The invisible mongoose that lives in the wall has asked me to make a list of the best books I read in 2007. I’m not one to argue, so here’s a double-handful of titles arranged in no particular order.
The Trickster and the Paranormal (Xlibris, 2001) by George P. Hansen.
A dense, occasionally baffling disquisition of how the paranormal works. Contains a staggering amount of information about skeptics, sociology, parapsychology, stage magic, literature, hoaxing, shamans and religion. The last 200 pages can be a real briar patch, but the author presents complicated material as clearly as possible, tells interesting stories, like his work on the Brooklyn Bridge abduction case, and includes some first-rate dish. From time to time I muttered, “What the hell is he talking about?” but by the end I felt like I actually understood something about the supernatural. Then I had a nervous breakdown.
The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena 2nd edition (Rough Guides, 2007) by Bob Rickard and John Michell.
Whether you’re a budding fortean or someone who can use “lithobolia” in a sentence, you will enjoy this overview of the paranormal. The Guide contains fresh and familiar material, but what makes it really interesting is how the contents are arranged. Instead of sections on “poltergeists” or “UFOs”, the authors use headings like “teleportation” that describe what seems to be happening. This makes it easier to discuss phenomena without preconceptions and avoids the “linkage blindness” that can occur with familiar categories. The book’s a little unwieldy for bathtub reading, and there’s an arguable fact or two, but it’s a glimpse of what the great, unwritten, Encyclopedia Forteana might be like.
The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006) by John Benedict Buescher.
Spear is largely forgotten today-no authentic image of him even exists-but there’s been a revival of interest in this daring 19th century medium who carried out bizarre, spirit-directed, projects using a mixture of sex, Spiritualism and technology. Buescher also wrote …
The Other Side of Salvation (Skinner House Books, 2004).
Discusses proto-Spiritualists like John Bovee Dods and George de Benneville, gives Andrew Jackson Davis the attention he deserves, and considers Spiritualism’s relationship to radical reform, science, philosophy and, what was most interesting, American Protestantism. This author has a website of Spiritualist documents at http://www.spirithistory.com.
Kiantone: Chatauqua County’s Mystical Valley (AuthorHouse, 2006) by Deborah K. Cronin.
An eccentric, self-published, book about the Kiantone valley in New York State. Learn about local wildlife and legends (including a lost tribe of web-footed Celtic Indians) and “Harmonia”, a Spiritualist community that John Murray Spear helped found. Harmonia had a healing spring and its members dug a tunnel in an attempt to find treasures left by an ancient race.
The Yowie (Anomalist Books, 2006) by Tony Healy & Paul Cropper.
Vivid, occasionally unnerving, encounters with the hominoids of Oz, presented with humor and a dollop of incomprehensible Australian slang. The creatures range from dwarf to giant-sized and have juicy names like the thoolagarl and jurrawarra. There are dozens of illustrations (including drawings made or supervised by witnesses) and a great cover; it’s the sort of book that makes you love cryptozoology.
When you’re through with these, consider a collection of grotesque Medieval Ghost Stories (Boydell Press, 2001) by Andrew Joynes, or Robert E.L. Masters Eros and Evil (Matrix House, 1966), a classic of prurient scholarship, that suggests parallels between the European witch hysteria and modern alien abduction.
This summer I wrote an article about an 18th century American poltergeist, which gave me a chance to read about the Columbus poltergeist and the tragic story of its agent, Tina Resch, in Unleashed (Paraview, 2004) by William Roll and Valerie Storey. Finally, there is Poltergeists (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979) by Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, which examines the specific characteristics of poltergeists, how they differ from hauntings, and the possibility that “spirits” might also be responsible for the phenomenon.
I hope that some of these books make it onto your 2008 reading list. If you enjoy them let me know and I’ll put out a plate of bacon for the mongoose.