This Book Will Change Your Life.

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  • This Book Will Change Your Life - East Pittsburgh Downlow by the Dave Newman.

    Does it go without saying that during times of crisis, and certainly, though not only during those of a pandemic nature we need the arts more than ever?

    That art offers a salve for our fears, the chance to escape and sometimes a means for making sense of what's happening around us?

    I didn't read East Pittsburgh Downlow because of COVID-19 or any kind of social distancing (though I wholly embrace that). Nor was I looking for answers to anything in particular when it landed on my doorstep (and that's primarily meant metaphorically, I live in a high-rise, and nothing but the occasional drunk and newspapers land on my doorstep). 

    I read it because I love Dave Newman's work (and I love Dave Newman, and do listen to his recent appearance on this This Podcast Will Change Your Life for more fanboy love and the like) and will unabashedly read anything he writes.

    Newman speaks to the people we don't see enough on the page, blue collar men and women, left behind by the prosperity being made by the few, struggling to get ahead, and stay above water, as they struggle with basic day-day decisions such as which bills to pay first.

    They drink too much and have sex and go to work.

    These people will also be those who suffer most during a time like we find ourselves in, which is not a political statement, though it could be, because they will not be able to go to work, but not be able to work from hom, they have only saved so much, if anything, and generational wealth is not a thing for them.

    I've never pretended I grew-up this way, nor am I exactly there now, I've been privileged and remain privileged, even as I know I won't do as well as my parents eventually did, and am slowly falling behind whatever progress I was once making.

    That can still change for me, and might, but even if it doesn't, I'm working to embrace it as Newman's characters are also trying to do, because they're always thinking about bills and work and how much we all need some luck.

    But they also find light and joy in love and running and dive bars and pizza and this I do know well.

    I also know that Dave Newman doesn't necessarily seem to be interested in success as we sometimes think about it, well as I do anyway, or maybe he is, but doesn't feel like chasing it, better understanding than I did in the past how hard it is, and how much effort and luck it takes to maybe achieve it.

    Of course, that's speculation or projection or something.

    I can't say.

    I can say that I love him and his writing and that for me he is one of America's truest voices, greatly underappreciated, and far too unknown, for what he does and shares with us.

    And maybe that's okay, I know he seems to be okay with it.

    But that is also why I try to bring attention to those voices we may not know or who deserve the opportunity to rise above the clutter, if even only briefly.

    Which brings me back to this pandemic, reading and making money.

    Reading itself is a necessity right now, but so is supporting artists whose livelihoods depend on their art, as well as authors and publishers who can't properly promote their work during a time when everything non-pandemic, work and family, is being cancelled and ignored. 

    Let's all support the artists we know and love, as well as those we don't know, and if you don't know who to support, let me know, I'll be happy to share my thoughts, though with this post as a self-prompt, I plan to share them anyway.

    Also, if you're a writer or publisher and want me to promote anything at all across my social media platforms and/or if you're a bookstore, writing center or literary outlet who needs me to lend a voice to anything you're trying to do right now to stay above water yourself, please let me know, I'm happy to help.

    Otherwise, will East Pittsburgh Downlow change your life? Of course it will. It's the Dave Newman. And it's art.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Hunger - A Memoir of (My) Body by the Roxane Gay.

    There a lot of us...

    People who read.

    Love books.

    Embrace the independent literary scene.

    Love pop culture.

    Consume social media.

    Who wait on what Roxane Gay is going to write, read, create, say, Tweet.

    Which isn't hard, because it can feel like she's everywhere.

    There she is referenced on Sex Education, which I watch, and appearing on The L Word, which I don't, but which I did, because I read that she was going to be on  that night and I want to experience it.

    But she's also name-dropped in an essay I read somewhere recently about a woman's relationship to her weight and even in East Pittsburgh Downlow by Dave Newman, the book I happen to be reading as I get ready to try and say something about Gay's book Hunger- A Memoir of (My) Body.

    Much of which is to say, that if one is a fan of Roxane Gay's work and presence, as I am, one can both feel like they know so much about her already, while wondering what they can add to the ongoing conversation about her and her work.

    Which is to say, that I feel this way and may be projecting that onto everyone else.

    Early in Hunger (Page 4), Gay writes: "The story of my body is not a story of triumph."

    Hunger is the story of Gay's "unruly" body though, what it's "endured," and how so many people want her to take control of something she cannot take control of.

    Something any of us who follow her on Twitter well know and see.

    It is also the story of Gay making peace with her body.

    And it is a story about trauma, and violence, and the confusion and shame that accompanies such things.

    If one follows Gay, one knows much of this too.

    What feels important then is not the quality of the writing, though Gay is masterly and the prose is raw and punctuated with beauty, or that many of us can feel we know so much of the story already, it's that the story is on paper at all, and in our hands, and brains, and that there is a light being shined on violence towards women, and that there can't be too much light or too many stories of this nature.

    Not when there's so much violence and so little attention paid to it 

    Gay writes how hard it was to write this book and how much that surprised her. And we can all thank her for doing so. Change starts by learning people's stories and seeing that there are real people behind the statistics, people we know, love, and admire. But change is ultimately dependent on engaging with these stories and using the feeling and energy they create in us to take action.

    Parenting differently.

    Crafting policies and new laws.

    Re-structuring institutions. 

    Supporting the organizations that work on behalf of women and those exposed to violence.

    Transforming the communities and culture we live in.

    I didn't intend to write about Hunger on International Women's Day, but I hope we can all take a moment to think about what this day means to all of us and the role we all play in being better partners, listeners, supporters, parents and champions of women's causes and rights.

    I could remind you that reading Hunger will change your life, though that feels more obvious than usual. Still, it will, so please take a moment to think about that as well.