Category

Currently showing posts tagged This Book Will Change Your Life

  • 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 - 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 - 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 History of Great Things by the Elizabeth Crane.

    - Some people might think this is a memoir.

    - It's so not a memoir.

    - It's not so not a memoir, Betsy. It's mostly not a memoir.

    - It is in no way a memoir, Mom.

    Some people might think that The History of Great Things by the Elizabeth Crane is a memoir, even if it's so not a memoir. But does it matter? It matters to the protagonist of Crane's mind-fuckingly new novel, who is Crane, or someone Crane-like, and who spends the novel talking to her mother, or someone who is Crane's mother-like, as they seek to tell one another eachother's life stories. Or do they? Did we mention the mind-fuckingness of the whole exercise? Because they do something, but when is a life story a life story? And again, does it matter when it's all so moving and raises so many questions about memory, loss and gried, and how well we know anyone when they're alive, much less when they've passed away. Further, what's our obligation to that person's memory if we choose to tell what might have been their story, but they aren't here to dispute or influence it, and this life we are seeking to capture cannot happen? Also - because we're on a roll here - what does the question of whether something is fiction or nonfiction even matter regardless of any of this? What's even the truth? We may not answer those questions here, or not today anyway, but what we can state unequivocally is that Elizabeth Crane's writing has always felt like a conversation to us - with herself, her readers, the characters themselves - and in that way, The History of Great Things feels like a natural extension of this gift. We would add, that Crane, along with Diane Lane and Scott Baio of course, is a long-time muse for this whole project - the blogging, the empire building, the writing, all of it - and we are reminded of the release of her short story collection You Must Be This Happy To Enter - which is one of the first times we ever wrote about her -and at the time we wrote, "Elizabeth Crane knows relationship, and she endlessly, and wonderfully, captures the pain, confusion, and glee that comes with them like few others." Some things never change apparently, though they are no less likely 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.

  • 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