This Book Will Change Your Life.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Not Everyone is Special by the Josh Denslow and For Other Ghosts by the Donald Quist.

    I've been suffering from an uptick of anxiety lately, not overwhelming or crippling, mostly low-grade, and I know it's low-grade, because when its medium grade or higher I can feel it in my chest when I wake-up in the morning. A constricting, like a fist opening and closing. So, that's not happening, which is nice. However, I have been sleeping more in general, trying to anyway, it's not something I'm great at. And it's not I have problems sleeping or falling asleep, I just tend not to go to bed and I like to get up early. I'm sharing this, because the last couple of Saturdays I've let myself sleep-in and have awoken both mornings to anxiety dreams. Last week I couldn't find my family and this week I dreamt that the world was going to end on April 5th. Luckily I woke-up on April 6th, the world was in place, crisis averted. I've never worried much about the world ending. I'm not even sure the state of the world causes me much anxiety. Anger, certainly, confusion, definitely, sadness, endlessly, but not anxiety, that's more about friends and family, making things work. But there it was, end of the world shit. Thing is, I didn't have to dig all too deeply to understand where it came from. I had recently read the story "Testaments" from Donald Quist's twisty, when not surreal, when not sad, when not dabbling in the supernatural short story collection For Other Ghosts, and in it a mother and daughter, the former a believer, the latter, along for the ride, go to an end of the world gathering in California. The story hit me hard, as family stories do, though maybe not as hard as the beautifully wrenching "They Would Be Waiting," the story that kicks-off the collection, a father son story, a trip to the father's homeland, what goes well, and does not, and it is lovely and devastating and created to crush me.

    Similarly, I've been reading Not Everyone Is Special by the Josh Denslow, more short stories, more devestation, particularly "Proximity," also a father son joint, though really a mother son thing, and quite affecting. Both authors deal in a kind of anxiety, fairly family-centric, though not only that, universe, with Quist sliding into magic realism at times, while other times merely dancing adjacent to it, but always, never getting too far away from dislocation, a key theme in his wonderous essay collection Harbors. People get lost in Quist's work, separated from family, country and self. There is always a feeling of sadness as well, looming, or lurking, but laying there somewhere, just below, and above the surface. I know Donald Quist, which is not intended as a need for disclosure, as much as to acknowledge, that he carries some of these qualities around with him, while also being utterly charming and engaging. And that's the thing with sadness and anxiety, they don't need to be off-putting, no more than parents we can't bring ourselves to understand. I suppose I'm writing this, because so often people say, with the state of the world, or my brain, I can't read about the things that are already hanging over me thoughout the day. I need to escape into humor and romance and positivity. I understand the inclination, but not the execution of it. We read because we need to read, because our brains and souls require it. I choose to read what comes to me and try never run from any of what comes with it. Take Not Everyone Is Special then. I don't know Josh Denslow, just people who do, people who want me to read him, and that's enough for me. He too treads in anxiety, already established, as well as sadness, see "Moustrap" or "Extra Ticket," both beautiful, both sad, one with a better outcome than the other. Denslow veers towards the absurd as well though, and the speculative, leanings that make for a wholly engaging bit of world-building in stories as disparate as "Too Late For a Lot of Things" and its warring Santa's Town employees, "Punch," and its alternative world of punch vouchers and Central Office staff, both violent in different ways. And then there is title story and its focus on a world not unlike ours, where the question lingers on and on, am I special, and how do I even begin to figure that out? I don't know. I do know that none of this is going to relieve my current state of anxiety, or make me go to bed, I have real work to do there. But reading is still a pleasure despite my current mood and that of the world, every word must be consumed and even if I don't always know how the books I read will change my life, I remain a true believer in their power to do so.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - How To Write An Autobiographical Novel by the Alexander Chee and Death Valley Superstars by the Duke Haney.

