Category
  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Miles Between Me by the Toni Nealie.

    To continue a recent theme of sorts, objectivity has never played much of a role in the expansion of the This Blog Will Change Your Life empire. We serve at the great pleasure of ourselves, what we love, what we want to consume, what we choose to hype, and to use the vernacular, what we think calls for curation. It is also true that despite this practically complete lack of pretense on this matter, we always felt that our long running relationship with Curbside Splendor ought to preclude us from spending much space here commenting on their books. We have enjoyed most all those we read, we were honored to support their releases in any fashion we could and we were always proud of the quality and diversity of those releases. All of which brings us somewhere, though at a minimum, where it brings us is The Miles Between Me by the Toni Nealie. It is an essay collection in the great tradition of Curbside essay collections such as Meaty or Once I Was Cool. It is heavy in theme - family, loss, isolation - because Curbside collections always are - but written with the same passion and intensity as those previous collections, and so much love of word, and world, that their words, and worlds, sing. We want to go a step further though with The Miles Between Me. The book's themes around immigration, displacement, and color and how these themes become intertwined with not only family, loss and isolation, but policy and travel, would have resonated at any time in this country of immigrants, as well as at a time when the world grows only smaller. But this isn't any time, nor for the time being, even the same country. We are something else right now, something that feels so sudden and inexplicable, but isn't, not really, not when we look to history and the swings of the policy pendulum that have accompanied the nation's progress, and endless regressions. And in this way, The Miles Between Me couldn't be more timely, or more saliently bring the language of displacement and distance to the page, and into the ether. Our only hope, is that it will also have an impact on the dialogue surrounding immigration, because it is needed, and writing that doesn't feel subjective at all, just necessary, and right.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - We Could've Been Happy Here by the Keith Lesmeister.

    We are thinking about objectivity. Not that we pretend to practice that here. No obligation, no need. We read what we want. We try to support the small press community. If we don't like something, or it doesn't require our assistance, we might not consume it at all. Which brings us to We Could've Been Happy Here by the Keith Lesmeister. Or at least Keith Lesmeister himself. To start. We had the great pleasure of meeting Lesmeister the other night. Listening to him read. Meeting his friends. Having some drinks. He's an incredibly decent guy, interesting, a parent, professor and a now the author of a truly splendid debut collection of stories from our friends at Midwestern Gothic. Which to extend the point, objectivity and all, or lack thereof, we do love the Midwestern Gothic. Great books. Great team. Great supporters of writers. And we know we're going to love what they do. But there is still a book to read. A book wrapped in a lot of endlessly positive energy going-in. Can we be objective? Does it matter? Maybe it's a Both... And. It matters, because everything matters, and doesn't at all, because when a book is filled with as much ache as We Could've Been Happy Here, it doesn't matter who wrote it, or published it. There's a current of separation in We Could've Been Happy Here, from family, from society, from self, which oozes across the pages and stories, that is so knowing and real, it feels like truth. And whose to say it isn't a truth? Or something just like it anyway. What we can say, is that We Could've Been Happy Here will change your life, as we suspect Lesmeister's next book will, and the one after that. Again, maybe we're not being objective, but again, we don't have to pretend we have to be. We like what we like and that we believe is its own kind of truth as well.  

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Searching for John Hughes by the Jason Diamond.

