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  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Sirens by the Joshua Mohr.

    After five novels the Joshua Mohr is back with the memoir Sirens. In eloquently exploring Mohr's congenital heart condition, the surgery that follows, Mohr's battle with sobriety and the newfound grounding he has found with his wife and young daughter, Sirens could easily be perceived as a memoir on addiction, though as Mohr told us in an upcoming episode of This Podcast Will Change Your Life, he sees it more as a memoir on relapse. Which we get. The battle and inevitability of relapse is as much part of the junkie's narrative as one's long sought and hoped for sobriety itself. Still, while we well embrace Mohr's take on his quite gripping, when not harrowing, when not entertaining, when not triumphant memoir, and yes we get it, it his memoir, we couldn't help but feel that this story is something else as well, a tale about how one survives, day by day, and moment by moment, as they fight to be sober, and build another life, a creative one, filled with love, and promise, where the pull of getting high never quite goes away and might even be missed. We should say too, that for Mohr the act of creation was something he was well engaged in long before he became sober, but it is also an act that allows him to stay sober, providing him with focus, and a way to organize his day, and day by day, and moment by moment at that. One final thought, or so, for now, but we have also had the great pleasure of reading Mohr's most auspicious debut Some Things That Meant The World To Me, as well as his most excellent fourth novel Fight Song, and the first he wrote sober, and it is no stretch to say - and Mohr speaks to this in that forthcoming podcast - that Sirens and Some Things That Meant The World To Me, are in fact two ends of a conversation. We get that too, and from our perspective, Fight Song is the bridge between them. In fact, when riffing on Fight Song, we wrote about the books, "both are quite trippy and full of searching characters who don't see that the answers they seek lie somewhere within." In Sirens, Mohr looks within, and we are all the better for it.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Lightwood by the Steph Post.

    We have been guilty here of comparing books we love to other books we love and authors to other authors we love and then feeling guilty of how lazy that feels. We have also been something else, not guilty, but what, we don't know, though it is about only realizing that there are books we love, and that will of course change your life, because someone really wants us to read them, and then we are pleasantly surprised to have read something that rocks in the most unexpected way possible. Lightwood by the Steph Post is something else entirely however. We never read crime fiction and never read enough about rural America or working class Americans. It's not a conscious decision, which is something we are also guilty of, not being a conscious enough of seeking out this kind of work. But this is where Steph Post comes in. She in no way has to represent the voice of crime, small town America or the south, unless she wants to, but for us, she is all of that. And after consuming Post's twisty, wonderful, and yes, nasty debut A Tree Born Crooked, we couldn't wait to see what came next, and what comes next was more of all that - family, crime, sex, sweat, garages, blood, back roads, dirt, heat, tank tops, grease, alcohol, boobs, diners and cigarettes. No one else we read does any of that quite like she does. Always pushing and churning all at once, everyone filled with conflict, loyalty or rage, or all of it all at once, because that's what crime novels are, the push and pull of doing the right thing, while constantly trying to define what the right thing is. We could tell you more about the plot itself, its turns and fuck-you's, the half-ass, but still violent motorcycle gang, the family led by the viscious paterfamilias, happy to tear it all asunder, the holy roller church members and their deranged Bible quoting minister, the damaged heroine, because there has to be one you would marry at jump. Maybe we are in fact doing that now, that plot thing, but we'll stop there, and say this: just go and read it, you will be propelled from the start, awash in words and heat, and your life will be changed, as has ours, and will be again, and again after that certainly, as the Steph Post continues to bring her terribly unique voice to a genre she may yet make all her own.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Patricide by the D. Foy.

