This Book Will Change Your Life
  • 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 reductive, 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.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by the Jessica Hopper.

    We know it's too on nose really to talk The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by the Jessica Hopper on International Women's Day, even if it was not planned as such. We also know however that musical criticism is the arts criticism we are least likely to pay attention to, except maybe dance, we will concede that. It's also true that we dipped in and out of this book over many months, and not because we didn't llike it. we quite love it really, but because we might not have even picked it up if it weren't The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic. That means something, that's a literary event, that cannot, should not be missed. And we're glad we didn't miss it. Yes, it talks about music, and the the musicians who are important to music culture, now, yesterday, tomorrow, but what it really speaks to is the culture of music, how it has changed, and changes, constantly evolving and morphing, and that it doesn't require a dude to make sense of it. Now, we know this of course, but knowing it is not the point. It's about opportunity and access, and the understanding that given access and opportunity, it doesn't matter if the writer is male, female, gay, straight, trans, black, white, brown, whatever, they are as capable as anyone of doing kick-ass and insightful work. Whether Jessica Hopper represents a changing of the guard or will serve to open doors remains to be seen in the same way the impact of Patty Jenkins absolutely slaying Wonder Woman remains to be seen. Access is rarely given away without a fight. But that's another thing about Hopper, no one gave her anything, she fucking took it, and she wrote beautifully about that taking, and there's a reason this is The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, there's nothing quite else like it, not yet, but that doesn't mean there won't be more. There will have to be, The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, may not povide a road map of how to be all things Jessica Hopper, rock critic, but it does serve as a beacon and inspiration and once all of the future female rock critics get a taste of it, there will be no turning back. All of which is to say, that there are much worse books to celebrate on International Women's Day, even if on the nose, and not otherwise the kind of writing we would otherwise care enough about. And all of that said, maybe two more thoughts before we move along. First, the work is uniformly thoughtful, if not slamming, across the board, and certain to change your life, but if you're only going to read one piece, and you're not, but if you were, do read "Conversation With Jim DeRogatis Regarding R. Kelly." DeRogatis is a fucking hero, R. Kelly is a fucking predatory scumbag, and Hopper's examination of DeRogatis' great frustration with his inability to draw more attention to R. Kelly's untoward, and yes, illegal behavior toward young woman is a fine, and necessary piece of journalism. Most finally, Hopper has this to say about The Raincoats:

    "The Raincoats are the sound of learning and having fun and making it up as go along; may they be revivified, rediscovered and reissued indefinitely."

    We're not sure how we feel about The Raincoats, or even if we know who they are, but as far as Hopper herself goes, may all of the above be true for her as well, be it International Women's Day, or any day.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Actual Miles by the Jim Warner.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Actual Miles by the Jim Warner which is out so soon. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    "With Actual Miles, Jim Warner is all texture, flavor, and heart, a shock of senses and cultures, and always searching for family and identity, and the best ways to make them sing."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Eats of Eden by the Tabitha Blankenbiller.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Eats of Eden by the Tabitha Blankenbiller which is out so soon. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    “Is there anything more important than feeling good, eating well, and living passionately? Blankenbiller’s essays would suggest there is not, and I would suggest that with Eats of Eden, there may be no one writing more urgently, humorously, or touchingly about these topics than Blankenbiller herself.”

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Like A Champion by the Vincent Chu.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Like A Champion by the Vincent Chu which is out so soon. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    “Vincent Chu can do many things, tell a story, create indelible characters, and craft spot-on dialogue, but what he does most movingly in Like a Champion is unpack our greatest fears, hopes and desires, in other words, what makes us human.”

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - The Sarah Book by the Scott McClanahan, we are never meeting in real life. by the samantha irby, and The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by the Megan Stielstra.

