Category
  • This Book Will Change Your Life - A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother by the Anna Prushinskaya.

    About one third of the way through A Woman Is a Woman Until She Is a Mother by the Anna Prushinskaya she writes the following in the essay "Our Sphincters, Our Births:"

    "How are women's stories told? Who hears these stories? What do these stories do?"

    As we read these lines, these essays, and Anna Prushinskaya's dispatches from the world of motherhood and childbirth, we kept thinking what questions could possibly be more timely than these... until we that is, we thought, questions are great, there are no solutions until there are questions, but really, more important than the questions are the answers. Which may be too redutive, or simple. But with The Handsmaid's Tale upon us again and Bill Cosby being found guilty today, allegations against Tom Brokaw, you wonder how cultural change happens and how fast it can happen. This speaks to women in positions of power, publishing and political, policies that are equitable, inclusion riders, and men shutting-up and listening. It also speaks to stories being pushed-out into the world. All of which, may be unfair to wrap around Prushinskaya's work, but if men and politicans, humans, don't hear these stories, all of them, the tragic and triumphant, the chance for change is only diminished. The question then may be not be how these stories are told or who hears them, but how do we ensure they're heard at all? In this case, Prushinskaya crafted them and Midwestern Gothic got them out in the world. But who will write the next story and the one after that, and who will publish them, who will listen and how does it grow? Again, Prushinskaya may not be asking her book to do any of this, but the questions have to be asked, now, and tomorrow and then the day after that, and people have to listen. And the stories have to be told. It's a gift to have Prushinskaya's stories in our hands and head and in the ether, and they should be read, now, tomorrow and the day after that. After that, we need more, always more. What do these stories do? They change lives.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan.

    To revisit an old trope of ours, travel, read, planes, swim, read, beach, Mexico, drink, pool, read, run, read, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, which is to say we were travel, we read, and we are now Barbarian Days: A Surfers Life. We are also something else, what... well first, let's begin by saying how much we are reminded of Just Kids by Patti Smith when musing on the quite enthralling experience that was engulfing Barbarian Days, and second, we are reminded of what we once thought we might, and still yet could, be. Should we unpack all of that? We should, clearly, and we will, now, post-haste. To begin at the end, so to speak, this is how we mostly finished our rumination on Just Kids:

    "We are wondering how we are supposed to be living now, when so much isn't going as planned, but the need to be a creative force of some kind is unrelenting? We are also wondering how Patti Smith and by extension her fellow kid Robert Mapplethorpe did it. How anyone does it? Hungry. Lacking for money, shelter and any signs that something great even awaited them at all beyond the belief that greatness was somehow awaiting them. We've never lived like that, and maybe we never could, but if Just Kids has shown us anything, it's that this is a real option, and a choice, to be someone, find something, seek out kindred spirits who will push you, love you, support you, and make you believe that you are here to create based on the mere fact that they believe in you."

    This passage, and yes it is obnoxious to be quoting one self, and yet here we are, is at the very heart of every reaction and reminder we had to endlessly lyrical Barbarian Days. Barbarian Days is about many things, family, surfing technique, surf boards, legendary surfers, surf spots, and surf history, all things surfing, waves, so much about waves and how they work, and do not, Los Angeles and its surrounding environs in the 1970s, one of our favorite topics, friendship and brotherhood, and suffering, but more than anything it's about obsession. In this case the obession is about finding, understanding, loving, possessing, hiding, owning, succumbing (to), and surfing, the perfect wave at the expense of all else, including not only family and most all romantic relationships, but work, finances, comfort, safety, professional development, eating... just everything. And this is where Barbarian Days is so much like Just Kids, the sheer need to pursue one's obsession at the expense of all else, and the eloquence and command of langauge both authors possess in painting their respective pictures of obsession. That one is about making art and the other the art of bending physics, might call for some debate about the utility of their respective pursuits and the defintion of creation, but the authors, if not the books themselves, are kindred spirits, and writers of great facility, and both were willing to live lives of great scarcity to see their respective obsessions evolve towards some kind of ongoing, and cumulative, ownership and fruition. Something we don't know we were ever capable of.

