Local authors and readers celebrate grand opening of Diesel, A Bookstore

Actor Matt Dillon helped support friend Barry Gifford, author of such books as "Do the Blind Dream?" and "Back in America," and his latest, "Read 'Em and Weep: My Favorite Novels" at the grand opening party Saturday night at Diesel, A Bookstore. William McGarry / TMT

Grand opening honors creativity, local culture and independent publishing

By Vicky Newman/Special to the Malibu Times

On a beautiful wind-swept Sunday, people gathered at the Malibu Country Mart to enjoy good books and conversation.

The book signing with author/artists such as New Yorker cartoonist Leo Cullum and painter Leigh McCloskey was one of several events this weekend hosted by the owners of Diesel, A Bookstore, to celebrate the opening of Malibu’s only traditional bookstore.

As they browsed at the book-signing tables, longtime Malibu residents Ellen and Herb Reich simultaneously lamented and applauded the decampment of Crown Books from Malibu six years ago.

“We cried, although we were annoyed because they pushed out little bookstores,” Ellen Reich said of the bookstore chain. “We’re so happy to have a local bookstore we can browse in.”

A poet and teacher of creative writing at Santa Monica College’s emeritus program, Reich used to have to order her books from New York before Diesel opened three months ago. “The store offers a broader, less mainstream selection in a more intimate setting than corporate bookstores,” Reich noted.

Spotlighting the work of authors is one goal of Diesel co-owner John Evans. Reich’s book, “Four Los Angeles Poets,” is on consignment at the store, and the work of two of the store’s booksellers is prominently displayed.

“I want to help people frustrated by conglomerates,” Evans said. “How do you get beautiful works of art in peoples’ hands?”

One example of his efforts can be seen in the experience of Melissa Lion, one of the store’s booksellers and a published author.

Contracted with Knopf for a three-book deal, Lion saw her first novel, “Swollen,” critically acclaimed by the government-sponsored Young Adult Literacy Survey and the “School Library Journal,” yet shunned by Borders and Barnes and Noble.

“Melissa’s book was not rejected because of the quality of her work but because of the political economy of publishing,” Evans said. “The conglomerates felt vulnerable about the subject matter and made a choice against the best interest of the public.”

Being an advocate for creative people and local culture is a critical role of booksellers, Evans said. Besides showcasing the books of Cullum and Malibu’s McCloskey, Evans and his partner, Alison Reid, had tables displaying the works of regional surfing and travel authors such as Kem Nunn, Chris Malloy, Veronique de Turenne, David Kippen and D.J. Waldie.

Evans also had the Surfrider Foundation set up an information booth, to which he donated 20 percent of surf books sales to the 20-year-old organization, and donated sales of “My California: Journeys by Great Writers” to the California Arts Council.

Evans also launched Diesel’s publishing program, Dieselbooks, this weekend, with the showcasing of novelist/screenwriter Barry Gifford’s new book, “Read ‘Em and Weep: My Favorite Novels,” reviews, vignettes, and anecdotes about Gifford’s favorite books.

The book design and graphics was the work of Diesel bookseller Hannah Cox.

“People who work at our store pass on their love of books and ideas,” Evans said. Publishing is part of that.”

While crowds were socializing outside, some of Diesel’s customers were looking for a good read. Malibuite Josh Hoffman chose a historical novel “Love and Honor,” by screenwriter Randall Wallace, the author of “Braveheart” and “Pearl Harbor,” because he likes the emotion of Wallace’s work.