    We began the year by reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, which is as much a celebration of making art, and making life, as anything we've ever read. What we were especially captivated by was the copious attention, hunger, desire, impossibility of anything, but making art vibe that permeated, and permeates, Smith's life. She has loved and lost, traveled, lived well, and not, but making art was paramount. During this past year, we have wondered whether these things can be quatified in some form? How much attention is required? How much life? How much must be given up? How much pursued? And how much must any or all of these things intersect? We don't have any more answers to any of these questions at the end of the year than we did at the start, and we are not concerned, it is an endless search for ideas, motivations, lived lives, words to describe them, and finding a voice that somehow captures all of it. Your voice. A unique, authentic, grouping of words and sentences and images that says this is who we are, and how we see it. Do you want it? It is also no surprise to us then that we finish the year reading the three books we most looked forward to at the start - The Sarah Book by the Scott McClanahan, we are never meeting in real life. by the samantha irby, and The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by the Megan Stielstra - because these are authors whose voices are so distinct, one could pick nearly any page from any these books and know who wrote them. All three authors are people we know on varying levels. We have read with them and watched them read many times over many years. We have also podcasted, broken bread and drank with some derivation of the group, and been inspired by them all. As a group their writing is fierce and funny, raw nerves, real time, and lived. We have always been driven to the electric, sentences that throb, and jab, with The Basketball Diaries serving as template and religious tome. There are other authors we love, have read with, and have read this year, who write, and live, like this as well, Joshua Mohr, D. Foy, Wendy C. Ortiz, explosively, and personal, no pain too great to record, no fucked-upedness to horrifying to illustrate.

    But it is these books, at this time, that I have read, and it is these authors who were already part of the collective ether, who have broken out in new and profound ways, publicly, and yes personally, and so it is these books that require the extra attention they deserve. All three books hammer, and expand on themes these authors have visited time and time again - Stielstra a combustible, heartrending, beautiful mix of family, artmaking, teaching, triumph, tragedy, and being a woman today, yesterday, tomorrow; McClanahan, utterly unpacking, smashing, and illuminating, every feeling about even the most quotidian ways of being in relationships, communication, hurting, and being human; and Irby, gut-punchingly looking, finding, chasing, and running from love, apartments, family history, work, Chicago, pop culture, illness, and food, in a mad sprint of words and near travelogue of how we live now. And yet these books do so in new, bigger, and more focused ways that transcend their previous, but still mighty efforts. How does this work? Is it a culmination of expereince, hours of writing, performing, thinking, living, loving, detroying, searching, and editing? Is it putting in the time in some newly attentive way? Does the voice finally, or at least more perfectly, match the energy that was already there? We still don't know. But we can celebrate it. Authors we love making art we love and finding more love in return than ever before. These books are political as well in a time that requires them to be so. They are about poverty, class, red states, misogyny, sexuality, equality, weight, violence and abuse - sexual, physical, and emotional, and making art as an act that upends societal expectations, hence radical, and we would suggest beautiful as well. We also started the year here, art as political, as statement, and as a fuck you. All thee authors do the fuck you well, and if there is a better way to finish this year correct, we cannot imagine what it would be.    

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Barack Obama: Invisible Man by the David Masciotra.

    On the night Donald Trump was elected President of the United States we posted to Facebook that "Hate won." A friend of someone we knew in high school, though not someone we know ourselves responded by saying that they didn't hate anyone and that it was unfair to say they did based on their vote. Though we try not to respond to exchanges such as this, we responded that we didn't know whether they hated anyone or not, nor did we care, but they had voted for someone who ran a campaign based on hate, hence hate won. They were okay with this response. It seems both fortunate and unfortunate to us that Barack Obama's presidency must exist as refracted through the administration that follows his. He only looks classier, more compassionate, and thoughtful in comparison, but his presidency also cannot be allowed to stand on its own. President Trump is hell-bent on erasing all of that which Obama accomplished, and so every thread, positive thread anyway, we associate with the last eight years is tied to their own unraveling with each and every passing day. It may be that this is the course of history, that presidents are inevitably tied to those who precede and follow them. All presidents and all of their actions tethered to the longer arc of history. And yet, the Obama presidency, and Obama the man, exist on a parallel arc as well. Obama is our first African-American president. Period. End of statement. We can choose to ignore just how unpredecented this was, or as Obama might even prefer, seek to understand his place in history based on his merits alone. To do so, however, is to ignore a story that is not only unique to the history of people of color in this country, but is wholly unique to our presidential history. And that is this: President Trump may choose to vigorously erase any sense that Obama was ever president, but as an African-American, the country's twisted relation to race means that Obama's accomplishments, not to mention his class, compassion, and thoughtfulness, were already ignored by much of the country. All of which brings us to the superbly moving, and terrifically thought-provoking, Barack Obama: Invisible Man by the David Masciotra. The book draws on the classic novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and argues that the country's obsession with race obscured what President Obama offered to the country: a president, who based on his race, upbringing, and work history, presented the country, his country, with a uniquely historic and timely figure that offered a path forward, a path that was ignored, and now has been squandered with President Trump's election. That President Obama is a reflection of where the world is headed, and America at its best, an amalgam of race, curiosity, decency, and intellect, and that few were better suited to take us there seems inarguable. That President Trump represents where the world was, and at its worst at that, toxic masculinity and patriarchy, a lack of racial, gender, and sexual  parity, isolationism, seems inarguable as well. That there is anyone we have personally read besides David Masciotra who is better equipped to tackle this topic is unlikely. But wIll many follow him. Surely. There's no more contemporary story than this one, and there are many voices we've yet to read or hear from. But is this the place, and the book, to start with? Absolutely. Will it change your life? Certainly.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Staggerwing by the Alice Kaltman.

