Booksellers Rock! John Peck, Diesel Bookstore

Name: John Peck
Bookstore: Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland
Title: Events Coordinator
Brief Bio: I believe in good, old-fashioned pursuits: letterpress printing, good honest punk rock, magazines made out of paper, and post-ironic social media-friendly internet humor.

What books recently rocked my world: I dove headfirst into all things videogame-related this year: Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Harold Goldberg’s All Your Base Are Belong to Us are all great reads. Fellow type nerds will have to check out Simon Garfield’s Just My Type when it comes out this fall. The best book I’ve read in years is 2666 by Roberto Bolaño – it’s a terrifying, vertigo-inducing, super-modern Ulysses. My wife and I have the edition that’s in three volumes, so I started the book while she was still reading it.

Best damn event(s) we’ve hosted: We had John Sayles at the store a few months ago; he’s a huge, imposing person, and is an absolutely spellbinding storyteller. He pointed out street names in Rockridge that originated from the events in A Moment in the Sun (Shafter, Otis, and Manila, to name a few). And of course, who could forget (or completely remember) the Algonquin Free Beer Tour?

Most entertaining author(s) we’ve hosted: Geoff Dyer is one of our absolute favorites. He’s the personification of everything our store tries to be: eclectic and challenging, but also friendly and welcoming. Another favorite is Dan Clowes – as anyone who’s heard him speak knows, he’s just effortlessly hilarious; his impression of a Swiss interviewer asking him why all his characters were “freaks und veerdos” had us all in tears.

Strangest question a customer has ever asked: “What is that word hidden behind the moon?” (On the cover of Go the F**k to Sleep.)

Why our store kicks ass: We give a lot of thought to our limited table space – in the past, we’ve had displays like “We’re Watching You” (books with eyes on the covers), “All Things Great and Small” (made up of ridiculously huge and tiny books), and “Books by Bald Men.” We have a new monthly series of global landmarks made out of cardboard and Diesel bookmarks, surrounded by location-appropriate books – so far we’ve done the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China.

What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome: Rockridge is a unique corner of the Bay Area; it’s fairly cosmopolitan and ritzy, but has some of the same grit as the rest of Oakland, not to mention ’60s and ’70s-era Berkeley. Our customers are passionate about the books they read, and we’ll often hear total strangers recommending books to each other, which is a great example of why we still need (at least a few) brick-and-mortar stores.

I promise you won’t find this at any other store: A huge painting of a middle-aged man in a suit embracing a giant fish in a field of flowers. It was painted by our store manager, Jon Stich, who is an incredible artist.

Why I do what I do: Simply because I love books and find them necessary. Getting information from the internet is like fishing with a hundred hooks and no sinker; you end up catching a lot of bait. Books are the sinkers that let you catch the big fish.

If I weren’t selling books I’d be: Finding ways to lurk around them creepily regardless. I worked at the library in college, then at Book Passage right after, and then did almost five years at Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, which is an indie press lover’s dream. As much as I love music and film, books are the things I seem to keep accumulating.

Books that changed my life: Officially: Ulysses, Cat’s Cradle, and The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. Unofficially: Elfquest, Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, and the novelization of The Goonies.


Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party: Any three authors of the Icelandic sagas. Dinner would be roast sheep and brennevin, and would last for three days.

Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life: 0-2 beers: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division; 3-5 beers: “Marquee Moon” by Television; 6 or more beers: “Where Eagles Dare” by the Misfits.

My last meal request: To be drowned in a giant bowl of pho.

One Comment On This Post:

August 3, 2011
6:43 pm
Trin says...

John Peck is amazing, hilarious, and a tribute to his profession. However, I must point out that “Just My Type” is by Simon Garfield, not the likewise lovely Simon Winchester.

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