We're not saying the ideal way to finish the near musical composition that is Whiskey & Ribbons by the Leesa Cross-Smith is when one is all sad and happy and lying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning next to one's long-time partner as the light drifts-in and envelopes one in its oozy embrace. But if one is to immerse oneself in this moving elegy to love and grief, we're not sure there is a better way to do so. That said, we're open to your thoughts. Where did you finish the book and how did that treat you? Further, did you feel the love imbuing your every pore, if not every particle of everything in the general vicinity? Not that we want to run from the grief. It's no spoiler to say that there is death in Whiskey & Ribbons and tragedy and sadness and it too will permeate you in cell altering ways. Nor will we say that there cannot be life and love without sadness and grief, because the grief in this book is the result of a profound violence that many experience, but most of us will not. But while Whiskey & Ribbons may be a treatise on at least one way to manage grief, and yes, alcohol and blizzards may help, it is ultmately a rumination on love and how it changes not only the fabric of our being, but the world itself. Is that too strong? We don't care. We celebrate love and joy at This Blog Will Change Your Life as much we celebrate words and art and the act of creation. The pinnacle vessel and purveyor of literary love for us has always been the well-bearded maniac known in his earthly form as the Mel Bosworth and we have no inclination to change our feelings regarding his status at this time. However, there is room for the Leesa Cross-Smith on this vaunted mantle. Hence, they will now be our king and queen of lit love and long may they reign. One category that the Cross-Smith retains sole ownership over though is that of sexiest wordsmith on any side of the Mississippi. No one writes about kissing, touching, crushing quite like her, and we suspect one has to know love, and deeply at that, to know that language too. Maybe the Cross-Smith will rejoin us on This Podcast Will Change Your Life again some time soon, so we can talk all in-depth about love, grief, crushing and drinking, and finding the words that makes all of that sing. But until then, do read Whiskey & Ribbons, let it wash over you, and around you, and cook your cells. And if you can, finish it in bed on a Sunday morning with someone you love lying next to you and the sun dancing overhead, because if you should be so lucky to do so, it will most certainly change your life.
We had to read They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by the Hanif Abdurraqib and there were no lack of good reasons to do so. It is a book that everyone we love, admire or ever knew was talking about. It reminded us of when Stories by the Scott McClanahan was first released, before he was what he would become and everywhere we went someone was talking about it. It had to be read. They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us was released by Two Dollar Radio, and while we're not quite Two Dollar Radio completists, yet, they only do good release, like really, really good, and so any release of theirs demands attention. And then there is that fucking cover, yo. Can you remember a better cover in recent history? Seriously, we're open to debate, but it's the goodness, stunning, and popping off of the shelf and straight into our brains. So, all good reasons to read They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us and all reasons we did. But, none of these are the actual reasons to read it. The reason to read it, is because it's so damn strong. That's not even a word we like to use. The meaning is so easy to twist around. But to describe They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us calls for speaking truth to its power. A terrible play on words we know. Or is it? Please let us know. It's just that for a single book to talk sports, love, race, violence, politics, culture and family as beautifully, and dammingly, as this one does. To use the filter of music, all kinds of music, music we know and love, and don't know, but still love, as a way to step into and through these ideas. For it to be so personal and so fast, slicing to the heart of whatever it is in a non-stop rat-tat-tat of beats, and stacked memories and ideas, can only speak to power, because there is so much truth here, and yes, strength. The strength of words and pain and confusion and triumph, even when that triumph is as brief as watching the arc of basketball finding nothing but the bottom of the net. If They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us isn't certain to change your life, which doesn't seem possible, it is certainly hands down the best book on what America has been and continues to be, that you can expect to read any time in the near, and not so near, future. And if They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us isn't required reading in high schools across the country, soon, now, than the heavy lifting required to make any kind of change any time soon, is going to be that much heavier for said future.
It would be impossible not to be absorbed by the stirring words that Charita Cole Brown so gracefully brings to the pages of Defying The Verdict and the story of her battle with bipolar disorder following a psychotic episode in college. And it's fascinating, albeit horrifying, as one is exposed to what these battles look like and the efforts people such as Brown undertake to build a life, and have it slip away, only to rebuild it again, while knowing they are at risk for the cycle to repeat itself. That Brown captures this as vividly as she does only serves to illustrate how important it is for one to draw such a picture when the greater public possesses so little understanding of what mental illness can look like. We had never thought about mental illness in this way. How it tears away at the foundation of one's life in the same way people describe a raging river tearing away their homes, only to rebuild them, all the while wondering when nature will once again rear its head, forcing them to begin the process again as well. This is what life is made of though, defying the destiny someone or something has decided will be yours, and this is what Brown has done with her life in defying the verdict, not the diagnosis, finding career, love, family and now this, a debut memoir that demands to be read. We would add, that Brown further introduces an element to the book that demands our attention as well, and that is the way race, class and gender and mental health, and in Brown's case, religion, become intertwined in seeking to not only understand one's diagnosis, but how one is diagnosed, approaches to one's treatment and the acceptance of any of it. It's not understating it to say that most of us greatly misunderstand mental illness and the challenges that accompany managing it. Defying The Verdict is a good step in that direction. It is also a powerful statement about how Brown went about living her life and claiming the narrative of her choice, not the one nature, and certainly her doctors, were ready to write for her. That she changed her life is on full display on the pages of Defying The Verdict. That you might find your life changed too, only requires you to read them yourself.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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."
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.”
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.”