    We were reading this piece in the Chicago Tribune about diversity in movies and they were stressing that one element of diversity that is so often ignored is the need for more roles that reflect the lives of the aging. The article also stressed that the lack of conversation about age seemed especially ironic now given the range of excellent performances by older actors and actresses this year. This got us thinking about the books we read. How so many of them are small press and indie. That these writers are predominantly young. At least rarely even as old as we are. And so, while they are quite awesome, of course, there is a lack of diversity in terms of their age, and subsequently, the characters they depict are rarely dealing with what the aged, or even semi-aged deal with - illness, their own and those around them, dead spouses, affairs and the loss of dreams that never were and now never will be. Until Staggerwing by the Alice Kaltman that is. Here are these very characters, and these very themes populate this very captivating debut story collection from this very New York writer. Which isn't to say young parents or newlyweds don't appear, but it is to say that the young characters are the exception. That it is a book about age, or more accurately aging, and maybe it's because we are getting old, and we have aches and pains and have been married so long. Or maybe it's because there is also art and surfing and New York City and travel. But the book rang true to us. Now it is also true that the character's don't necessarily resolve everything by stories end. For example, the artist seeking a break may not actually get it. The married engineer thinking that maybe he has fallen in love with a much younger woman, may or may be accurately reading the situation. And the widow carting her dead husband's ashes around with her may not figure out how to live without him, but maybe she will. Regardless, they have all lived through something that they are able to acknowledge and they are resolved to do something, even if it's nothing, but continuing to live. We could also say that these stories feel like real life, and authentic, and if that's not to cheesy, we will. We will also say that Staggerwing is as sure to change your life as it has ours. And we will add, please do be on the lookout for Alice Kaltman's upcoming episode of This Podcast Will Change Your Life, because it will most definitely do that, and it is coming soon.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Massive Cleansing Fire by the Dave Housley.

    We are quite happy to have had an early look at Massive Cleansive Fire by the Dave Housley - and more on all that below, if that's your jam - which is coming out from Outpost 19 in February 2017. We are also quite happy to let you know that we think it just might change your life. If you let it.

    "With Massive Cleansing Fire Dave Housley delivers both the humorous pop culture deconstructions and the despairingly nuanced domestic scenes we've come to expect from him. And yet, it is Housley's ability to keep doing these things in new and surprising ways that is becoming his hallmark. Housley is a craftsman, he is unstinting and he continues to raise the bar for all of us who would consider ourselves his peers."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Fugue by the Gint Aras.

    There was this time when we were young adults and we went on a trip to France with our mother. We had never talked much with her about our private lives, the drugs and dating, the risky behavior, sex and fears, the grand sweep of moving from childhood to adolesence and into young adulthood. Yet there we were one night at dinner outside of Paris, eating a multi-course meal and drinking for hours, and we told her everything in all of its wonderful and sordid detail, crafting a story of self, which if not always self-aware, was certainly entertaining, and grand, and like the meal, epic even, in its own limited scope and focus on our party of one. We thought of this as we recently plowed through The Fugue by the Gint Aras - small messy lives told epically, and beautifully - because the beauty thing should be noted here, and everywhere - with layers and twists and changes in direction and time, even as it moves forward, churning, and spinning, dreamy and soaked in the sadness and limitations that come when all that lies before us is so limited from the start. It is a great Chicago story that if all is just - though like the characters in The Fugue, we know better than that - will rightfully take its place among the great Chicago stories. It is also a story about artists, immigrants, love and mental health, and while it may carry no greater historical significance than that of the importance required of it to tell the narrative of its very own characters, it is as wholly captivating as any life is, once exposed, played-out over time and given room to breathe. It should be noted, that in comparison to the much slimmer The Reactive, which we also recently consumed with much gusto, we didn't rush into reading The Fugue, and that was because of its size, so sad, we know. Now that we have read it though, we are reminded how well worth it is to savor a book of some girth, and to embrace something that feels like it will be work. We know we will certainly be doing so more of that in the coming months, and we hope you will too, starting with The Fugue of course, which is as sure to change your life as it has ours.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Reactive by the Masande Ntshanga.