    Which raises a question about art and obsession and what it means to live it. Both books show us its real, and a choice, but it remains as hard to fully imagine as ever. And yet, we do believe that one can still find people to push you, and you can still become something you haven't been, which brings us to what we once thought we might be. Not an artist per se, though we want that now. Nor an obsessive, though with running first, and now writing, we have certainly eschewed activities and people, family and comfort, even safety, possibly fincances, and definitely relationships, for both. But we always did want to wander as Finnegan did for so many years, to live, breathe, and love elsewhere, and then do so again at the next place, and the one after that, new places, new cultures, new people and environments. And we haven't been that. Not close. But that doesn't mean we still can't find a way to do this in whatever way is most comfortable for us. The children will grow older. The need for stability and structure will change. The ability to avoid discomfort and suffering to make it all work will be minimized, because the world has changed, culture and work are fluid, and we have changed, and so as we noted when we wrote about Just Kids, that things have not played-out in recent years as we thought they might, things may yet work out. Creative things may happen in new and interesting places. Work will become ever more portable. The hustle will produce cool shit. And if we never quite become Patti Smith or William Finnegan, some kind of Barbarian Days may yet become thing, with laptops and internet, Google hangouts and shared docs, working here and there, wherever, however, may yet be real, and life will change, which really, is all we've ever strived for, changing lives, ours, yours, everybody's.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - the slaughterhouse poems by the dave newman and May I Have This Dance? by the Mathieu Cailler.

    We admit we do not read enough poetry. We also admit that we don't always know what to say about it when we read it. Themes will grab us, feelings, certain lines, and that all seems acceptable. It's just that unlike with fiction or nonfiction, we don't necessarily see an arc for these ruminations building as we read. That's not always the case, but it is often enough that it is embarrassing to us, and speaks, maybe, to our not reading enough poetry. Hence we go full circle, and find ourselves asking where we should start with the two most recent collections we've read: the slaughterhouse poems by the dave newman and May I Have This Dance? by the Mathieu Cailler. Luckily when it comes to these reads we have an out, or maybe it's an in? We are familiar with these authors' work as fiction writers, novels by the former, and short stories by the latter. So we have ideas coming in, as well as great love for both and their growing oeuvres. What we know is that Dave Newman, arguably one of America's least appreciated novelists - and yes we know there are many, but he gets our vote - writes about blue collar and small town men trying to pay bills, while engaging in all kinds of self-destructive behavior that mainly serves to undermine their true intellect and potential. That he does so as beautifully as he does, with his attention to drugs, drinking, fucking, dysfunctional families, hustling, violence, and a world of work that exists just one step above the poverty line, and that this translates to the slaughterhouse poems does not surprise at all, but merely extends our appreciation of his skills. What we would add, is that this collection is super finely focused on one young man's experience working in a slaughterhouse on the way to other things, we hope, and in that way hangs well with all of Newman's fine work. But it is also being poetry, and so we get shit like this:

    "He was a meat cutter

         40 years old

          and made his living, as he once said

    "carving real big roasts into real little roasts."

    He stood at the top of the food chain

    in the slaughterhouse, an okay guy

    though once he threw a cow ball

    at my head as a joke then pointed

    his knife in a viscious stabbing motion

    when I whipped the slimy testicle back.

    Now he said, "My wife is leaving me

    and my daughter is fucking a drug addict.

         What about you?"

    What about you Mathieu Cailler? What indeed. Mathieu Cailler is a great short story writer, full of humanity, and broken families and so much fucking empathy for those still standing after things start falling apart. If one can be both sweeping and granular at once, and can one, yes, and what do you call it, we're not sure. Good writing? Maybe. The human condition whatever that is, why not. But whatever one calls it, Cailler owns it. He loves his characters, and he feels for them, and it shows, word after word, and line after line, whether in his short stories, or now these beautiful poems, which are again, sweeping and full of both details and love and passages like this:

     "Dad was happy he was going to go;

    I knew.

    He told me that a man could only do so many things,

    and that he had done what he wanted.

    He'd told me desires and ambitions were finite,

    and that life was well made.

    He'd told me that existence was like a road trip-

    the beginning and middle were fun,

    but towards the end,

    you just wanted to get to the hotel

    and kick off your shoes.