    It's possible that binging on Westworld even as we barrelled our way through Patricide by the D. Foy is what has us so stuck on story. How even as we try to tell our story, and claim it, we repeat patterns, healthy and unhealthy, making the same mistakes again and again, wandering, sometimes plundering over and over into the same fucked-up relationships with the same fucked-up people, even as the settings and people themselves change, again and again. We search for answers that themselves are stuck in loops, that repeat and repeat, as we try to make sense of how we got from there to here. Our stories are further complicated by our families of origin. They create the foundation of who we are to become. How we parented and not, and the decisions they make, and don't, their mistakes and limitations, their goodness too, when it is present. But they are Gods to us, until we see how flawed they are and that the very foundations they stand on are as unsteady as those standing upon them. Then there is the violence. Not that everyone experiences abuse and anger, emotional and physical, verbal, or neglect. A lack of love and connection. But when we do, it lingers, another layer to make sense of, another pattern to not repeat. And as with Westworld, it is this world that D. Foy knows so well. The patterns and layers of family and how they smother us, wrapping their violent and neglectful arms around our lives and challenging us to punch our way free. Until we do, and until we have to ask, how do we live now, what is left, how do I build on this, and find, balance, and peace, a voice? How do we become healthy? How does that even fucking work? That D. Foy's characters know the answers lie in doing the work, but that the work is itself an endless series of patterns - rejuvenation, loss, confusion, balance - and that he writes their stories in such a propulsive manner, always pushing, fighting and plundering their way to some modicum of knowledge and acceptance is a truly rare thing. That it also feels so American - we are born of violence, we fight through it, we keep doing the work, we stumble, we get lost, we repeat, but we are always moving forward, searching, grasping for a future we now can be better - at a time when we are asking ourselves what that means, feels like a gift. D. Foy is just at the beginning of something, and while what that something is, and will become, remains to be written, it, and he, are certain to change our lives along the way.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Bruja by the Wendy C. Ortiz.

    What's the old canard about loving someone for their mind? Or their art? Not that we think the latter is even a thing. Still, in terms of the former, what is the thinking, that it must not be true, this love, or at least not for those reasons? That there is something else lurking there, a story we need to tell ourselves about something otherwise inexplicable to us? Which to be honest, inexplicability, isn't the worst way to approach the new Wendy C. Ortiz joint Bruja, a dreamoir, that leads us through the glistening shards of Ortiz' dreams. It is a journey through her mind, you see that, and her art, there you go, both of which are among the elements that we love so much in Ortiz's growing ouvre, a terribly pretentious word for sure. And yet, Ortiz is in the midst of not just inviting us into whatever is evolving about her, but creating a uniquely separate body of work from much of what has preceded it. We've said before that whatever Ortiz is in fact up to, it feels akin to performance, life as work, a guided, albeit twisty as fuck, tour through Ortiz's life, starting with Excavation, moving on to Hollywood Notebook and now Bruja. Fragments. Angles. Dark corners. Though light too. A life both burning and intense. As well as an unceasing exploration of all that is Ortiz's experience and how she has processed it then, and now, in the moment, and from a far. It is My Struggle, meets Naked Lunch, but while it is not a life without struggle, it is not beholden to it either. It is all search, and process, a Rashomonesque take on one's life so far by the very person narrating and capturing it. It is also sure to change Ortiz's life, or her path anyway, as much as it is yours, the reader, and companion on the trip. 

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Just Kids by Patti Smith.

    Is the act of wanting to create art inherently political or does the work itself have to be political in intent? A question no doubt influenced by the current political climate, though well worth asking regardless. Said differently, is the mere idea that one might make a life revolving around the creation of art so radical as to be political? Is this decision, one that is such an affront to societal expectations for structure and stability that the mere desire to even want such a life is a repudiation of what we are otherwise taught to do and be? Or is the artist merely in on a secret otherwise guarded by the republic - you are allowed to create, we have room for the artist, and while we won't let you know this, if you figure it out, we will ask you to suffer first, with no guarantee of success or happiness, but if you are willing to suffer, and put in the time, searching for rhythm and voice, the hours melding with the hunger, the joys sporadic, albeit spectacular, then go with God. Now, maybe none of this exists anywhere but inside our heads, and maybe none of this has to do with the current political climate, as much as our personal climate, one where work hasn't been working so well, and the desire to create all of the time, which includes creating a lifestyle that allows for this creation in the first place, is where we're at, have been at and want to be at. And so it is, that Just Kids by Patti Smith has been staring at us for at least the last year plus, and we have finally chosen to pick it up when we needed to do so, something we think Patti Smith would appreciate. It is also true however, that the personal is always political and 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. Which may not be political in the slightest, but it is sure to change one's life - theirs, ours, yours, everyone's - and in Smith's hands, and words, beautifully, lovingly, and poetically at that.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Apocalypse All the Time by the David S. Atkinson.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Apocalypse All the Time by the David S. Atkinson which is just out now from Literary Wanderlust. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    "I cannot decide if Apocalypse All the Time is Groundhog’s Day for the seriously cracked or The Day After for the absurdist lit set. What I do know, is that while David S. Atkinson may very well be deranged, his work is funny and weird and wholly touching. I also know that we are all the better for having it in our lives." 