    We are in it. On the ground. In the protagonist's head. Searching, reaching, throbbing and vital. On the move. A sense of dread lingering. Always. Past traumas taking hold of our fuzzy brains. Undefined horrors looming. Family, friends, community, drugs, health and mortality weighing on us every step of the way. The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga is all vibrant like that. Or if you prefer, like The Basketball Diaries or We The Animals are. And yes, as we have noted before, it's fucking lazy to compare any book to any book to anything, but there is an electricty, an aliveness, and caked-on scuzz that begs to be compared and considered in terms of literary lineage and place. It is life lived. It is the past always holding on and the future hurtling both towards and away from us all at once. First and foremost though, it is movement, and motion, and kinetic energy, even when still. We will run our podcast with Masande soon enough, but for now, know The Reactive is all that, and still something new as well, a churning and beautiful rumination on not only modern-day South Africa, HIV/AIDS and a lost generation, but how we don't even know how to die even when everything, and maybe everyone, is telling to do so. Also know this, we are certain that The Reactive is most certain to change your life.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Harbors by the Donald Quist.

    This is a story about connections. First there is the story we've told here many times before. We meet a writer, in this case the Kali VanBaale, she of the The Good Divide, and she says you need to meet my friend Donald Quist. We meet the Donald Quist, he of the soon to be essay collection Harbors which is being released from the Awst Press, home of This Is Not A Confession by our friend David Olimpio. Connections upon connections, and so we are new friend and old, and we are onto a collection about race and class and displacement that is uniquely positioned to provide the accent marks to a whole range of conversations that America needs, ought, to be having now. All from a publisher we are just getting to know, but has already proven a willingness to embrace hard topics and the scary shit that most of us would rather not discuss at all. So, to summarize thus far, we are talking connections between authors we love and who love each other, and the choices publishers make about who they want to be and how they want to be represented. But that's just in the first, because then there is the Quist himself, and his desire to connect to the people and stories around him, and to question how connected any person of color can be to a country that can barely acknowledge its inability to fully accept any such connections at all. That Quist has left the country and moved to Thailand, his wife's country of origin, is to connect all over again and invite new questions about what it means to make a home in a place that isn't home at all. That Quist tackles all of these questions - as well as those about the connections we lose or break through broken homes, death and choice - with such a profound sense of urgency, is not just a tribute to his craftmanship, but his grace.

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

    We are phone fucked. Long run. Storm. Battery corroded. Fucked. Which means we are Instagram fucked. Which also means we are no photos of anything fucked, much less book covers. Say, that of Anamakee by the Garret Schuelke. But this might also make sense. Anamakee's protagonist Floyd Spicer is in fact fucked. Or he can't get unfucked anyway. School. Romance. Work. Family. It's all not happening. And it doesn't feel like it possibly can. What's not fucked is how well Schuelke captures the undulating discouragement and anger that washes over people caught-up in a world where there is no way up, or out, no matter how much one wants it to be so. In this way Anamakee reminds us of another book we recently read - Single Stroke Seven by the Lavinia Ludlow. One key difference is that Schuelke's people are lower middle-class and Ludlows are middle to upper middle-class, and while it feels that the latter should not somehow be drowing in such a similar state of anomie and lack of social control, that both are speaks to the state of the world these protagonists, and these writers, have grown-up in - one where no one can hope to do as well as their parents and there is no job waiting for them at the end of college, not one that will pay for your college debt anyway. It's all fucked. And by this standard, we shouldn't be complaining about corroded phones. The state of our phone is not going to change our lives or anyone else's. Anamakee though is a different story. It is sure to change your life, if only for a moment at that. 

  • This Book WIll Change Your Life - Single Stroke Seven by the Lavinia Ludlow.

    We are thrilled to have reviewed Single Stroke Seven by our great friend Lavinia Ludlow for The Spectacle. Please do take a look, as it, the book, not the review per se, is certain to change your life. Also, for your reading pleasure, please do find some excerpt below.

    "Single Stroke Seven is also a kind of manifesto for a generation traumatized by this lack of opportunity and the ability to live an authentic life, and if you’re my age, you know little of that kind of trauma. Not that they even seem to know they are traumatized. They know how much everything sucks, but they don’t quite realize that this trauma has skewed their ability to see straight or make good choices. They just know that they want more want more, and they want to get out of their busted-ass home, and their busted-ass heads.

