Sounding for Harry Smith, By Bret Lunsford, 231 pgs.

Allan Ginsberg once described Harry Smith as “famous everywhere underground.” It’s an apt characterization of a man who, until receiving a Grammy nod in 1991 for his curation of the 1952 compilation Anthology of Folk Music, would have only been known to the most ardent followers of outsider art. But despite being relatively unknown throughout his life, his contribution to modern music can hardly be overstated. The aforementioned collection (pulled entirely from his own personal stockpile of 78s) can almost single handedly be credited with jumpstarting the modern folk music movement and was known as “The Bible” in the Greenwich scene. On top of this, he was a surrealist filmmaker and dabbled in abstract expressionist drawing and painting, although never realizing commercial or critical success with either.

There have been a few books written about Harry Smith, including a collection of interviews that Sounding for Harry Smith draws from liberally. But according to author Bret Lunsford, none so far really dives into the coastal towns of Anacortes and Bellingham in which Smith grew up and how they influenced his later life. Well, I’ll give him this: the book definitely takes a deep dive into the histories of these northwest Washington communities. So deep, in fact, that Harry doesn’t really show up as a regular character until page 176 as a high school sophomore. What we actually have here is one of those beautifully printed small town history books sold in gift shops, with Harry Smith as a bit of a Trojan horse used to entice you to read centuries of history that happened before he was even alive. Even Smith’s contemporaries interviewed in the book sometimes admit they don’t remember him or dismiss him as “a nerd.” In exchange for these trenchant insights the reader is rewarded with their entire life stories, for some reason.

There are other, better books about Harry Smith out there if you are interested in his life, but if you happen to be slightly interested in him and also very interested in the sociological and historical aspects of coastal Washington state over the last couple hundred years, then this is definitely one to check out. –Justin Bookworm (Knw Yr Own / P.W. Elverum & Sun)

Subset Asylum: A Collection of Short Stories, By Marc Ganancias, 338 pgs.

Varied tales here that run the gamut of life’s problems and how seemingly everyday interactions may have even deeper meanings after careful review. I always feel it’s best not to get too specific with telling you the exact plotlines and how it matches up to each specific story title. That’s almost like telling you the ending of a movie before you see it! But there are some funny stories here about some offbeat topics (acid trips, barroom shoot outs) to ones that may have happened to you (awkward romantic situations, fights about online statements). I used to run in some of the same circles the author mentions in the DC area, so those seem to instantly strike a chord. Each story is effortlessly intertwined with the one before it due to the strength of the storytelling and the ability to make you smile at the last page of most of the stories contained in this volume. There is one about dog walking that seemed to have the strongest gravitational pull for me, but read them all and pick your poison. This will leave a great impression on you once you dive in headfirst. –Sean Koepenick (Brannen Publishing, facebook.com/MarcGananciasAuthor)

Take Me with You, By Vanessa Carlisle, 316 pgs.

This novel follows queer sex worker Kindred Powell, before and after her life is turned upside down. When her activist father goes missing, she can’t go to the cops; they might have been the ones to disappear him. Do you dare follow her twisting path below the surface of the straight world into the unexposed spaces where outlaws and outcasts survive hidden from society? C’mon. We’re going in. Be cool, just follow her lead.

Go to prison, but just to visit. Catch a first-class flight to Hawai’i. Glamour, luxury, all expenses paid, but remember to control the sexual dynamic at all times. This will be difficult, but lucrative. Don’t let them see you sniffle. Survive the gritty streets of New York City, find safety, find work, find community, find love, but don’t forget to finish reading your revolutionary homework. Learn how to use a strap-on. Learn how to fight The Man. Stalk the streets of Skid Row all night, looking for answers. Remember whose child you are.