    And so this too is an end, but do know that the slaughterhouse poems and May I Have This Dance? are sure to change your life as they have ours, and the words will linger... if only for a moment, which is still pretty nice.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by the Jessica Hopper.

    We know it's too on nose really to talk The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by the Jessica Hopper on International Women's Day, even if it was not planned as such. We also know however that musical criticism is the arts criticism we are least likely to pay attention to, except maybe dance, we will concede that. It's also true that we dipped in and out of this book over many months, and not because we didn't llike it. we quite love it really, but because we might not have even picked it up if it weren't The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic. That means something, that's a literary event, that cannot, should not be missed. And we're glad we didn't miss it. Yes, it talks about music, and the the musicians who are important to music culture, now, yesterday, tomorrow, but what it really speaks to is the culture of music, how it has changed, and changes, constantly evolving and morphing, and that it doesn't require a dude to make sense of it. Now, we know this of course, but knowing it is not the point. It's about opportunity and access, and the understanding that given access and opportunity, it doesn't matter if the writer is male, female, gay, straight, trans, black, white, brown, whatever, they are as capable as anyone of doing kick-ass and insightful work. Whether Jessica Hopper represents a changing of the guard or will serve to open doors remains to be seen in the same way the impact of Patty Jenkins absolutely slaying Wonder Woman remains to be seen. Access is rarely given away without a fight. But that's another thing about Hopper, no one gave her anything, she fucking took it, and she wrote beautifully about that taking, and there's a reason this is The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, there's nothing quite else like it, not yet, but that doesn't mean there won't be more. There will have to be, The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, may not povide a road map of how to be all things Jessica Hopper, rock critic, but it does serve as a beacon and inspiration and once all of the future female rock critics get a taste of it, there will be no turning back. All of which is to say, that there are much worse books to celebrate on International Women's Day, even if on the nose, and not otherwise the kind of writing we would otherwise care enough about. And all of that said, maybe two more thoughts before we move along. First, the work is uniformly thoughtful, if not slamming, across the board, and certain to change your life, but if you're only going to read one piece, and you're not, but if you were, do read "Conversation With Jim DeRogatis Regarding R. Kelly." DeRogatis is a fucking hero, R. Kelly is a fucking predatory scumbag, and Hopper's examination of DeRogatis' great frustration with his inability to draw more attention to R. Kelly's untoward, and yes, illegal behavior toward young woman is a fine, and necessary piece of journalism. Most finally, Hopper has this to say about The Raincoats:

    "The Raincoats are the sound of learning and having fun and making it up as go along; may they be revivified, rediscovered and reissued indefinitely."

    We're not sure how we feel about The Raincoats, or even if we know who they are, but as far as Hopper herself goes, may all of the above be true for her as well, be it International Women's Day, or any day.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Actual Miles by the Jim Warner.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Actual Miles by the Jim Warner which is out so soon. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    "With Actual Miles, Jim Warner is all texture, flavor, and heart, a shock of senses and cultures, and always searching for family and identity, and the best ways to make them sing."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Eats of Eden by the Tabitha Blankenbiller.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Eats of Eden by the Tabitha Blankenbiller which is out so soon. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    “Is there anything more important than feeling good, eating well, and living passionately? Blankenbiller’s essays would suggest there is not, and I would suggest that with Eats of Eden, there may be no one writing more urgently, humorously, or touchingly about these topics than Blankenbiller herself.”

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Like A Champion by the Vincent Chu.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Like A Champion by the Vincent Chu which is out so soon. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    “Vincent Chu can do many things, tell a story, create indelible characters, and craft spot-on dialogue, but what he does most movingly in Like a Champion is unpack our greatest fears, hopes and desires, in other words, what makes us human.”

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - The Sarah Book by the Scott McClanahan, we are never meeting in real life. by the samantha irby, and The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by the Megan Stielstra.

