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

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

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

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Glamshack by the Paul Cohen.

    What is the nature of obsession? Is it about the gaps in our lives and determining what's needed to fill them? Is it chemical? Or something more ephemeral? Can obsession be anything but fleeting? Maybe the nature of obsession is more indefinable than all that? That if we understood those things that we are obsessed with, possessed more self-awareness, and were in fact more capable of engaging in a conversation with ourselves about what we want and desire, would that knowledge transform the obsession into something else? Something more neutured, pragmatic, thoughtful? Is obsession about the not knowing, and maybe even not caring, just losing ourselves in that which has us in its hold? Are we ourselves not obsessing over this definition? We are, completely, and totally. But we don't have a choice, we read The Glamshack by the Paul Cohen, a breathless celebration of all things obsession and we want to understand what it all means. Man loves woman, woman loves man, there is chase, desire, hair, and sex. We all know that feeling, being so intoxicated with someone that the mere thought of them is like breathing itself. It is breathing really, because when you're in it, it is life. Maybe there's no point in needing to know anything else. Maybe it's enough to read The Glamshack, embrace the intensity, swim in the longing, breathe it in, and be reminded of what obsession looks like, and feels like. Obsession may be fleeting, but if it changes your life, need we ask for anything more than that?

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - And These Are The Good Times by the Patricia Ann McNair.

    Maybe to truly write about And These Are The Good Times by the Patricia Ann McNair we need to share the title in its entirety, which is "And These Are The Good Times - A Chicago gal riffs on sex, life, dancing, writing, wonder, loneliness, place, family, faith, coffee, and the FBI (among other things)." We say that, because the good times in McNair's world are many, because it is a life well-lived. But her life, like all lives are also complex and hard. People and pets die. Divorces happen. Words are written, and not. Significant others live too far away when we least want them to. It is the stuff of life, in the same way sex, dancing, and coffee are, and there is so much potential joy and wonder in all of it. It's just that sometimes, many times, the good times, are merely the best moments among those moments that aren't otherwise so great. Writers have the gift of capturing what the room, and the car, and the bars, and our brains feels like and taste like as life constantly crashes into itself, but what makes McNair so unique is that all of it, the good times, the bad times, the good in the bad, is shared not only with both grace and grit, but positivity. Life is life is life and we must allow its waves to wash over us as we keep dancing, and smoking cigarettes, and buying skirts, and working in gas stations, and finding love. Because And These Are The Good Times is that too, a love story. It's about entering relationships that transform us, and making sense throughout our lives of the love we we were born into. We recogize that not everyone is fortunate enough to have either, much less both, but McNair is, and she appreciates it, and she writes about it, and she lives hard, and in awe of it, and her willingness to do so means our lives as readers are the better for it.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - What We Build Upon the Ruins by the Giano Cromley.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at What We Build Upon the Ruins by the Giano Cromley 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.

    "Life isn't fair. This thought kept occurring to me with every story I consumed in Giano Cromley's lively new collection What We Build Upon the Ruins. In these stories, nothing is fair, not life, not death, not family, not nothing. All these characters can do is try to be okay, and what Cromley illustrates for us with his dexterous prose, is that if they keep fighting, and keep bleeding, and keep trying to feel something, anything, maybe they can be."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Gay Zoo Day by the Mike McClelland.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Gay Zoo Day by the Mike McClelland 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.

    “Mike McClelland’s writing is like the love affairs he writes so lovingly about: urgent, intimate, and sometimes sordid, yet always attuned to the smaller gestures and details.”

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker by the Lori Jakiela.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker by the Lori Jakiela 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.

    "I could throw a rock in just about any direction and hit a good writer. The hard part is finding the special ones, the writers who make us laugh, then cry and who make us feel like they're in our heads. Lori Jakiela is one of the special ones, and with Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker, she reminds us why, essay by essay, sentence by sentence. She writes from the heart, she's fearless and funny, and her love for her family and her craft leap off the page."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Expanse Between by the Lee L. Krecklow.

    The Expanse Between by the Lee L. Krecklow got us thinking about mood. There is the mood of the books we read, in this case, dread, and fear, and a lingering sense of disappointment and defeat that washes across the pages. But The Expanse Between is surprisingly thrilling as well, which is not to say we are surprised that we are thrilled to have read it, but that it is a thriller at all. We didn't know that was coming. Or that we would find ourselves so caught up in the trap that was being set for us all along. We were caught up, however, and there is a real thrill in that too. That we also found ourselves full of sadness as we plowed through the last third of the book though is something else. Because that is about mood as well. Now whether we projected some kind of sadness onto the characters in the book or absorbed their suffering and confusion is hard to parse. We assume there is always some kind of push-pull between the reader and those we are reading about, and that a story such as this, which is comprised of damaged parents, violence, the frustration of work that doesn't work, and desperate artists yearning for inspiration can't help but pull us in. It may be that there is a feeling of disappointment and defeat washing over us as well in recent months, okay, let's be clear, there has been, and that the book tapped into it. There is something else though, any of this, all of it, speaks to make what books good, even great. They pull us in, we feel things, the characters hurt, and we hurt, but we can't look away, we need to know what happens next, and then after that. The Expanse Between is such a book, and it is sure to change your life.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Whup Jamboree by the Garret Schuelke.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Whup Jamboree by the Garret Schuelke which is just out now. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    "Garret Schuelke knows the dispossessed. The uncared for. Those who go without. But Schuelke also knows violence and with Whup Jamboree he brings a true lyricism to violence as communication, or more accurately, how we use violence in lieu of our ability to express both our sense of confusion, and our anger, at being left behind."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - eNJoy: Stories by the Sea by the Glen Binger.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at eNJoy: Stories by the Sea by the Glen Binger which is just out now. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    "Having read Glen Binger's new collection eNJoy I now believe that we can only achieve true happiness when our feet are dangling in the ocean and we have an ice coffee in hand. I also believe that everything one needs to know about girls, pork rolls and the meaning of life can be found on the beaches of the Jersey shore."

  • 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.