This Book Will Change Your Life.

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Currently showing posts tagged On Being Human

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Black Card by the Chris L. Terry.

    My first reaction when I picked-up Black Card by the Chris L. Terry is that it was the third book I've read in recent months blurbed by the terrifically killer writer Samantha Irby. The others being On Being Human by the Jen Pastiloff and Go Ahead In The Rain by the Hanif Abdurraqib. Which means what exactly? Maybe that Sam now imbues a book with a certain cultural resonance and cache? Yes, for sure. And should. That I read good books? Obviously. And that I'm friends with authors who have achieved cultural resonance and cache and write damn good books? Well, yes, humblebrag alert. I am friendly with two of these three authors, and if I ever get a shot at being friends with Hanif Abdurraqib, I will embrace it wholeheartedly. Did you hear that Hanif, wholeheartedly sir. All of which, it's true, seems maybe a just a little self-centered and self-promoting, and it is, of course, always. But it's not only that either. It's also a celebration and an acknowledgment that people move from here to there, that their stature can grow, that they can produce such good, contemporary, interesting work, that it's an honor to be friends with them, and in the case of Chris, even shared a bed with them. Because look, hotel rooms during AWP are not cheap, yo, especially when one has small children, as we both do/did. But this is one of the things that excites me so much about Black Card, along with the fact that its fresh, raw, funny and super fucking timely. Chris is an awesome dude who writes awesome things. His debut Zero Fade was everything a debut can, and should, be, a story we know, ostensibly a coming of age tale, told with new eyes, in this case from the POV of a person of color, and written for the readers of today, with its focus on race, though as more of a background subtext to the larger story, and homophobia, the bigger, bolder arc. It was a book that could not help being political by its very existence, while not intending to be so political at all. Black Card doubles-down on the politics, however, while still being something not political at all, an engaging, page-turning, at times stomach-wrenching story, told by a great storyteller whose pushing himself to thrown down, which is everything a second book should* be. Which is to say, Chris talks about race in America and the adjacent need one encounters to have to talk racists, both the overt ones and otherwise, and whether one wants to or otherwise, though it's much different as a person of color, clearly, and police relations, also, much, different, though also bringing what it means to be mixed-raced - and in this case questioning and questing for one's "Black Card" - into the conversation as well. A conversation not only current, but one that's going to dominate the cultural ethos, albeit kicking and screaming, well into any foreseeable future. So, what does this say about Chris? It says that he has a lot to say about the state of the world without being so on the nose as letting us know that he os talking about the state of the world. That what he's lived and lives is enough. And that he is, and will be, a wonderful storyteller who will only continue to grow. Now, am I biased? Of course I am. Am I proud and jealous in somewhat equal measure? Always. Am I right about all I've said here? Most definitely I am. But will this book change your life, please, you still have to ask that, I mean, haven't you read this far?

    *I do want to note the excessive usage of "should" in this post, a word I generally eschew. I can't explain it at the moment, but I am feeling some kind of urgency about this book and this author and that may be explanation enough. 

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Go Ahead In The Rain by the Hanif Abdurraqib.

    Okay, a couple of things happened and they're related to curiosity, but also possibly oversight, blind spots and gaps. First, I read They Can't Kill Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib around this time last year. At the time, the book and the author had been on my radar as much as any other book, but I hadn't quite committed to finding it or reading it. It was there, and then it was so there, I felt compelled, and then you know, magic. Or something quite like it. Similarly, sort of, there is A Tribe Called Quest. And why they were not fully on my radar may be more understandable. They had their moment starting in the late 1980's, when I really wasn't listening to music of any kind, though I don't much recall why that was, and into the mid-1990s (I lived in New York City part of that time, so my lack of awareness is even less acceptable) when I was wholly caught-up, first in the Grateful Dead, and all that entailed, yes, that being drugs, among other things, then (really) discovering punk music, the RAMONES foremost, but X, Minor Threat, followed by a lot of Rage Against the Machine, and finally, yes, rap and hop-hip, but after Tribe's peak. I was especially caught-up in the Beastie Boys, Biggie, Jay Z, Public Enemy, Wu Tang Clan, all New York, and N.W.A., my one west coast exception. But no Tribe and I don't know why. Like I really don't, and just how much can I blame an entire lifetime of public schooling in upstate New York for having so many gaps in my pop cultural knowledge in in general anyway? So, when I heard Can I Kick It? earlier this year, and loved it, the repetition, the cool vibe and Lou Reed sample, and started writing to it on repeat, all the while not certain I had ever heard it before, I deservedly felt like an asshole. A theme of recent book riffs here I guess. From there I plunged into the whole Tribe discography and while I'm not sure I love them and their music as much as other music I came to late, and they would be really late, it was a gap, a huge gap in terms of what I had listened to and do listen to. Hence, when Go Ahead In The Rain by Abdurraqib (fullish title, Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest.) was released, there was no confusion or hesitation on what I needed to do next. Buy it, read it, now. And here we are. Do I now love Tribe more than I did? Not sure. But do I love Abdurraqib more, equally, all the same. Yup. Because while Tribe clearly kicks ass, what Abdurraqib is doing, is what I love best, looking at his life, this country, the world, race, art, history, family, friends and coolness, through the prism of the culture he loves. And so if Abdurraqib is going to write as he writes, which is full of energy and rhythm and flow, and do so in the very personal he does, I'm going to consume it. Just as I do with all the authors I love best, Jim Carroll, Lynda Barry, Sam Irby, Dave Newman, Sara Lippmann, Raymond Carver, Wendy C. Ortiz, and so many others. He's all live wire, no distance, or remove. But he's something else too: a public intellectual who knows how important culture, all culture, is to understanding who we are, and who he is. Thus, I will love what he loves from the first page to the last. Abdurraqib is that good and that interesting, and while it is cliche to say that I am better for reading him, I am, each time, each page. Has he changed my life? He has. Reading this book even changed my approach to the flow of a piece I was just editing that felt too ragged to me. Will he change your life as well? No doubt, so, do get to it, like now, and then feel free to thank me later.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - On Being Human by the Jennifer Pastiloff.