    We began the year by reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, which is as much a celebration of making art, and making life, as anything we've ever read. What we were especially captivated by was the copious attention, hunger, desire, impossibility of anything, but making art vibe that permeated, and permeates, Smith's life. She has loved and lost, traveled, lived well, and not, but making art was paramount. During this past year, we have wondered whether these things can be quatified in some form? How much attention is required? How much life? How much must be given up? How much pursued? And how much must any or all of these things intersect? We don't have any more answers to any of these questions at the end of the year than we did at the start, and we are not concerned, it is an endless search for ideas, motivations, lived lives, words to describe them, and finding a voice that somehow captures all of it. Your voice. A unique, authentic, grouping of words and sentences and images that says this is who we are, and how we see it. Do you want it? It is also no surprise to us then that we finish the year reading the three books we most looked forward to at the start - The Sarah Book by the Scott McClanahan, we are never meeting in real life. by the samantha irby, and The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by the Megan Stielstra - because these are authors whose voices are so distinct, one could pick nearly any page from any these books and know who wrote them. All three authors are people we know on varying levels. We have read with them and watched them read many times over many years. We have also podcasted, broken bread and drank with some derivation of the group, and been inspired by them all. As a group their writing is fierce and funny, raw nerves, real time, and lived. We have always been driven to the electric, sentences that throb, and jab, with The Basketball Diaries serving as template and religious tome. There are other authors we love, have read with, and have read this year, who write, and live, like this as well, Joshua Mohr, D. Foy, Wendy C. Ortiz, explosively, and personal, no pain too great to record, no fucked-upedness to horrifying to illustrate.

    But it is these books, at this time, that I have read, and it is these authors who were already part of the collective ether, who have broken out in new and profound ways, publicly, and yes personally, and so it is these books that require the extra attention they deserve. All three books hammer, and expand on themes these authors have visited time and time again - Stielstra a combustible, heartrending, beautiful mix of family, artmaking, teaching, triumph, tragedy, and being a woman today, yesterday, tomorrow; McClanahan, utterly unpacking, smashing, and illuminating, every feeling about even the most quotidian ways of being in relationships, communication, hurting, and being human; and Irby, gut-punchingly looking, finding, chasing, and running from love, apartments, family history, work, Chicago, pop culture, illness, and food, in a mad sprint of words and near travelogue of how we live now. And yet these books do so in new, bigger, and more focused ways that transcend their previous, but still mighty efforts. How does this work? Is it a culmination of expereince, hours of writing, performing, thinking, living, loving, detroying, searching, and editing? Is it putting in the time in some newly attentive way? Does the voice finally, or at least more perfectly, match the energy that was already there? We still don't know. But we can celebrate it. Authors we love making art we love and finding more love in return than ever before. These books are political as well in a time that requires them to be so. They are about poverty, class, red states, misogyny, sexuality, equality, weight, violence and abuse - sexual, physical, and emotional, and making art as an act that upends societal expectations, hence radical, and we would suggest beautiful as well. We also started the year here, art as political, as statement, and as a fuck you. All thee authors do the fuck you well, and if there is a better way to finish this year correct, we cannot imagine what it would be.    

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Barack Obama: Invisible Man by the David Masciotra.

