inventory will prove attractive to Malibuites. Despite its unorthodox name and their description of it as “cutting-edge” and ” high octane,” Diesel’s inventory is less threatening than fascinating and somewhat addictive; “very deep in titles, but selective” is Evans’ description. “What we try to do is pre-select the best of what’s out there,” he explained. “But we will also special order anything a customer wants. Along with the things a community already knows it wants, a bookstore should also supply a community with things it doesn’t know it wants.

“In Oakland,” Evans added, “we are well known for our staff recommendations as well as books we put on display, books many people hadn’t heard about yet. Many people just shop our tables. I see the same thing happening here.”

The formula seems to be working in Malibu where Diesel apparently has been welcomed, as the couple hoped, as the “independent neighborhood bookstore we all dream of hanging out in, getting imaginally [sic] turned on in, and literarily inspired by.”

“There are some people who say that nobody reads in Malibu and others who say it is one of the most literate communities in America,” Evans said. “My experience is that Malibu is very sophisticated, and people are certainly supporting us.”

“Even before we opened,” Reid added, “people were putting post-its and notes taped on our windows welcoming us and saying how excited they were that we were opening a bookstore in Malibu again. People have been excited when we opened our previous bookstores, but never have they been so expressive about it.”

Diesel, A Bookstore, is located at 3890 Cross Creek Road, is open seven days a week. The phone number is 310.456.9961 and Web site is They can also be reached by e-mail at or