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ConeBoy By Clive Parker-Sharp, 363 pgs.

I will start with what brought me to the doorstep here, but I will stress that this wasn’t what kept me in the room. The author is a drummer who spent time in Athletico Spizz 80 and Big Country. But other than some passing musical references within the book, that fact should just be a launching point. This book is about life choices.

When these choices start to involve drugs, it becomes hard to see through the haze. I am not preaching now, just stating the facts as presented in this story. Elbeth is the initial focus in ConeBoy, with her son Colin taking on the mantle more towards the end. This book poses more questions than it answers in a lot of ways. The decisions made by the characters are clouded by chemicals and it ultimately destroys the lives of anyone in its circle. Hope, dreams, and expectations are shattered with no escape in sight. Fame shifts the tone abruptly once Elbeth’s son is born. How he copes with what life has dealt him is admirable at first. Then it becomes sad with a tragic finish that seems ripped from a tabloid TV soundbite.

I may have been depressed at times while immersed in reading this book. Sometimes I had to gasp for air for a minute after a couple of passages. But at no point did I wish for actual page numbers to glance at since ConeBoy was intensely gripping for the duration. Thought provoking and definitely worth seeking out. –Sean Koepenick (Box Productions, furryrecords@yahoo.com )

(Intentionally Blank) By ThomasMundt, 161 pgs.

This book of short stories is so wordy, so packed with prepositions, English 101 writerly words, pompous adjectives, and otherwise omit-able words it’s maddening. It’s also consumed by the author’s own perceived cleverness, which he projects onto the voices of his diverse variety of characters, making them not so diverse after all. I found it nearly impossible to read all the way through.

Out of a sense of duty, I managed only by reading completely on autopilot until the very end of its 161 pages. Occasionally, I tried line-reading it, noticing words I would delete. Finally, I got to the end, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you what a single one of the stories was about. I couldn’t stay present in them at all. Take this sentence for example: “they believe that because if you were not there to watch history happen than it did not happen but know that this is not true and we must go on about our business.” Definitely the worst sentence in the book but not by much. You could open anywhere and find a similar monstrosity of the English language. If that’s not enough, there’s little dialogue, arc of story, or even plot. Many of the stories seem like someone sketching out a character to put in a story. And sketching. And sketching. And sketching! And then it’s over. No story.

Still, as maddening and amateurish as Intentionally Blank seemed to me, Mundt is a pro. I was shocked to find Tolsun Books is not a vanity press. Also, every one of these twenty-two stories was published somewhere else before collected here. I guess the joke’s on me. –Craven Rock (Tolsun Press)

Night Moves By Jessica Hopper, 185 pgs.

Jessica Hopper has been a prominent figure in music journalism for a hot minute now, but Night Moves is a diversion from that M.O.—though it has all the trimmings of good music journalism, i.e. rich descriptions of songs, musicians and culturally relevant figures, and shows, which ultimately serve the work incredibly well—it is first and foremost memoir. Night Moves is a loving portrait of Midwest punk and punk-adjacency, with warm sketches of the people and places Hopper encountered. The novel is tinted with the glow only time can provide, even the disappointing, difficult moments remembered with fondness.

The hard times do not dull this warmth; if anything they represent the “Minnesota Nice” phenomena of Midwesterners seeming all the more welcoming in spite of the brutal winters. And Hopper too waxes poetic about “these Midwestern states, so sturdy and dirty and loving you back” (emphasis mine), her stories told with near reverence for the Midwest (Chicago) in vignettes. They do not have to be long to invoke deep emotion and the well-worn (but certainly well-loved) poetics punks so often fall into. A slim volume, Night Moves packs several years into their most intense and fiercely beautiful moments. It is an exercise in microcosm, each brief encounter telling more of the story than it seems its fair share should be. Perfect for folks who love Chicago or the Midwest at large, lament the winter, or just need to wax nostalgic for a moment. –Jimmy Cooper (University Of Texas Press, utpress.utexas.edu)

Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness By Anastasia Higginbotham, 64 pgs.

The fourth in Anastasia Higginbotham’s “Ordinary Terrible Things” series, aimed at making difficult topics accessible to children without being condescending or inaccurate, Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness follows the story of a young boy who sees a police officer shoot a brown person with their hands up. Throughout the narrative, adults around him

Nothing Means Nothing By Johnny Salas, 104 pgs.

As I look through this collection of photos that Johnny Salas has shot documenting the semi-professional wrestling scene in Phoenix, Ariz., I keep hoping to see a photo that will reel me in and help me understand what he loves about that world. As it stands, I feel like an outsider passing through on my way to somewhere else. The layout could use some improvement, as some shots are marred by the heart of the image disappearing into the gutter, sometimes the photos are too dark, and the paper these are printed on tend to flatten the image. While there are some decent photos, such as the skull faced wrestler stalking the area outside the ring, there are others that I have no idea why they were chosen, such as the one where we see the back of a wrestler and the left side of his opponent, but the story of what is happening is hidden between the two of them and not in view. You could argue it’s the mystery, but this image is not compelling enough to contemplate. I feel that Salas should have spent more time building up his images, getting more comfortable, and documenting a couple years longer. Some heavy editing and a better layout could also work wonders. –Matt Average (Tolsun, tolsunbooks.com)

So Many Doors By Oakley Hall, 320 pgs.

