This Book Will Change Your Life
  • 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

    suffering,

    we should

    thank the gods

    for the

    quiet

    reminder

    thank them

    for the

    opportunity.

    - 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

    somewhere:

    a source,

    a headwater,

    he is sure

    it can be found.

    he rolls another page

    into his

    typewriter

    and sets out

    into the unknown

    to find it.

    - Cunningham