In this post-truth era of misinformation, in the wake of a disastrous federal “sex trafficking” law, FOSTA-SESTA, so misguided and patronizing that it’s killing the vulnerable population it claims to protect, this is a rare novel about sex workers written by a sex worker, a much-needed report from the frontlines of the world’s oldest profession. Carlisle doesn’t care what you expect, what one-note morality story your simple heart wants; you’re going to get the full complexity of what sex workers know about power and consent and sex that perhaps the rest of society has confused themselves into not knowing.

This book is a well-paced page-turner, an act of generosity, admittance to underground spaces full of kink, municipal corruption, mystery, and delicious insight. The author told me, “It’s a trauma book.” And certainly, many of the characters have been marked and changed by trauma. But they are survivors and hustlers, resilient and human. Most don’t see themselves as victims. Displaced, defrauded, lustily desired, obscured from the public eye; they see society’s distorted falsehoods and unacknowledged hungers more clearly from the shadows. –Jessie MNG Lopez (Running Wild Press, runningwildpress.com, $20)

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life in the Music Business, By Miles A. Copeland III, 320 pgs.

Miles Copeland was the unstoppable force behind IRS Records—one of the first big labels to take on some of the more off-the-wall bands surfacing in the early 1980s; The Go-Go’s, The Buzzcocks, The Cramps, Wall Of Voodoo, REM—bands that ultimately helped define the decade. On top of that, he was the manager for The Police (his younger brother, Stewart Copeland, was the drummer), The Bangles, Squeeze, and other now-household names. He cut his teeth in the London underground working with undesirables like Sham 69 and Chelsea. Copeland’s unorthodox rearing, vocation, and wit converge with his pretty-damn-solid writing skills to make Two Steps Forward, One Step Back a fun and stimulating read.

Copeland’s father was an authentic founding member of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Miles was raised in the Middle East—places like Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus—where his father planned and took part in international-level covert operations. Conversely, Miles went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1960s, which he describes as a culture shock with some grim parallels of discrimination. He explains how his experiences helped him forge a work ethic and philosophy based on flexibility, working with the tools at hand, and an absolute willingness to entertain seemingly absurd ideas. Copeland reiterates throughout the book his insistence on working with “glass-half-full” people. He even thanks COVID-19 for giving him time to write this book.

Knowing Copeland’s clandestine family history, the band X (Billy Zoom, specifically) turns down his label’s offer, accusing him of being an undercover agent attempting to infiltrate youth culture. A potential first-LP deal with the Dead Kennedys is binned when IRS’s parent company refuses to risk upsetting their beloved friends, the Kennedys. Miles was always a businessman. His goal was to make money, and in alternative music he found an untrampled niche to exploit for himself, for his label, and for the artists as well. Miles required two things from his bands: music he liked and, of course, something he could market.

This is a book about business, and a large chunk of it is dedicated to Copeland’s time managing and traveling the world with The Police—the ultimate glass-half-full band. Over time, Copeland’s interests drift from punk to alternative to pop, and ultimately to Arab music and belly dancing. Considering his history, it seems that he’s come full circle in a way. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out a major factual error in Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Chris Holmes (the drunk in the pool in The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years) is not the “singer of Wasp,” as stated here, but the lead guitarist. I mean, when else is a full-on goon like me going to get the chance to feel smarter than a guy like Miles Copeland? –Buddha (Jawbone Press, jawbonepress.com)

Uncivil Songbook 2001-2021, By Anon_73, PDF 177pgs.

A PDF version of Anon_73’s Uncivil Songbook 2001-2021 collects twenty years of lyrics and compositions by the artist. It would have been nice knowing in advance that the CD-R that showed up in the envelope was a book and not music, as I spent twenty minutes trying to diagnose what was wrong with my CD player before putting this in my computer and it booting up the folder with the book and other pieces of interest inside. Google-fu found me the artist’s website, and then their Bandcamp to have a frame of reference for any of the 177 pages of lyrics contained herein, but less than half is on Bandcamp to hear. Longtime fans of Anon_73 will likely appreciate having all the artist’s lyrics and compositions in one place. With little frame of reference musically, and not having the actual physical item in hand to refer to, The Uncivil Songbook for this reviewer hits all the wrong notes. –Paul J. Comeau (Suburban Utopia Projects, theuncivilsociety.com)

Clark and Division, By Naomi Hirahara, 305 pgs.