    They just can’t get out of their own way."

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by the Ricardo Cavalo and Scott McClanahan.

    Because "For every story told about someone else is about the person who is telling it." Because we try to make sense of the world by making sense of ourselves. Because we want to believe that we are special. Because we want to be validated. Because we always project who we are onto those we worship. Because we love to believe that madness is genious and genius is unique. Because we want to believe suffering is unviversal. Because we want to believe the tortured artist is romantic. Because we should know better. Because fiction is memoir is fiction is nonfiction. Because Scott McClanahan knows all of this as well as anyone. Because Ricardo Cavalo is love. And because The Incantations of Daniel Johnston is a sad and lovely vision that is sure to change your life.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Not Quite So Stories by the David S. Atkinson, Naked Me by the Christian Winn and I'm Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You by the Len Kuntz.

    We have been read and travel and not work and read and we are heading west and we will be words and readings and authors and we thought that we needed to read those authors. We started with the Cari Luna and the quite marvelous Revolution of Every Day, and then we kept pushing, and reading and traveling, and now we are Not Quite So Stories by the David S. Atkinson, Naked Me by the Christian Winn and I'm Not Suppsed To Be Here And Neither Are You by the Len Kuntz and leaving so soon, and this, more words, more everything.

    Atkinson is absurd, swirling bizarro riffs on family, work and home, even homes that may decide to move away on their own. The warped sensibility is true, though more than that he is committed to the story, and its tenor, never wavering, or showing his hands, his world is off and weird, but you never doubt its his world. We are not sure how this works, or what it might look like to attempt such a thing ourselves, but we found a clue in the story "The Onion She Carried," which is yes, about a woman and a onion she carries. At one point she thinks to herself, "Things were boring again," and in this we thought, we understand Atkinson's objective, never be boring, not to himself, or the reader.

    Kuntz is fiction as flash, stripped and fast, with dazzling painful stories, full of hurt and violence, lost parents, and their lost kids, and as the teacher from "Soul Patch" reminds us, "Every family is damaged." These are Kuntz' people, the damaged and imploded, grasping for answers, and searching, as Kuntz is doing himself, one story after another, building, and compounding, and ultimately telling some larger story, or possibly just one long story comprised of the fucked-up quotidian moments that make for a life, even when those lives need to be healed.

    Naked Me is something else, and something similar, short stories filled with lives lived, drenched in longing, and confusion, and the need to understand why people leave, how we lose them, why shit never gets to be fixed and as Winn writes about one lonely character, "...maybe he was missing his own youth and wishing time didn't move on as it did." But time does move on, and things are missed, though sometimes found too, as Winn reminds us in his closng story "False History." We live, we lose, we die, but sometimes there are glimmers of hope, fathers dancing, love rekindled and mother who smile.  

    And so we head west, filled with stories by authors not only in full command of their work, but sure to change your life.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Revolution Of Every Day by the Cari Luna.

    There is this literary trope where people say that they read to be taken to another place, worlds they don't know or haven't visited, and that certain books transport them there. They want to escape to something and literature is their means for doing so. We don't generally adhere to this trope, which is to that we don't read to escape to anywhere, we're just happy to not be in our own head, the words alone sufficient to accomplish that, the location neglible. But the exception to this quite possibly inaccurate position are those books that offer us an alternative version of the world as we think we know it, or have chosen to live it. The Basketball Diaries wil always loom large for us in this way, its electric scuzz, sex and drug use a seemingly parallel world to not only the small central New York town we grew-up in, but even the the New York City we thought we knew as kids. We were reminded of this when we first read Full of It by our old friend Tim Hall, and its tale of underground newspapers and pre-new Millenium New York City. We lived there then, but we didn't write, and we didn't know any artists. We barely knew the scuzz we loved reading about as children. And it made us feel like we had missed something, an opportunity, and an era soon to be lost to time and development. We had a similar reaction over the last week as we read The Revolution of Every Day by the Cari Luna, a book as well-crafted and seamless as any we've read this year or any year, a tale of the early to mid-Nineties New York City squatter scene that we're quite sure we didn't quite grasp existed. We should say, that unlike Tim Hall's New York City, this is not a world we wish we hadn't missed - the endless hustle and dumpster diving, the fear and deprivation - though we felt envious at the sense of purpose driving the characters, every moment one of meaning and righteousness - but it was there, it was real, and we missed it, until Luna brought it to life for us, her writing vibrant and full of scuzz, her characters alive, and on the make, finding and losing love, connecting and disintegrating, and all the while sure to change your life.     