    We could tell you how much we once loved John Hughes in the same way we loved Jim Carroll. That we watched The Breakfast Club in much the same way we read The Basketball Diaries. That it felt alive, electric, funny and sad. That it unpacked some kind of truth for us. That it was knowing and had its own distinct voice. But even then, unlike The Basketball Diaries, which was a singular blow to the heart and head, John Hughes also brought us Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Home Alone, movies we went on dates to and watched in basements, and illustrated a time in our life that somehow John Hughes recognized, understood and captured on screen. So we could do all that. Or, we could tell you how Jason Diamond has created a story that is heartbreaking and charming and full of longing - for place, family, direction, happiness, stability, love and so much more - with his memoir Searching for John Hughes. That even when it travels into territory so far removed from our own, both the abuse and rootlesness he has fought against, and moved past, as well as his dogged efforts to become a journalist and make a living as a writer, the book spoke to us. Because any writer who is Jewish and knows New York and Chicago and John Hughes and drinks and loses people, however they may become lost, is telling stories we know too, and apparently just cannot get enough of. Somehow though, even that's not exactly what we want to say. What we want to say, is something more ineffable, something about life, and the writer's desire to transcribe that, as well as aging, and loss. We are also thinking about Old Records Never Die by the Eric Spitznagel, a book we consumed just a year ago this time. It is also a book about searching, about going on a journey, and trying to understand our youth so we can not only make make sense of our present, but create it whole. We can choose to be on a journey or not. We can choose to try to make sense of who we are and how we've gotten here or ignore it. We can try to become our best selves professionally and personally or we can coast. As soon as we decide we are on a path, however, that we want to understand it, and intend to move forward, than we have no choice, but to be in it, breathing it and living it. And when we are writers we have to write about it. Like Spitznagel, Diamond has decided to write about his journey and invite you into it, and in doing so he just might change your life. If not, he will certainly cause you to pause and to ask yourself, is this my best life, and if the answer is no, am I least trying to make it so, something we believe John Hughes would appreciate, and Jim Carroll as well, storytellers both, who pushed and pushed, until they could do so no more.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - North and Central by the Bob Hartley.

    Travel. Read. Rinse. Repeat. We have been travel and we have been read and we have been truly excited for North and Central by the Bob Hartley because Tortoise Books has brought us a lot of pleasure going back to The Last Good Halloween by the Giano Cromley and all through Staggerwing by the Alice Kaltman. But it wasn't just that. We rarely read anything from the crime genre. No judgment mind you, just not our jam, and yet we do quite love Beautiful Piece by the Joseph G. Peterson, and when we heard that North and Central seemed to be playing with a similar vibe - Chicago born author riffs on Chicago. blue collar protagonists, a femme fatale, required, a bar, bonus - our interest was only heightened. What we can say, is that we loved it like we loved Beautiful Piece, the texture of characters, the mood, the richness of the storytelling, and to obnoxiously borrow from our riff on Beautiful piece, "the story both soars and grinds towards what will clearly be an ending that can't be good for anyone involved." Which is what we want from our crime novels, right? Of course it is. But still, even with the Tortoise and Beautiful Piece love all afloat, that may not even be what lingers with us the most. What North and Central has created is a sociological study. Yes there's crime, and love, dread, all of those rich characters, but more than anything it is Chicago at a certain time and place. The 1970's, John Wayne Gacy, Disco, and all the layers that come with that. You believe that Hartley knows that world. Not to mention the world of dive bars and those who inhabit them, including the crooked cops, who he is also seems to know so well. And by the end you know it too, even if you also know that it can't end all that well, because crime novels never do. Not exactly anyway.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Failure Pie In A Sadness Face and Something To Do With Self-Hate by the Brian Alan Ellis.

    Here is what we have previously told you about the Brian Alan Ellis and who he writes about: "the blue collar, under-employed denizens who haunt grim, dead-end neighborhoods, bars, and couches, as they try to figure out how to get laid, fix there fucked-up relationships, find work, or care for their damaged family members, all of whom exist in some near dank netherworld, that so many of us scurry by on the way to somewhere else." It may not surprise you as it did not us, that in the new short story collection Failure Pie In A Sadness Face and novel Something To Do With Self-Hate by Ellis, both of which are out, or about to be out, now, Ellis returns to the gritty, or more accurately, nasty, drug-riddled, violence-prone, dilapidated domicile dwelling, damaged family, death baiting, gnarly sexual environs of his previous work. But what the Ellis completists such as ourselves are sure to be oxymoronically delighted by is the level of existential dread that has wormed its way into Ellis' latest work. Take this passage from the story "Haunted Alarm Clock" foe example:

    "I figure it's best to just stay in bed gazing into a blemished white ceiling, where things move and take shape. It's not easy to do those things; it's not easy at all-to think, and to move, and to change shape like that. Besides my thoughts are crummy; they eat away at me like cancer, which is what cancer does. And there is a voice. The voice says, "Listen," and I do." (page 8)

    Which is to say that Ellis has always had the gift of story and detail, which we would note yet again, are stories and details so few of us know, or at least tell, but these books represent new layers, efforts to get at what the characters are feeling amidst all of this despair and decay. As Ellis writes In Something To Do With Self-Hate:

    "You borrow life the day you're born. Then you give it back the moment you die.

