Category
  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Place You're Supposed To Laugh by the Jenn Stroud Rossmann.

    So, straight-up, we had this idea about what The Place You're Supposed To Laugh by the Jenn Stroud Rossmann was supposed to be. We heard Silicon Valley and early 2000's and dot-com moguls as neighbors and we assumed, always a mistake, we know, that we were stumbling into some insider parody of the dot-com culture in the vein of yes, Silicon Valley, which we watch and love, or Halt And Catch Fire, which we don't know a fucking thing about, or maybe some riff on The Soul of A New Machine, also loved, a lot. But, no it isn't that, not really, and maybe not at all. Because you see, it has all of that stuff, and yet none of it too, not really. It's the story of a family and a kid and their is strife and love and death and work and siblings and adoption and most of all trying to figure out issues of race, class and wealth, plus how anyone makes friends with anyone or falls in love or stays married. Which is to say, that it's more about being an exercise in domestic fiction with the idea of silicon valley and what that all means wrapped around it and we for one celebrate that. More domestic fiction please and more importantly more stories about more families of all kinds in all kinds of situations. Rossmann give us this, all of this, and she gives it with love and affection and knowingness. And it feels impossible to put down, and not because there's suspense or murder or some impossibly transformative idea that must be solved here, now, but because the writing is so fluid and we care so much about our protagonist Chad and because we have to know what happens to him and his family and friends because Rossmann cares so much about them and that leaps off of the page and it's really kind of lovely. As is Rossmann herself, which we know because we read the book and we had her on This Podcast Will Change Your Life and we now invite you to fully immerse yourself in the Rossmann experience. And not just because we think it must be so, though that's a good enough reason to do anything. It's because we know The Place You're Supposed To Laugh and the Rossmann herself will change your life, and that, well that's the whole point isn't it? 

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Scoundrels Among Us by the Darrin Doyle and Where The Marshland Came To Flower by the Peter Anderson.

    "Truth is nobody possesses 100% certainty about who they are, where they came from, how they came into this world. The only fact you can know is that you don't know." (Slice of Moon, Scoundrels Among Us, page 201)

    We've been ruminating on what this passage from Darrin Doyle's new dark and absurdist short story collection Scoundrels Among Us means to us. It certainly speaks to Doyle's worldview and the framing of his stories. How do we truly know anything about ourselves or those we interact with? And if we think we know something, how do we trust it? That's the thesis of Slice of Moon, a story that is not quite troubling, though we suppose it is, a once not mysterious neighbor who suddenly is, not the least of which because he suddently has a mysterious child, none of which adds up. It walks the line between slice of life and the absurd and the chasm between what we know and don't know is ripe for all kinds of storytelling, something Doyle clearly grasps and returns to again and again throughout the collection. The thing with the absurd is when it works it has to feel just real enough to be believable and this is where Doyle's craftmanship truly shines. Every story is grounded in just enough of the real that we have to take the stories as possible. With Dangling Joe, why can't a man suddenly appear dangling in the sky and why wouldn't we move on to other things as well? Or with Outline or Twilford Baines, Buck Hunter Unbound, the stories are so real, and so sad, and filled with just enough dread, that yes, we know how their going to end, but they are just off enough that we don't know how they're going to get there. This speaks to another reason we've been thinking about the above quote. Writers also search for who they are on the page and through their work, where their stories come from and how they come into the world. But while writers don't always know the sources of their ideas, or they find their voice, what you see with Scoundrels Among Us is a push to play with form, to challenge the story as previously written, this case Doyle's previous work The Dark Will End the Dark, and in this writers know with some certaintly is available to them, playing with what they new to find something new, if they just keep pushing, keep writing and continue trying to grow.

    And so it is that we come to the new Chicago inspired short story collection Where The Marshland Came To Flower by old friend Peter Anderson. Anderson's previous work was the novel Wheatyard, a sad, fascinating story, about what else, how well we know anyone, much less ourselves, and with this collection, Anderson not only uses Chicago for his muse, but Lou Reed's album New York. These are stories of neighborhoods and tribalism, the stew and diversity that makes for big cities, but especially this one, in which lines are always drawn and where we may proudly state who we are as denizens of this "fascinating and perplexing city... where the marshland came to flower," but may still not be able to say who we are as people and individuals, our stories ever-changing, the world around us evolving. And so it is with the old men in Hope and Change and The Bells Will Ring For You, but also the young man in Prime Time, one of the stories we love most in a collection that takes you on a wonderful tour of not just this city we can barely know in all of its complexities, but a tour of our own emotions. Another story we love, Eyewitness, is heartbreaking in its evolution and what it says about the isolation and loneliness that can slowly engulf one's life even when one lives in a city of five million. Anderson too then has pushed the form as he knew it, and used it, seeking a new way to write about the humanity that seeps from his pen and brain. He is an author who writes profoundly of the common man and woman who are on searches of their own, and who found their way onto his pages and into our brains. We know both of these authors, we even know where they come from, but to really know them is to read them, to lose yourself in their worlds as we have done. If you do so, you can know them too, you will also change your life, if only briefly, and with some uncertainty about who they, and you, may truly be, as you await what they produce next.  