    "We are not like we think we are. The stories we tell ourselves are like thin trails across something that is more like the ocean. A mask afloat on the open sea." -How To Write An Autobiographical Novel (page 226)

    This quote is from the essay "The Guardians" by the Alexander Chee, which as noted above can be found in his master class on essay writing How To Write An Autobiographical Novel. Chee's collection along with the delightfully engrossing Death Valley Superstars by the Duke Haney feel like the right place to kick-off the the transition of This Book Will Change Your Life from its recent home at This Blog Will Change Your Life to here at my personal site. I want my love for story, authors, words, transformation, and as needed, pop culture, to be found in one place, because my story is about all of those things and my desire is to tell that story here, in one place, as I too transform from whatever I have been to what I still might be, buidling on these themes and morphing into one space, no longer separated, no false boundaries or secrets. Now, was my love for all the above things ever truly secret? No, but there was work and there were words and stories, and while words and stories were always part of work, I always felt my private life should be just that, private and sepaarate from the day-to-day stuff that paid the bills. But I no longer see the point of all that. I will continue to build a business, but outside of my family (and not even them, not all of the time anyway), none of it needs to be private. It's a public journey, an effort to build a life, drawing on my influences - books, family, narrative, creativity and so on and so forth - and I want to share it. Which brings me back to the books at hand. Both books are stories about stories and whether its Chee talking about Chloe Sevigny, who I quite love, Annie Dillard, his father, being queer or writing, or Haney talking about Jim Morrison, who I also quite love, the Manson family, his efforts to be an actor or writing, the stories regardless of topic are about how we write the stories of our life, both in the actions and non-actions we take, our ability to become self-aware, the efforts we take to embrace our passion, get unstuck, gain some mastery over something, anything, and put those stories on paper and shoot them out into the world, staking a kind of claim as to who we think we are, and might well be. And if that's all true, well what else can one, me, ask for in the words we choose to consume, and again, where else could I possibly choose to launch the next iteration of this ongoing dialogue with books? Because the goal here is to be in an ongoing dialogue with self and for me, that has always started with books and authors, even as I have become a writer myself, run, drank, took drugs, went to therapy, and went again, started a family, took less drugs, drank less, run more, got old, watched my children grow-up, found work, lost work, got published, it has always comes back to books.

    Now, would I be remiss not to take a deeper dive into the books at hand, mrerely using these experiences as a platform to focus on self, inspirations and finding ways forward, I would, but that has always been part of this particular journey and that likely won't change soon. That said, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel is a roadmap and exploration of how Alexander Chee became Alexander Chee, and secrets, sexual abuse, activism, gardening, teaching and loss are as much a part of that narrative as Chloe Sevigny, living in New York City and writing. To call it a triumph seems neither overstated or understated, it is a naked dissection of the trip the author has been on until now, and it is raw and it is lovely. As a side note, I once wandered into a conversation Alexander Chee was having with some writers I knew, he I did not, and still don't, but I remember being taken with his energy, focused and benevolent as it was, and while I was certain he must be somewhat bemused by all of the attention being paid to him, I soon realized he wasn't. Nor was there any ego about it either. He let it wash over him, appreciative, but centered, and focused on those speaking, it was quite mesmerizing in its way, and what else can one ask from the writers who inspire us than that? You might ask whether Haney's work is any different somehow than all this, in that it is about a life created from scratch, from actor to author, though more than that, all together something more granular, and journalistic. Always exploring and following one's curiosities to what might be a logical end, but aren't necessarily all that logical as much as an end. Books that might not work out, see "The End of Cock Run" and spirits not found, Jim Morrison's ghost and "Room 32." I'm not convinced however, that Haney is driven by closure as much as the search, pushing himself to stay engaged with the world and his passions. What he wants is to feel alive, and Hollywood in all these ways, performer, writer, traveler, has served as his pallet, and his words capture the effort to stay engaged, and yes alive, and and in doing so, illuminate a life that is all energy aflame. I suppose I should add here, that I don't have a story of being in Haney's presence yet, but he will be on This Podcast Will Change Your Life soon, and if I'm so lucky, there will be a cocktail party, somewhere, some time, where his fans, myself included will let him know how his words make us feel. For now though, I know this to be true, those words, as with Chee's, are certain to change your life. I just can't see it shaking out any other way.