    On the night Donald Trump was elected President of the United States we posted to Facebook that "Hate won." A friend of someone we knew in high school, though not someone we know ourselves responded by saying that they didn't hate anyone and that it was unfair to say they did based on their vote. Though we try not to respond to exchanges such as this, we responded that we didn't know whether they hated anyone or not, nor did we care, but they had voted for someone who ran a campaign based on hate, hence hate won. They were okay with this response. It seems both fortunate and unfortunate to us that Barack Obama's presidency must exist as refracted through the administration that follows his. He only looks classier, more compassionate, and thoughtful in comparison, but his presidency also cannot be allowed to stand on its own. President Trump is hell-bent on erasing all of that which Obama accomplished, and so every thread, positive thread anyway, we associate with the last eight years is tied to their own unraveling with each and every passing day. It may be that this is the course of history, that presidents are inevitably tied to those who precede and follow them. All presidents and all of their actions tethered to the longer arc of history. And yet, the Obama presidency, and Obama the man, exist on a parallel arc as well. Obama is our first African-American president. Period. End of statement. We can choose to ignore just how unpredecented this was, or as Obama might even prefer, seek to understand his place in history based on his merits alone. To do so, however, is to ignore a story that is not only unique to the history of people of color in this country, but is wholly unique to our presidential history. And that is this: President Trump may choose to vigorously erase any sense that Obama was ever president, but as an African-American, the country's twisted relation to race means that Obama's accomplishments, not to mention his class, compassion, and thoughtfulness, were already ignored by much of the country. All of which brings us to the superbly moving, and terrifically thought-provoking, Barack Obama: Invisible Man by the David Masciotra. The book draws on the classic novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and argues that the country's obsession with race obscured what President Obama offered to the country: a president, who based on his race, upbringing, and work history, presented the country, his country, with a uniquely historic and timely figure that offered a path forward, a path that was ignored, and now has been squandered with President Trump's election. That President Obama is a reflection of where the world is headed, and America at its best, an amalgam of race, curiosity, decency, and intellect, and that few were better suited to take us there seems inarguable. That President Trump represents where the world was, and at its worst at that, toxic masculinity and patriarchy, a lack of racial, gender, and sexual  parity, isolationism, seems inarguable as well. That there is anyone we have personally read besides David Masciotra who is better equipped to tackle this topic is unlikely. But wIll many follow him. Surely. There's no more contemporary story than this one, and there are many voices we've yet to read or hear from. But is this the place, and the book, to start with? Absolutely. Will it change your life? Certainly.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Gunmetal Blue and Wanted: Elevator Man by the Joseph G. Peterson.

    We began this year reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and asking whether "the act of wanting to create art inherently political or does the work itself have to be political in intent?" The feeling was that to decide that one can somehow live wholly as an artist such as Patti Smith has done is a political act in and of itself. We were thinking about this sentiment as we read Chicago author Joseph G. Peterson's new novel Gunmetal Blue, as well as Wanted: Elevator Man back to back, the latter because we somehow inexplicably missed it when it came out, and that gap just wouldn't do if we are to be the Peterson completists we strive to be. Peterson is one of Chicago's more prolific, yet still (quite undeservedly) more obscure, writers who represents the best of what it even means to be a Chicago writer - local, even parochial in the best sense of the word, blue collar, writing of this beautifully ugly city in all the ways Chicago writers do - no whiff of pretention, nor even the urbane. The characters remain of this world, denizens of Wabash Avenue, train tracks, grime, and bars, with their ineloquent timbre, and grand speeches, making their way in a world that does not care about them, and does not exist to anyone who lives on a coast, any coast, and outside the city limits. And yet, all of that is an exaltation of what Peterson does, not what he is, a working-class writer as grinder, and finder of truths, who is all artist, but still going to work, nose to grindstone at all times. We write this, because his workman-like qualities are not political in and of themselves, and this despite the poetry he brings to these qualities in his characters, but his work is subtly political at all times, and never more so than in his new joint Gunmetal Blue, a noirish detective tale that is ultimately about guns, access to guns, and the trail of blood and loss they inevitably leave behind when available, and accessible, to all. Is Gunmetal Blue an anti-gun book then? Maybe, but that's too simple.

    It's an exploration of grief and all that violence tears from us. It is also about guns and how guns and violence are never far enough apart. It is also a triumph, as Peterson books tend to be, which brings us to Wanted: Elevator Man as well, a commentary certainly on those left behind by an economy, and a body politic, that no longer exists to serve the little, or is it common, man, or woman, assuming it ever did, but also a mission statement as it were on the kinds of stories, and more importantly, the kinds of characters who populate Peterson's life's work. We were particularly struck by a line late in the book, which is a sort of mission statement for this missions statement, writing by us that is too cute and meta by half we know, but here we are reading back to back Peterson pieces, and swimming in all those tumbling Peterson elocutions, and so, meta, and cute, we are. But now onto that line (page 131): "Home," he said aloud. "Home. Where has it gone and what have I come to?" Where has it gone and what have I come to? This is the essence of Peterson, the search, the confusion, and the constant seeking of identity when nothing feels quite clear or defined, not even when it should, and we believe we deserve, or at least know better. It's also certain to change your life, not just the line, but Gunmetal Blue, and all the rest of it too.