BEST BOOKSTORE SAGE: John Evans, co-owner, Diesel Bookstore
By Bliss Bowen
If the purpose of a bookstore is the browsing and communal experience that yields discoveries, then Diesel Bookstore co-owner John Evans exemplifies the delight of such an excursion with his philosophical observations. Recommend titles to him, as one recent customer did, and you may find yourself in a civilizing exchange from which you both take away lists of books to read.
Diesel’s been an essential hub of the Westside literary community since Evans and co-owner Alison Reid opened in Brentwood Country Mart in 2008. Last Halloween, they launched another Diesel Bookstore in Del Mar, San Diego. They’ve weathered challenges in years past with other stores (Larkspur, Malibu, Oakland) that have closed or been sold, but not until the coronavirus pandemic were they compelled to launch a GoFundMe campaign (https://tinyurl.com/dieselgofundme) to keep their doors open. Response has been encouraging, and both Diesel stores and their website remain open for business.
Something else Covid-19 made clear: just how essential the store’s business truly is. Beyond selling books, it’s a common meeting ground for the sharing of ideas and the community.
“We always know that wherever we spend our dollar is a political statement. We choose the world we live in by how we spend our money. But we don’t tend to foreground that because it’s not the fun idea,” Evans says, chuckling.
He thinks of himself “as a bookseller rather than the owner” — and, notably, as a “cultural watcher.” Observing cultural and societal transformations from all perspectives, discussing news with customers and noting how all that informs their reading choices is key to the service a bookstore provides. And as COVID restrictions ease and browsing in-store resumes one customer or small group at a time, Evans says it’s been exciting for booksellers and customers to interact again: “It’s in such a restricted and compromised way compared to what it was pre-COVID — that’s sad — but the overwhelming thing is how pleasurable that is, and how useful it feels.”
“At the best of times, a bookstore is always sort of a marginal proposition,” he acknowledges, noting that over the years their stores have survived earthquakes, fires, the AIDS crisis, recessions, Amazon and corporate competition. “They’re passion projects. They have crazy people that work there who are so passionate about reading and books and the importance of it for civility and culture, and who so cherish the bookstore-customer interaction, that they’re willing to do rather specialized work at a low wage in perpetuity. My wife [says] it’s not a good living — it’s a good life.”
Visit Diesel bookstore at 225 26th St., Ste. 33, Santa Monica. Call for details at (310) 576-9960 or go to dieselbookstore.com. Visit https://tinyurl.com/dieselgofundme to make a donation to the store’s GoFundMe campaign.