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Misadventures Of Sulliver Pong by the Leland Cheuk.

    We were thinking of writing, when is a farce not a farce? But now we're not sure why. It's possible we wanted to sound smart or grand. It's also possible we wanted to make some grand statement about how the use of farce in his debut novel The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong allows Leland Cheuk to comment on immigration, the Chinese American experience, small town politics, corruption and dysfunctional families without needing to knock the reader over the head and say, see, look what I'm doing, I'm commenting on shit that's really important to me and could be for you too you dumb bastards. Okay, Cheuk probably wouldn't say that, much less think it, we've met him, he's cool and you will hear a podcast of our conversation soon. The point though, is that we don't need to be grand or smart, nor do we need to comment on the use of farce as a means to illuminate readers on social issues, and ills. What we need to say, is that The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong is a highly entertaining debut novel that has a lot of interesting things to say about immigration, the Chinese American experience, small town politics, corruption and dysfunctional families, while still being funny and propulsive, and as we enjoyed reading it on the beach the other day, a most excellent beach read as well. We would add, that it is also certain to change your life, so please do hit it, now, thank you.     

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Old Records Never Die by the Eric Spitznagel.

    We've been thinking about how loaded it feels to have spent the last several days consuming Old Records Never Die by the Eric Spitznagel, his new memoir about the search for his long lost record collection. Spitznagel is a funny fucking dude, and it seems impossible not to comment on that before recognizing just how touching his new joint is, as it explores how we grow apart from friends and siblings, even as we build families of our own, and make new friends, lose parents, especially fathers apparently, and try to figure out whether we have lost something along the way - our coolness, our curiosity, our desire to take chances, and our ability to sleep with anyone we want, assuming anyone wants, or wanted, to sleep with us in the first place. It's so much about being stuck, or thinking we're stuck, not knowing, and barely remembering the facts of our youth, much less if and how we got stuck in the first place. But that's just the book. Not to minimize why we're here. Because it is a book so Spitznagel - fast and funny, a journey jammed full of insights and Hornbyesque glory - that we do need to ask ourselves if Spitznagel should be repurposed as an adjective - the name, not the person, though maybe its both - and not merely a sexual position banned in any number of states and localities. It's just that what we have been ruminating on, if not actually been stuck on ourselves, is how in a time of tragedy and confusion, seeing old friends, reveling in music and nostalgia, laughing and crying, are all crucial for coping, not to mention keeping our shit together. Old Records Never Die is all of that, and if not sure to change your life at a time when life itself is more than enough, it is certainly sure to cause you pause, and make you want to hug those closest to you, reach for your closest ABBA album and dance until you can breathe again.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - When You Cross That Line by the Sam Slaughter and When I Return To You, I Will Be Unfed by the Christopher Bowen.

    We celebrate youth, especially when we're old, but in literature and pop culture, always, and in all forms of media - the adventure, the possiblities, the lack of rules and restraints. It's all fucking there, right there and all they need to do is fucking grab it. What we forget at times, and do note that a massive cliche is to come - youth is also wated on the young. They don't know what they want or how to get it, they are lacking in the Zen and balance that comes with experience and wisdom, mastering the suffering and coming out on the other side alive, kicking, all onward, if not upward. And so it is that we, all old and missing our youth, are travel and read and near bite-size bursts of literature by two young writers we quite dig - When You Cross That Line by the Sam Slaughter and When I Return To You, I Will Be Unfed by the Christopher Bowen - who have produced two new(ish) joints that we quite dig - stories of (mostly) young men in mid-stride, desperately trying to get away from where they have been and so almost going somewhere, if they can just figure out how to do so.

    Slaughter's characters are trying to get to the next phase of their lives, which sometimes means new homes, and other times means letting go of old relationships and the synbols that came with them. They are (mostly) all encumbered by the challenges of youth, bad relationships and an inability to express what is okay and what is not. If it's hard to be hopeful for these characters overall, it's not hard to picture Slaughter building on this path of colorful characters in colorful situations, all of whom are hoping for better, all the while having no true idea if better is truly available to them. Bowen shines in the story's wrinkles, deftly depicting his protagonist's pain and confusion, while also presenting a character hoping to get to the next phase of his life, and frankly, back to his life, though whether that is available to the character may be less about place or relationship, then protagonist's battle with mental illness and all that comes with it. Some of this becomes more manageable with age, and wisdom, knowing yourself and your illness, but it's still hard to feel hopeful for the character. Not that we have to feel any more hopeful for him than we do for Slaughter's people. Not when both of these writers, and their characters, are on the move, reaching and sure to change your lives.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Swarm Theory by the Christine Rice.