Did you know that the American government began releasing Japanese-American prisoners from the Manzanar concentration camp in California’s Owens Valley before the end of World War II? Or that many of them resettled in Chicago? It’s on that resettlement that Naomi Hirahara has based her novel Clark and Division—the title comes from the Chicago intersection around which the released prisoners established their new community.

Aki Ito is the twenty-year-old woman who narrates the novel. Her sister Rose had been in Chicago for a few months before Aki and their parents traveled there. But just before their arrival, Rose was hit by a subway train and killed. The authorities say suicide. Aki says murder and intends to prove it.

Clark and Division is a mystery novel, and mystery-novel foundations don’t get more familiar than She never would have killed herself! But Hirahara constructs the novel so you’re never sure whether twenty-year-old Aki is right or wrong until the satisfying end. Is it a solve-able mystery, as opposed to one where you watch the detective solve it? I don’t think so, but I got hung up on a deftly dangled red herring, so don’t go by me.

The novel is also a feminist novel, a historical feminist mystery novel with a solid sense of place. And with no seams showing: the storytelling comes first, no teaching or preaching. Readers who are always on the lookout for fiction that both young adults and less-young adults can enjoy would enjoy Clark and Division, too. –Jim Woster (Soho Crime, sohocrime.com)

Eddie’s Week, By Patrick Dean, 196 pgs.

Eddie is just an everyday, ordinary dude with a not-so-exciting lifestyle that mostly involves him watching werewolf movies and pining over his ex-girlfriend. On his first day of his week-off from work, he is told by some suits that he has involuntarily signed up to have a convicted murderer live in a makeshift jail cell in his living room.

Eddie’s Week is an extremely unpredictable graphic novel that takes place in a mundane yet very surreal universe. As titular Eddie’s titular week progresses, he loses a convict, joins a club where men dress as bears, is spied on by a transient detective, and accidentally kills several people. The story tricks you with all kinds left turns with almost sitcom-like situations going off the rails. You get hints of it early on when Eddie is speaking to a friend and passively mentions that their mayor turned out to be a mythical creature.

It’s a black and white comic with no amounts of grey in-between. The artwork is pretty sketch-like with a lot of dark, ink-filled shading. It’s a bit messy but a good aesthetic. The fact that I can’t compare Dean’s style to anybody should be commended. There is something oddly adorable about Eddies comically big nose and eyebrows.

As the storyline gets stranger and starts to include magic and more murders, it ends with Eddie and his newly acquired pals (one pocket sized) riding off into the unknown. Our ordinary dude has just accepted all the weird shit that’s thrown at him and takes it with stride.

The same could be said about the author Patrick Dean. After this book was completed, he was diagnosed with ALS. His muscles became weak but he kept drawing to his best ability. And when he couldn’t draw with his arms anymore, he started drawing pieces with eye-gaze technology up until his death on May 13, 2021. We should all be thankful this book came out before Dean left this earth. And it’s a bummer that such a creative weirdo is gone before he could make more fine products like Eddie’s Week. –Rick V. (Birdcage Bottom Books, 324-A W. 71st St., NY, NY 10023, birdcagebottombooks.com)

Enough., By Kurt Morris, 103 pgs.

Kurt Morris is a friend, co-contributor to Razorcake, and a person who I respect quite a bit. This is his second self-published book in the midst of a pandemic, and that deserves hella props. His first one covered Black Flag’s My War track by track, interwoven with Kurt’s personal mental health stories. For this second book, he focuses on his bi-polar II diagnosis, as well as two stints in mental heath institutions.