    A person couldn't keep life forever, even if they wanted to-and who would, especially when there's a shit summer to exist through every year?" (pages 88-89)

    Now, whether this is a kind of maturity as a writer, a conscious effort to dig deeper or these feelings had no choice but to work their way to the surface of Ellis' work, we cannot say, we just know that there is a level of insight and self-awareness happening that speaks to us, and elevates the work. We also know, that we look forward to more of this, the hard questions, the pain, even the sense that there may not be much reason to go on at all. And we definitely know, that stories are stories are stories, but it's when they start to sing, that they are sure to change lives.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Free Boat by the John Reed and The Vig Of Love by the Bill Yarrow.

    We were thinking about how subjective these posts are. They are not quite review, but not quite blurb, both of which we take seriously when asked to produce them. It's just that they're not that. They are conversational, but not a full-on riff either. We want to capture what these books mean to us, and how we experience them. It's just that outside of the occasional Philip K. Dick or Gillian Flynn read, we almost always know the writers involved, we are happy we do and our commentary, whatever it is, is clearly influenced by that. We have no great desire to critique here. This, cheesiness aside, is a place of celebration, of words and reading and the authors we love. So, we are subjective and biased and unabashed about it, and this was on our mind as we dug into Free Boat by the John Reed and The Vig Of Love by the Bill Yarrow. Both of these writers are friends, of a kind, we rarely get to see them outside of literary events and conferences,  and yet, they are more than acquaintances and seeing them whenever we do see them always makes us happy. What especially got us thinking about all of this subjectivity however, is how much the reading of these collections remind us of the authors themselves, and what we have clearly projected onto them, projections which are influenced by years of these (primarily quick) interactions.

    And so it is, that when we read Free Boat, a collection of love poems and sonnets, lies apparently, and something that feels like it might be memoir - the story of a man in love, and murder, strippers and mug shots, family history - and as we find ourselves caught-up in its massive swirl of weirdness and handsomely crafted language, we are further reminded not only how much Reed's work has always reminded us of Girl Talk, and that he himself has always felt so handsome and weird and refined to us, and given all of this we are subsequently not surprised when we read Reed in seeking to describe the poems in the book says, "I suppose there's just no getting around the fact they're all about me." And so it is too however, that in The Vig Of Love we think, this is the Yarrow we think we know, a refined man (also) of refined language, who is harboring, or is it managing, a swirl of emotion, and history, love and lust, a longing mixed with family history, geography, pop culture and change, and the belief that life is endlessly twisting and morphing, and that love is too, with age and time and our crazy, endless emotions, all captured here so beautifully in so many ways, though no less or more so than in "The Sober Boat" when he writes:

    "on a hopeless boat
    in a sea of sameness
    the belief that change will come
    sustains us."

    Indeed it will, might, we don't know. We write our words, we fall in love, we change lives, even as our lives are changed, and we remain hopeful, ever hopeful.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - June by the Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.