    We are not embarrassed to say we may have cried a little when we finished Swarm Theory by the Christine Rice. It's likely something was caught in our eye, dust, what have you. But it's also possible that we finally let ourselves relax, expelled the breath we had been holding for countless pages and days, and finally had the chance to be that much less caught-up in the story and the characters, their pain and sadness, and their confusion about how to fix things, or become unstuck, it all came out, our feelings for Paulie and Astrid and Leila and Will and Eric and Caroline. Because that's the thing, or a thing, there's a lot going on in Swarm Theory, swirling, overlapping story lines, where the characters cross-over and back, moving in and out of eachother's lives. One could read it just for the skill required to make these intersecting storylines sing as they do, not showing any seams or strain. Or even for the sociological thrill of losing oneself in this intensively detailed look at one small town - and the violence, hate, anger, shame and weakness that reverberates across the years - and an era long since past. But for us, it is the sheer and unrelenting emotion and heartbreak that codifies Swarm Theory as not just a great read, but something more beautiful and transcendent, and certain to change your life. 

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Communion by the Curtis Smith.

    There is this moment when we're immersed in the essay "On Aggression" from the near surrealy meditative collection Communion by Curtis Smith when our 10-year old jumps from the couch on top of our head seeking battle. Not highly iunusual, but for the fact that "On Agression" is a piece focused on Smith's search to understand the potential violence within both he and his own son, a son who likes to grapple, and a son who knows agression if not the actual violence that Smith has experienced. The questios that hover around the piece is whether aggression is something we pass on through our DNA, something we model or some social construct fathers pass on to sons? Differently, similarly, is tangling with the things we all share as fathers, sons, writers - common experiences, and the desire to understand them, find the proper words, craft a narrative that somehow makes sense of our lives, individually, and collectively. We thought about all of this during our reading of "On Rereading" as well. The death of the father, books, the threads that run through our lives and across them. These are all of our stories and the challenge for the artist is to find the language that speaks to all of those who consume that art. That Smith accomplishes this throughout Communion would be a great feat of writing by itself, that he does so with the sense of calm and serenity the flows from sentence to sentence and page to page is something else entirely. These essays are like koans, full of triumph and enlightenment. They are also sure to change your life.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Voyager Record A Transmission by the Anthony Michael Morena.

    We suppose we could tell you all about how we are long-time fanboys of The Voyager Record - the Golden Record sent off with the Voyager space probe in 1977. That it spoke to us from the first moment we even knew there was such a thing. That a Golden Record containing music, images and greetings and created for the space aliens sure to find it and possess the means for listening to it, whose very creation involved Carl Sagan and later influenced Star Trek: Voyager, would be something that some part of our childhood would have to been dedicated to understanding and fanboyng the hell out of it, much in the same way that Skylab or the Space Shuttle Challenger or Blade Runner, Star Trek or The Twilight Zone, or even Los Angeles - more on that in a moment - did. And yet, no. we had no sense of it at all. It may be that we can blame the public school system in Central New York for this, but so many decades later, this is where we are, which only increases our great joy at finding that The Voyager Record A Transmission by the Anthony Michael Morena is an actual thing, a prose lyrical poem thing that is both terribly educational - but in a terribly fun way - and terribly moving all at once. It is a rumination on connection, and believing that there is something more than this, us, whatever, or wherever, it is we think we are. It is also about pop culture, the loss of heroes and fathers, and Morena's own displacement and discoveries in moving from Brooklyn to Tel Aviv, an alien life force all his own. We're all thrilled to share that we had a chance to interview Anthony for the podcast, and in Los Angeles where so much of our science fiction and pop culture fanboy love was born and formed, and we will run that episode soon. But for now there is this, The Voyager Record A Transmission, and there is no doubt that it is sure to change your life.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Good Divide by the Kali VanBaale.