The publishing company Hard Case Crime specializes in pulp mysteries, new and reprinted. It upholds the tradition of pulp magazines and paperback originals by adorning each of its covers with a garishly colored painting featuring a woman dressed to get sex. (As a joke, it even did this when it reprinted Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear—it attributed the public-domain novel to A.C. Doyle.)

Oakley Hall’s So Many Doors, a reprint from 1950, is no exception, but the novel doesn’t tell the story of that mythical creature the femme fatale, the woman with enough agency, even in the first half of the twentieth century, to compel good men to commit horrible acts they otherwise wouldn’t have. (Well, semi-mythical.)

Rather, the novel deconstructs the femme fatale, showing how men not used to thinking before acting weave their trouble around a woman who happens to have a fuller figure than other women. The woman at the center of the novel is named Vassilia; people call her V. We see her through the points-of-view of five different people.

The novel is pre-television slow. I’d been wondering whether my internet-jittered brain can still enjoy such a novel—and it can—though occasionally, in the middle of a paragraph, it would ask from the backseat, “Are we there yet?”

“He passed a water truck and two motor graders working up on a levee, and then beside the road a bulldozer and a pick-up truck were drawn up together. Two men were bent over the bed of the pick-up, in which engine parts were spread. Baird pulled off the road behind them and got out. A cloud of dust caught up and settled over him, and he wiped his sweating, dusty face on the sleeve of his shirt. The cat skinner and the mechanic nodded to him. The cat skinner wore a sweat-soaked singlet and a striped cap, and his face and arms were burned black. The mechanic, in stiff, greasy overalls, squatted and hunted through his tool chest.”

So Many Doors is not a pulp novel, or even really a crime novel, though it’s not out of place on Hard Case Crime’s roster. It opens with an accused murderer in his cell, refusing counsel from his court-appointed attorney, and ends with a twist I didn’t see coming. The novel is great California literature—it takes place in the Central Valley down to San Diego County, and from the Depression to post-WWII—and it deserves whatever readership this reprint will give it. –Jim Woster (Hard Case Crime, hardcasecrime.com)

AMERICAN INDIAN READY TO WEAR CATALOG, THE, $5, 5½” x 8½”, cardstock, 12 pgs.

In this satirical catalog, the writer/illustrator team of Joey Clift and Janet Myer, both members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, presents readers with a handful of exciting ways to accessorize and appropriate their way to chic Native “authenticity.” Trendy looks include “The Disney’s Pocahontas” (“Animal Friends—$500: If all of your friends aren’t literal animals, are you really an Indian?”), “The Land O’ Lakes Butter Maiden” (“Joy Derived from Giving Your Food to White People—Priceless”), and more. Clift and Myer take on racist depictions of Native people with biting wit, sparing no one from sports mogul Daniel Snyder (guess which team) to teen heartthrob Taylor Lautner. They’re also mother and son, which is awesome. This would make an enlightening gift to that special feather-bedecked festivalgoer or smudge-happy holistic punk in all our lives. –Indiana Laub (Red Cat Press, redcatpress.com)

ASYMMETRICAL ANTI-MEDIA #2, SASE or trade, 5 ½” x 8 ½”, copied, 8 pgs.

Asymmetrical Anti-Media is a review zine that manages to make the format interesting and engaging with how the editor injects his personality into the reviews of other zines out there, with what he likes, why he feels the way he does about a particular facet, or what he dislikes and why. Sort of like a micro version of the Mike Gunderloy-era of Factsheet Five. His enthusiasm comes across well. I hope to see more issues in the future and that it grows in size. –Matt Average (Jason Rogers, PO Box 10894, Albany, NY 12201)

BIFF BOFF BAM SOCK #5, $4, 5 ½” x 8½”, copied, 20 pgs.

I saw a meme the other week about how schools teach us all this stuff about Christopher Columbus as well as how to solve complex math problems but they don’t teach us how to manage our personal finances. (Or a lot of skills we need to use on a daily basis.) Thankfully, Anna has written a wonderful short zine about how to manage your money. It includes info on savings, retirement, IRAs, credit scores, and making a budget. Some of that may not seem real exciting, but it’s done in a very simple, straightforward manner, and there are nice, crisp graphics, too. I appreciated the list of resources. Anyone who is looking to get a grasp on how to manage their money will likely find this issue of Biff Boff Bam Sock to be helpful. –Kurt Morris (annajobeck.com)

BIFF BOFF BAM SOCK #8, $6, 5½” x 8½”, copied, 28 pgs.

The fact that this zine is subtitled “For Your Health” made me want to watch a bunch of Dr. Steve Brule videos, but I refrained and instead dove in to the twenty-eight pages that hope to aid the reader in making sense of the American health insurance system. Considering how complex the system is, Anna did a great job at distilling the basics and explaining frequently used terms like deductible, co-pay, premium, COBRA, and more. The last section gives her opinions on the health insurance industry and she has some skin in the game since her husband had cancer. So I appreciated getting her two cents on the issue. As someone who has navigated the insurance system a lot over the past twenty years (thanks, mental illness!) and who is the son of an insurance agent, I commend Anna on doing a solid job. She has her shit down and even taught me a few things, not to mention she includes great resources for the reader to learn more. Recommended. –Kurt Morris (annajobeck.com)