Taking care of our brains is something that’s become much more normalized even in just the past five years. In this book we meet Kurt as early as 1996 at age sixteen, already asking for reasons not to kill himself. We carry on with him through medication trials which never quite do the job. He includes journal entries from those times as well, which is helpful in painting an authentic picture of one’s self from over a decade ago. He checks himself into a mental hospital for a week in 2011 and has an intense relationship with his girlfriend at the time, who seems to be the only one firmly in his corner during this experience. Up until this point and even a bit further in Enough., I felt like the writing was emotionally distant.

It wasn’t until his second stay at a different institution did I feel like Kurt’s tone was emotionally accessible. During this time he comes across a patient who had a failed hanging attempt. The evidence was visible. This is the point of the book at which I became engaged. I think it turned a corner in a major way that hit my heart. There’s heavy trauma in this true story that is difficult to read, especially when it’s coming from a person with whom I have spent years reading and getting to know. At times it’s uncomfortably intimate, and honestly I think it could have benefitted for more of that intense closeness. Writing this book is trauma in and of itself, and I am grateful that Kurt has come out better as a result of these experiences. I hope this is a book that helps others in similar situations find help. –Kayla Greet ([email protected], kurtmorris.net/enough, $10 U.S.)

Green and the Gold, The, By Bart Schaneman, 172 pgs.

The back story of The Green and the Gold is intriguing. In the early 2000s, Bart Schaneman sent his manuscript to Grove Press (home of William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller) even though they didn’t take submissions. Grove actually accepted it, worked on it, and then the person who was championing the book left Grove and disappeared. Schaneman was left to self-publish his work.

The Green and the Gold centers around nineteen-year-old Carrick, who lives just outside the Western Nebraska town of Scottsbluff. The story begins with him recently having returned from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but his experiences there remain a mystery, as does why it is he returned home. With pressure from his parents he begins to work on a farm and slowly gets out and is social. He meets a woman, falls for her, but is still plagued by whatever it is that set him off in Lincoln. I won’t give away what happens to that relationship, but after Carrick is asked by his psychologist what happened in Lincoln, the book shifts to that locale.

The second part of the book is rather identifiable to anyone who has ever gone off to college far from home. It’s jarring to be away from the place where one grew up. Being around so many people you don’t know, learning your way around campus, figuring out what is expected of you as a student, and understanding how to negotiate the emotions that come from all of this is a difficult burden. To put it succinctly, Carrick doesn’t handle his move to Lincoln well. Lots of misadventures occur, including a random purchase of a kayak, conversations with people who live on the street, and that desperate attempt to meet someone—anyone—who might connect with him.

The last portion of the book returns to Scottsbluff. Carrick moves forward in his life. He tries to figure out what is next for him in this small, rural Nebraska town. The story culminates with a revelation about his earlier relationship with the woman he dated. It’s nothing grandiose or life altering, but it’s a way for Carrick to culminate the tempest he found himself in at that moment. It’s enough to get him through. And when you’re losing your shit, you need to hold on to each and every thing that will keep you alive no matter how minor it may seem.

As I made my way through these 172 pages, I found another reference point for Schaneman’s work: Catcher in the Rye. It’s the story of a teenager trying to find their way as they go through changes in their life and explore a city that’s bigger than themselves. But whereas Holden Caulfield is a dick, Carrick is a sympathetic protagonist who still tries to do right even amidst his mind derailing. So fuck Catcher in the Rye. I’d rather read The Green and the Gold any day. –Kurt Morris (tridentcafe.com/trident-press-titles)

Hotel Man, By Matt Mauldin, 30 pgs.

This is the second book of poems by Matt Mauldin, formerly of Car Vs. Driver. Matt’s style is hard to pin down because he does everything well—“Wax Casting” is a straightforward narrative, in direct contrast to “Summer Camp,” which appears at first to be linear but seamlessly moves around in time. I think the through-line here is ultimately the denseness of imagery that Mauldin incorporates: lines and phrases pack emotional punch in their duality and rattle around in my head for days after I’m finished reading. –Michael T. Fournier (Four Feathers Press, fourfeathers.blogspot.com)