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - mesogeios by the Steve Karas and SUPERMAN ON THE ROOF by the Lex Williford.

    It would be very cool to be able to say something unique about how one should not be surprised that things that come in small packages can still kick serious ass, literary and otherwise. Sadly, I believe we all know this already. Still, we are sitting here with two collections that may not cover much space in terms of word count, but in terms of impact and emotion, the range of feelings present in these collections are wonderous, and all the more so given the packaging and platform.

    mesogeios is by old friend Steve Karas and it is a triumph in many ways. For one, Karas tells stories full of motion and energy, his characters always wanting more from a world that doesn't seem to care about what they want. He also brings a global and immigrant flavor to his work, a sense of place, and more of an appreciation for the wider world than we generally can expect from our American authors. Karas' true gift however, is his ability to weave threads of pain and loss into his stories, though not in ways that hit you over the head, but lingering just below the surface, roiling and laying in wait, until they finally burst forth, the pressure too much for both the characters and the reader. Most finally though, for now, Karas' real triumph may be something more mundane - his ability to follow his dazzling debut collection Kinda Sort American Dream with more dazzle, more empathy and more vivid characterization. Karas is still at the start of his journey, but he is kicking ass every step of the way, which is no small feat indeed.

    SUPERMAN ON THE ROOF by Lex Williford is both of a kind with mesogeios, and then not at all. Vivid. Full of energy and empathy. The pain though is not below the surface. Nor is the violence. The stories are linked, and what you have is the exploration of one family, parents and siblings, a singular tragic event, their losses, how they suffer and the reverberations of that suffering over time. It's not all pain however, and the stories which can be read as a collective gasp certainly don't end that way. It's just that one cannot quite escape just how suffocating loss can be, neither the characters nor the reader. It's all so richly drawn and gripping though, that we want to write this as it must be written, the pain cannot be escaped, but we also want to stress that we don't want you to run away from it, but run towards it, wholeheartedly. For us the stories linger, oozing into our brain, and implanting themselves there, and while we have read so many great words this year, these may very well be our very favorite ones of all.

    Small packages, big punches, pain and empathy. Both mesogeios and SUPERMAN ON THE ROOF deliver the lit goods. They are also sure to change your life. So do hit them. Post-haste.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - A Brief History of Time and The Children's War by the Shaindel Beers.

    We do not read enough poetry. We know this, but we believe that poetry is about nourishment and feeding the brain and so we need to do more, be more, and at least once a year we do, and we are, and this is one of those weeks. We are starting with two startling collections by the Shaindel Beers and by startling it is not to say we are surprised at their ability to grab our brain and shake us. Even knowing Beers in the limited sense we do - Twitter, readings, talking here and there - her words are all about shaking and grabbing, fighting complacency and stupor. Our reaction is more about the remarkable nature of the work. The focus on violence, love and family, how they intertwine, and their pull and grasp on our lives, how they linger, and follow us from relationship to relationship. On being a woman, not just in this world, the literary, America, but all worlds, and the inherent challenges, and obstacles, that come with it. And on the need for bravery if we hope to have any impact on anything, which is particularly exemplified in one of the poems from A Brief History of Time titled "For Stephen Funk, in Prison for Protesting the Iraq War:"

    "Stephen, from your story, I've Learned bravery.

    I've resolved never again to be weak
    when it comes to things that matter, the stuff
    of life an death. If someday someone asks
    you was it worth it? know you're not alone
    anymore, because you've proven to me

    and others that if asked, we can be brave,
    that our weakness is not made of different stuff
    than courage; it's just us, sure we're not alone."

    To absorb these words, however, is to also recognize that Beers is performing a brand of advocacy with her work. A plea for understanding, and empathy, and the idea that stories can heal us, though if they fall short of that, at least show us the way there. This is overt in The Children's War with its opening focus on the "artwork done by and about child survivors of war," and nicely captured in the poem "The Gift (for my Golden Eagles:"

    "And I know, Children, that this isn't much, but it's the gift,
    the one gift, these stories, that can't be taken away."

    Poetry is the gift. It feeds us. And nurtures our brains. It also reminds us that amongst the violence and the love and the family, there are stories, and that stories can change our lives, just as this work has changed ours, and can yours too.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Love Sick by the Cory Martin.