    We are not travel. We are just read and more read. Rinse and repeat. We are also reminded how wonderful it is to have a book come to us that we had not sought out and then enjoy it so much it's like rediscovering why we love reading so much in the first place. Which is to say, that the fine crew at MG Press suggested that we must in no uncertain terms take a look at their new joint The Good Divide by Kali VanBaale. We did. We love it. And we thought, this is what a page-turner feels like - the thrill of wondering what comes next and then quickly turning the page to find out, happy that the next chapter is not so long as to require us to wait until the next day because we shouldn't stay up longer just to read and trying to figure out when we can read next when work, children and a myriad of another generally positive annoyances stand between us and the book. All of which is probably a little dramatic, but that comes with the territory. We are readers. We consume books. And when we read something that pleasantly surprises us we celebrate. Cool? Cool. That said, we should add, that if, when, you choose to read The Good Divide, you can expect a story that involves tragedy, family - and when don't good stories about family involve tragedy, love - unrequited and otherwise, what we settle for - the how and why - when we have to settle, body image, poverty, jealousy - and how it warps our better selves, and maybe most of all a commentary on how we treat women, what we expect from them, for them and how the advances accorded to women come incrementally, if at all, and how we, men, society, are only too happy to remove them as moods change and power shifts. So, Will The Good Divide change your life? Of course it will, it's why read, even if the feeling is only transitory, and as we are lost, then found, on the pages before us.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Above All Men by the Eric Shonkwiler and Mesilla by the Robert James Russell.

    More travel. More read. More read. Always read. And a question: can cowboys make one sad? What about an unknown apolcalyptic future covered in loss and dust? Or maybe an unforgiving landscape where one can run and run, but can't escape the mistakes of their past? Because both Above All Men by the Eric Shonkwiler and Mesilla by the Robert James Russell, quite gripping books that involve cowboys and loss, landscape and men trying to make sense of mistakes made - though more accurately, choices from their past that won't quite release their grip on them. Where the stories begin to deviate, is on the one hand about time - Shonkwiler takes us into an undefined future where everything has fallen apart, and is still falling apart, as one man tries to make sense of how steer his family through this new world; and Russell take us back to a not quite post-Civil War wild west where America is still being conquered and tamed - and the other hand, the psychology of the stories at hand - Shonkwiler's protagonist is tortured by his military past, and the endless reverberations that come with the trauma that comes with death and what we're asked to do in the name of war and patriotism; and Russell spins a tale where the protagonist's profound guilt and shame over a decision as selfish and human as any, has manifested itself in an actual figure from this past that will stop at nothing to find, and fulfill, the revenge that he feels is rightfully his.

    Of course, to describe any of this is to remind us where we started - while both books are rich in description, and strongly defined characters, it's just how fucking gripping these books are that might be their ultimate achievement. You can't put them, we didn't put them down, and that is because of what the books ultimately have in common. Shonkwiler and Russell have written books that boil down to the friction between pursuit and flight - pursuit of what these men, maybe all men need to feel like men - strength, freedom and the ability to take care of themselves and those around them - and flight, from fear, confusion, anger and our twisted histories that don't want to let go. There is also that sadness, and the idea that things will be lost, have to be lost, and when they are, we are left with a kind of poetry, or prose poems, that linger long after the words run out, and way, from us. Will these books also change your lives? Obviously.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - and turns still the sun at dusk blood-red by the Christopher Cunningham and Hosho McCreesh.

    Ours Is A Living Craft...

    So, when we're


    we should

    thank the gods

    for the



    thank them

    for the


    - McCreesh

    Travel. Read. More travel. More read. And then and turns still the sun at dusk blood-red by the Christopher Cunningham and Hosho McCreesh. I suppose during a time of rage and raging rhetoric, we were due some words of our own. A salve. And who better to deliver them the Christopher Cunningham and Hosho McCreesh, two poets who can turn the language of anger and frustration into something lyrical? There was a time when Cunningham and McCreesh brought us Sunlight At Midnight, Darkness At Noon. It was time of war, new and expanding, and going nowhere soon. At that time we wrote, "Are we biased? Of course we are. Does that mean however that these letters aren't full of rage, beauty and ragged glory? It does not." They were, and they are, and here we are again. Still at war, perpetually now, but also entering a new/old time fraught with a hateful, malicious rupture as well. And here they come again. Just in time. Cunningham and McCreesh. With their words, and a response to their own response. A salve and a way through. The letters have begat poems, and those poems speak to the healng nature of beauty and art. There is a path made of words, and in this newfound ragged beauty, there is hope. Do we remain biased? We do. But will and turns still the sun at dusk blood-red change your life? Indeed.

    Some Meaning, Some Laughter, Some Light

    he is sure

    it is out there


    a source,

    a headwater,

    he is sure

    it can be found.

    he rolls another page

    into his


    and sets out

    into the unknown

    to find it.

    - Cunningham