    In a way, we would like to just get down to business. June by the Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is a page-turning delight, a shapeshifting tale that is both ghost story and mystery, bouncing along multiple time lines and unfolding with layers of suspense, humor, rich characterizations and celebrity. Also, we highly recommend it. Easy, that. But the business is something else entirely. We had the thrill once of participating in a panel with Beverly-Whittemore, and she too is a delight, thoughtful, humorous and all business as well. As memory serves us, and we do wonder how much we've created this idea in our head, Beverly-Whittemore spoke to her desire to write a best-selling novel, an effort which started with her previous book Bittersweet. And so she has, twice now. It almost feels miraculous. A best seller is a sort of miracle anyway, but consciously writing one? Wonderbar. That leads to the question however, of how one does so? Beverly-Whittemore didn't spill many secrets that day, and we hope we may get her to come onto This Podcast Will Change Your Life someday and spill at least some of it to us. But in the interim, we have been pondering what it is that makes for a bestseller, and in doing so, we will preface this by saying that skill is not one of the factors. Beverly-Whittemore writes the fuck out of June, but a lot of people can write the fuck out of the page. Maybe not all as well as Beverly-Whittemore, but still, a best seller is something else entirely. So, with that in mind, and June fresh in our minds, what might comprise the formula? One thought we have is that any best seller is served well by reflecting a certain epic sweep of time, years pass, time is crossed, people change. And people must change, there must be growth, risk and fear. There must be conflict, and there always must be love, but conflict, something that causes a break, confusion, brings that mystery, and solving all of that. Big. Triumph helps as well though. Overcoming something may be key, but doing so triumphantly, with growth and health intact is imperative. We all aspire to that in some fashion and to be able to project ourselves onto the page and see ourselves in said triumph is as aspirational as it comes. Sex and violence help, and ghosts, always, this is where the excitement comes, in the right dose, and when it is just enought to grab our attention, it's a must. Celebrity helps, we love it, we are drawn to it, and if said celebrities feel familiar, along with their scandals, all the better. Nostalgia too, also big, which if we learned anything from Mad Men, we should have at least learned that. The characters have to be likeable too, even at their worst, and when all is said and done, and even if we are crying in the end, which we of course were not, allergies we suspect, we have to smile. June accomplishes all of this, and does it well. Also, and this seems necessary, it certainly doesn't matter if you do somehow know everything that makes a best seller a thing, you still have to be able to bring it all together, itself a miracle of gift and craft, and while we don't how consciously Beverly-Whittemore thought about any of it, we are curious, we want to talk, and as always we want to change lives, ours, yours, whomevers.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Because I Wanted To Write You A Pop Song by the Kara Vernor and I Am Barbarella by the Beth Gilstrap.

    Travel. Read. Planes. Layovers. Read. Read. Read. We have been reading all week and we are riffing on all things read - please feel free to look here and here, assuming that's your jam - and today we are all about the quite stellar Because I Wanted To Write You A Pop Song by the Kara Vernor and I Am Barbarella by the Beth Gilstrap. Both are collections about relationships, with family, friends and lovers, new and old, and people trying to either get out of said relationships, make sense of them, repair them, or at least repair oneself in relation to them, or all of the above. I Am Barbarella is comprised of a number of intertwining pieces about those living on the edge of something, success, insight, love, sobriety, living on the fringe, small town and working class, and battling loss, so much loss, that they can never quite escape it, and don't really seem inclined to. Gilstrap's great strength is in fact just how lived-in these characters feel. She is not author as observer, and somewhere far off and commentating on them. She is author as embedded reporter, grounded, and in it. And while there are many stories in the collection that absolutely slayed us, we can say that "Getting By With Sound" may have hit us the hardest, leaving us to wipe away tears, and glance out of the airplane window, as opposed to uncomfortably making eye contact with the people in our row.


    The pieces in Because I Wanted To Write You A Pop Song are more a series of explosions, less intersecting and embedded, and more impressionistic, resulting in a lingering vibe that borders on the hallucinatory. Not to stretch what may feel like an obvious comparison too far, but the stories feel like pop songs, small gems of ideas spun into narratives that are primarily short, fast and full of jabs, which leave the reader's head spinning. Again, there are many stories here that left our head spinning, if not outright crushed - and we should probably note here, that Vernor's stories also tread more in the realm of violence, at least the threat of it, than those of Gilstrap's - but "Bonus Round" in particular left a mark. Though how couldn't a story that starts with the line "And then one day your molestor turns up as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune," not do so? We should add here, that you don't need travel to read these collections, you just need to read them, and sooner than later. We would also add, that they are sure to change your lives as well, though of course you already know that.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