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - An Off-White Christmas by the Donald G. Evans.

    An Off-White Christmas by Donald G. Evans comes in a deceiving package, and while we will resist any Christmas gift jokes, for now, we will explain what we mean. When we took in the title and the illustrations which populate the cover, our feeling was that we would be soon be entering a collection of stories about small towns and holidays, neighbors and families, tales of joy and woe, small miracles, and yet... wait, we did encounter those stories, just not as expected. What we were thinking is that we were entering a world more akin to Little House on the Prairie or Gangs of New York, not that the drawing of Yoda dressed as Santa Claus shouldn't have been a tip-off. But still expectations are expectations, and so we must now own-up to being just wrong and delightfully so at that. What we found were sketchy siblings stealing Christmas trees, family roadtrips, annoying brother-in-laws and lonely old men drinking away their woes after gambling away their savings. We found life and so much humanity, and yes there is joy and moments of grandeur and magic, see "One Person's Garbage," hope ripped from misery and emptiness, see "Ours Now," and a pair of personal favorites, "Whatever's Left of Normal," a soldier's story suffused with sadness and "Christmas Releases," a young person's tale suffused with goodness. And while we will not be the first to say this, there is a light touch to Evans' work, with words that dance, and stories that read like Christmas songs, and if you will indulge us before we go, a thought on short story collections for the writers out there. It's not easy to create as complete a collection as Evans as done here. Collections are tough. Stories have to be parsed and hang together, there needs to be flow, and one way to accomplish this is to find a unifying thread or framework to build your stories around. Again, these stories are ostensibly about Christmas, and Evans build the stories around that framework, but holidays especially, are about emotions, all of them, and in all ways and combinations, and Evans knows this, and shows it, and we encourage any of you embarking on a similar journey to remember this. Build on a foundation you know and believe in and a collection will follow. Also, do remember that there's no try, just do*. So, look, okay, as promised, no Christmas gift jokes, but as far as Christmas gifts go, you could most definitely do worse than An Off-White Christmas, which will most certainly change not only your life, but those of the lit fans on your Christmas list.

    *A not so subtle Yoda shout-out.
      

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Perfect Conditions by the Vanessa Blakeslee.

    This is not the first time we have written this, nor do we suspect it will be the last. But how do we grow as writers? And when we seek to stay engaged and immersed in a changing world how does it affect our writing? What if we keep writing and producing new words and want to keep it fresh, challenging ourselves to explore new ideas and push in new directions? We ask this because we just finished Perfect Conditions by the Vanessa Blakeslee and while it is so very Blakeslee, an exploration of the normal, broken marriages, and families, the world of work, and health, missed opportunities for love, and surfing, lots of surfing, it is something else as well, an rumination on women's rights, and especially their bodies, the environment and the upcoming apocalypse. There's also some magical realism if that's your jam. None of which surprises us, as we recently had the opportunity to talk with the Blakeslee over on This Podcast Will Change Your Life. We know she cares about these issues, especially the environment, and we can't imagine how they wouldn't creep into her work. But we still want to believe it's about growth, because great writers grow, and Blakeslee is one of our great ones. We are also reminded of a quote we referenced when we reviewed her debut story collection Train Shots: "Now remember, even though what you're seeing appears to be standing still, nothing ever is." We loved this quote because it reminded us of Blakeslee's stories, so much happening right below their otherwise calm surfaces. Emotion and struggle and pain. A desire for some kind of normal. That's still true. But what isn't true, is what we also wrote at the time, that she didn't do weird or surreal. That's changed, because like her stories, Blakeslee isn't standing still either. Well that, and she is as sure to change your life as she ever was. Some things of course never change.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Whiskey & Ribbons by the Leesa Cross-Smith.


    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. 

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by the Hanif Abdurraqib.

    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.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Defying The Verdict by the Charita Cole Brown.

    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.      

  • 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.