    To talk about On Being Human, much less the love that is Jen Pastiloff, seems to call for something special or more involved than anything as straight forward as the usual free-flowing, albeit sentient, book ruminations I engage in here. She's too special. As is On Being Human. But how does one go about telling the story of  knowing Jen and her work? Does it involve exploring her from different angles, a multi-faceted approach to someone with multiple facets? Or is it about stories? Not that I have so many stories about Jen. We've only met once. We podcasted. She published my essay "Powder Blue Polyester Tuxedo" at her site The Manifest-Station. And we've messaged sporadically since, most recently when On Being Human was released and before that when I learned that I had been losing my hearing, something she knows all too much about. So, there's all that. All of which has some something to do with stories, the stories of a relationship and the stories behind those stories and I suppose all the stories we tell or mean to tell.

    "That is what I am working on sharing in my workshops: how our stories are within us and they deserve to be let out, they deserve to be heard." (page 276)

    When I met Jen, after she published my piece, and she was in Chicago and we decided we'd do a podcast, I had little idea all that Jen meant to people, how influential she was, that her workshops were so important to so many. And yes, that makes me an asshole. Especially when so many Chicago writers I know and love knew her, loved her and were attending the workshop she was leading while in town. I hadn't done my homework. But that podcast was huge, with the biggest numbers the show has ever seen and the most exposure the podcast has ever received. The response made me want the show to be better, or at least treat it with more love. I updated the iTunes page and got the show onto Stitcher and then Spotify. I added a logo. And it was Jen who inspired me. Jen was, is, not playing around. She's all in and I wanted to be all in as well. She made me be a better version of me and that's what she does. She gets people to find their voice and look for their stories. And then of course when you find them, you have to share them. That's how it works.

    "There is always a story under the story." (page 301)

    Which is just what Jen has done with On Being Human. People kept asking her how she's done what she's done and so she told us. She shared all of the stories and then all of the stories behind the stories, which is what she does, she digs, she shares, she's human. She waitressed and struggles with an eating disorder. She said she was an actress, but really wasn't doing much to become one. She refused to accept that she was losing her hearing, or that her body was both betraying her and telling her just that, or that she was deserving of love. But she found antidepressants, she got hearing aids, she found yoga and teaching, leading workshops, and she discovered what she had always known, she could be there, right there, for the people who needed her. She could share her most authentic life and she could give love. And then she discovered that it wasn't even really about yoga, or teaching, though it's that stuff too, but it was about connection, and she was right there for that as well.

    "Writing was the way out, just as yoga had been the way in." (page 225)

    She didn't discover writing though, that was always there, but she made others write their stories and what I find most fascinating is that there is no magic here. Someone committed to finding their best self and decided to share it. Jen knew people had stories to tell and that in telling them they would learn the things about themselves that they already knew to be true, but couldn't accept or face. They needed permission, a prompt, inspiration, a safe space, and Jen gave them that. That, and love. And she has love now as well, love she deserves in the way we all do when we put it out into the world. She may still have bad days, and her hearing, as is mine, is still fucked. She may even be an asshole at times. But Jen is love and if On Being Human is nothing else, it's a love story, to herself, and all of us. Will On Being Human change your life? Of course it will. But the lesson here, one lesson anyway, is that in the end, we have to love ourselves enough to want to change them.