    We suppose it's meta and obnoxious to state that when This Blog Will Share Your Life's curator at large Ben Tanzer wrote his novel Orphans he saw it as an homage to The Martian Chronicles and Death of a Salesman as chanelled by Philip K. Dick. What is more obnoxious, possibly, definitely, is that said curator, from here on known as "us" and as needed, "we," had never up to that point read anything by Philip K. Dick and still hadn't when Orphans was published. It occurred to us then as we began to write, then edit, Foundlings, the follow-up to Orphans, that we might just finally need to read some actual Philip K. Dick for inspiration and guidance, as well as for any proper, and further, channelling that might follow therein. We chose Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? for its focus on what we believed was it focus on androids and those who have both conflicted relationships with them and conflicted feelings about them. While we found that, as well as the expected bounty hunters and dystopia, we didn't know that Mars factored into the story, much less musings on marriage, affairs and how anyone makes anything work. And while we could tell you how much we loved the book, how we couldn't put it down or how it is rich in detail and imagination, we suspect you already know all of that. What we really didn't expect, however is that the book, like Orphans, and yes that comparison is surely obnoxious, is also a rumination on work and how we even begin to make the act of work itself work. Further, there is the following line about Deckard the bounty hunter, and primary protagonist, which not only caught us off-guard, but caused us pause: "...he found himself shaking. But I had to do it, he said to himself...I have to get my confidence, my faith in myself, and my abilities, back. Or I won't keep my job." Suffice to say that we have spent much of the last six to eight months in a similar headspace, work fucked, confidence undermined, swagger lacking. We want to get past that, and we intend to. We are doing so now. But to say being in this headspace has been unexpected and weird for us, much less that we dove into this book at this very time, after sitting on it for months, seeking, and expecting, something much different, has been an odd, yet pleasant surprise, leaving us to wonder if we were supposed to pick it up now and not sooner, which is very much not the kind thing we generally believe in. Still, this is where we are, this is when we picked it up, this is what Dick does and if the book hasn't in fact changed our lives, it has certainly spoken to us about just how fucked things can be until they're not. 

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Aviary by the Seth Berg and Bradford Wolfenden II, Ghost County by the John McCarthy and A Child of Storm by the Michael J. Wilson.

    We know that we once read somewhere that given America's relative youth and lack of history it is this country's natural wonders that are it's great art. We always loved this thought in the same way that we loved how someone once said to us that pop culture was this generation's trees in terms of shorthand and vernacular. It's what we know. We couldn't help but muse on both of these sentiments as we found ourselves reading in a more or less succession - Aviary by the Seth Berg and Bradford Wolfenden II, Ghost County by the John McCarthy and A Child Of Storm by the Michael J. Wilson. All traffic in nature in their own ways and all traffic in America as well, some slice of it anyway, a feeling that may be exacerbated for us by the fact that we are reading in writing in Jerusalem this week, a place that is all history all of the time, and not America, historically or otherwise. 

    Aviary is presented to us as a collaboration between two poets with one voice emerging, which we dig, but we also dig the collection for its inventive word play, use of color, joy, and yes, nature. We could, should, add here, that we are already great fans of the Seth Berg, whose whole vibe is one inventive word play and joy, and that we even had a hand in publishing some of these pieces previously. That said, anyone, or anyone's, who want to hit us with phrasing such as "slimer on rye," "buttery fuchsia winter," "Side-mouth Son House double-talk," "flamingo starburst mint" and "Esophageal dust collectors," will always have our love.

    Ghost County is something else entirely, the joy being found in the cracks, caught somewhere on the edge of decrepit midwest highways and in between the love and violence that infuse these beautiful, aching poems. Another word we might use is haunting and no line is more haunting to us than the following one:

    "We will walk and tell
    no one that we are broken
    down outside a village

    in rural Dakota, a name
    I would give to our child
    if we were given that luck,
    but I only have pockets

    full of closed fists."

    These poems are all about closed fists and the desire to open them, and open oneself to the world, if things could just be a little less fucked. It's just that they won't be.


    A Child of Storm speaks less to what's fucked, though Wilson's 9/11 poems near the end might upend that argument, and more about how things get lost. The great majority of the poems are about Nikola Tesla who we know just enough about to know that he worked with electricity, alternating currents specifically, and that somewhere along the way he became mostly obscure and lost to the vagaries of time and popularity. In this way these poems are a love letter to Tesla, and what gets lost, and in this way, all ways, they are quite moving. There are also lines we just love, though none more than "The earth is a workable solution" and "What circus is America?"

    What indeed?