    There is possibly nothing more obnoxious than referencing a review of one's own book while ruminating on another's. And yet, we did happen to finish the awfully funny and unflinching love and MS memoir Love Sick by the (we can assume based on her writing alone quite awesome) Cory Martin on the same day Windy City Reviews reviewed Be Cool: A Memoir (sort of) by This Blog Will Change Your Life spokesperson Ben Tanzer (and yes, he is us, and all content development all the time). So, terrifically timely cross-marketing and cross-linking purposes aside, though the possibilities are endless, yo, there was a line in that review that lingered with us - and seemed especially  timely, that word again - in regard to an essay titled "My (not quite) Cancer Years." The reviewer wrote, "All good memoirists understand the power of honesty, even when it may make the reader cringe," and it is in this that we thought of Martin and briefly lost ourselves in how she has done something wonderful with material that could, should maybe, easily, be not that wonderful at all. She is poked and prodded. She cries. She laughs. She has sex. She takes a lover. And Plan B. She's scared. She tries to live with a diagnosis that may not be a diagnosis, the unknown and her body betraying her. She tries to look forward, be calm, tangle with society's expectations for women, and beauty, and body. She wants love, but wonders if she will still be able to find it, have it, keep it, and if someone will ever even want her like her parents still want eachother. She also craps her pants. She is not timid. She lays her body and feelings bare. And yes, now we're just stealing from another review, and of our own book, again, none-the-less, which is truly obnoxious. But it's all true, and Martin is moving and funny on the page and we look forward to podcasting with her soon, because she has so much going on and so much to say. Her life has changed, and is changing, and yours, and ours, are certain to change as well, just by reading this memoir alone, if not by hearing her voice tell us what's what. So we will do that too. Soon for real. Trust. 

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - God In Neon by the Sam Slaughter, Maybe Mermaids & Robots Are Lonely by the Matthew Fogarty and Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone by the Sequoia Nagamatsu.

    We happen upon, and into, these short story collections by an author we know, and have read, and enjoy, an author we admire and have not read and an author that is a known name to us courtesy of the internet, but whose writing we don't know much at all. We start to read. And we find ourselves immersed in pain, dislocation, fucked families and at times, both the fantastic and magical. We are reminded that there is so much writing waiting to be consumed and we keep wondering, how, if, when we can consume it all. We can't. But we will keep trying, because like the collections before us, there is so much good and interesting work out there and it all deserves a chance to be heard and found.

    Among these collections, it is the Sequoia Nagamatsu we knew the least, hence it was the quite fantastical Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone that was the greatest surprise. Filled with Japanese folklore, Godzilla and pop culture, magical realism, weirdness, creatures not of this world, yet quite naturally inhabitating the world of Nagamatsu's writing, and heartbreak, it is a truly special collection of stories that hits a certain peak with "Headwater LLC," a story of childhood and loss that haunted us long after we closed the pages and set down the book.

    If Matthew Fogary, who we know, even if we don't quite know him, is somewhat less fantastical in Maybe Mermaids & Robots Are Lonely, and maybe even less weird, though the story "Cardboard Graceland" might suggest evidence to the contrary, he certainly well knows loss and how we can watch ourselves losing our grip on the relationships that matter most, but still feel the tremendous frustation of knowing we have no control over any of it. The collection's greatest strength, however, just might be how current it feels, with its commentary on an America in decline, especially a Midwest that is deterioration and rust. All of which hits a certain sad, hopeful, off-kilter culmination in the novella "The Dead Dream of Being Undead." 

    We are certainly unabashed Sam Slaughter fans. His work is realism and saturated in drink, lost people who lose themselves in bars and bottles, drinking to forget, and to feel something, anything. Much like Nagamatsu and Fogarty, he speaks to underappreciated parts of the world in his new collection God In Neon. In his case, it is the south, and small towns, places where people die at the hands of their pet snakes, return traumatized from wars in foreign lands and watch their family priest do shots off of their stripper sister's breasts. It's all so bleak and wonderful, the latter sounding wrong to our ears, but right on the page, and it all lands particularly hard, and correct, in "Nine Shots of Rye," a Sam Shepherd blast of brothers, dead fathers and how everything feels like everything just might turn out okay, even when that can't possibly be so.

    In the end, these authors who know loss and family, the weird and the sad, are now known to us, and we know that reading them is certain to change your life, just as they have ours, if only for a moment at that.