Today I was pleased to spot a new and positive assessment of my paranormal encyclopedia from a reviewer for the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA):
Producing a reference book about the paranormal presents a unique challenge. Various aspects of the phenomenon — under the rubric of “the supernatural” — have been and remain common to virtually all religions. Furthermore, as this work’s “Introduction” notes, “the idea of the paranormal is ubiquitous and inescapable in American culture” and “is entrenched” (xix) throughout most of the rest of the world. Yet the actual existence of the paranormal is in very serious doubt, and authorities in most mainstream disciplines reject it as pseudoscience. As the “Introduction” suggests, however, a new paradigm that sidesteps this “skeptic/believer dichotomy” (xxiii) seems to be emerging.
To tackle this slippery topic, editor and college English instructor Matt Cardin has assembled 121 alphabetically arranged entries by 57 contributors, most of whom work in academia. Subjects range from individuals (Edgar Cayce, Carl Jung, and so on) to important institutions such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Rhine Research Center and from paranormal “powers” such as telepathy to treatments of the paranormal in the arts and the media. Most entries run from two to four pages, are objective in approach, and are clearly written without being simplistic. . . .
Given its currency and its thoughtful, even-handed approach to the field, Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics is highly recommended for undergraduate and larger public library reference collections.
More: Full review
This stands in nice contrast to the decidedly lukewarm review that appeared late last year in Magonia, where the upshot was: “All in all a good try that is greatly hampered by lack of a clear editorial direction and appreciation of what and who are important in the field.” (I was comforted by the fact that the reviewer misspelled my name.)
If you want to read the book and judge for yourself, consult your local public, college, or high school library, or get it straight from the publisher or from Amazon or anywhere else.
During a week when mummies are on everybody’s mind because of that widely circulated news story about the mummified Buddhist monk found in a Buddha statue, it’s nice to see that Library Journal has posted a review of my recently published Mummies around the World, which contains a long entry titled “Buddhist self-mummification” that’s written by Ron Beckett and Jerry Conlogue, the scientists and mummy experts who used to host National Geographic’s Mummy Road Show.
LJ’s verdict, I’m pleased to say, is positive:
This truly rollicking blend of scientific and pop culture offers facts ranging from actual methods of mummification to an entry on the 1955 movie Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy and includes trivia-fact boxes. VERDICT: An educational and entertaining compendium that is recommended for all “mummymaniacs” everywhere.
MORE: Review of Mummies around the World (scroll to the bottom of the page)
I just stumbled across the first review of Born to Fear that I’ve yet seen.It was published today at PopMatters, and the reviewer’s take is positive. He also leads with something I’ve been meaning to mention here for the past month or two: that Tom’s work was a significant influence on the recent first season of HBO’s True Detective, and in fact served as the main inspiration for the icy cosmic pessimism that proved so hypnotic to so many viewers as they heard it articulated by Matthew McConaughey.
I’ll say more about that in some future post, but for now here’s a nice excerpt from the review:
In the 25 years that the interviews span, Ligotti’s take on life has remained constant. If for Shakespeare life is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, for Ligotti “it’s a tragedy that consumes us and makes the world what it is — an inane and grotesque puppet show,” and he would disabuse us of any notion that it might possibly be otherwise.
. . . . In the interviews, Ligotti comes across as a learned man whom one might easily converse with, even disagree with, and still get along. He tells one of his interlocutors, for example, “let me pause a moment and acknowledge the obvious, namely, that my celebration of Poe and Lovecraft, and my derogation of writers who are unlike them, is a pure outpouring of personal temperament — and nothing more.”
Personal temperament, or something akin to it, was exactly what drew me to Camus, and what has made reading his books, along with those of Cioran, Ligotti and others, such a solace. Ligotti has a name for this effect: “This is what I call the ‘I thought I was the only one who felt that way’ syndrome. The farther your thoughts and feelings are from those of the mainstream, the more attached you will become to the writer who speaks for you so. You will feel lucky to have found that writer. And that writer will feel even luckier to have found you.”
With a new collection of interviews with Ligotti to read, hot on the heels of the successful first season of True Detective, pessimists have much to feel lucky about all around.
NOTE: This is a longer version of a review that also appears at New York Journal of Books. The book itself was published just today.
Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History, by Richard Smoley. Tarcher/Penguin. Published February 7, 2013. 240 pages.
Reviewed by Matt Cardin
There’s a handful of writers working today whose books about esoteric religious, spiritual, and philosophical subjects bridge the divide between the small niche audience devoted to such things in earnest and the wider popular audience that has a casual interest in them and occasionally reads occult conspiracy novels like The Da Vinci Code and spiritual self-help books like The Power of Now. Prominent representatives of this group include Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl), Patrick Harpur (Daimonic Reality), Victoria Nelson (Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural), Gary Lachman (Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality), and Mitch Horowitz (Occult America).
Richard Smoley also numbers among them, and with the publication of Supernatural, a book that looks to be aimed squarely at the readers inhabiting this middle ground, Mr. Smoley extends his appeal and his considerable expertise in these areas to a wider audience than he has previously reached. Over the past three decades he has built a stellar reputation as an authority on the alternative, esoteric, and occult streams of Western religion and philosophy. Trained in classics and philosophy at Harvard and Oxford, he rose to prominence in the 1980s and 90s as a writer for, and eventually the editor of, the now-legendary magazine Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions. He then turned to writing books, beginning with 1999’s Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions (co-authored with Jay Kinney, publisher and editor-in-chief of Gnosis) and continuing with additional books on Nostradamus, Gnosticism, and esoteric Christianity, including, perhaps most prominently, Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition.
In Supernatural, Mr. Smoley returns to the broad-based, encyclopedia-oriented approach of Hidden Wisdom by surveying a wide variety of trends and traditions in sixteen separate essays, most of them previously published elsewhere (the majority in New Dawn, the long-running, Australia-based magazine about esoterica and the paranormal). But he does so in a more personal and conversational tone that makes the book more accessible to all types of readers than some of his previous work has been. He has always written beautifully smooth and lucid prose, and has always presented complex, profound, and subtle ideas with striking ease, but here he adds to that elegance a casual, informal tone that generates a sense of simply hanging out with the author and listening to him talk extemporaneously from his insights, experiences, and vast store of knowledge. Read the rest of this entry
A couple of months ago I was invited to join the Reviewer Panel at the online New York Journal of Books. NYJB gives their official blessing and permission to reviewers who want to republish their reviews at their own sites, so that’s something you’ll start seeing here at The Teeming Brain in weeks and months to come. Books lined up for review by me include Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History by Richard Smoley, The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper, Age of Catastrophe: Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times by John David Ebert, and the forthcoming new edition of Alan Watts’ The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness with a new introduction by Daniel Pinchbeck.
My first assignment in this new capacity gave me the distinctly not-unpleasant task of reading and evaluating Wiley-Blackwell’s new encyclopedia of the Gothic genre that was published in January. My review of The Encyclopedia of the Gothic is now live at the NYJB site. For Teeming Brain readers, here’s an expanded version of it.
The Encyclopedia of the Gothic, edited by William Hughes, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. Wiley-Blackwell. Published January 22, 2013. 1152 pages.
Reviewed by Matt Cardin
Increasingly since the 1990s, modern technological societies have been profoundly informed and transformed by a popular culture that is oriented toward the fantastic, often in its darker, Gothic guise. In America, for example, film critic David Denby notes (with extreme disapproval) that fantasy motifs, themes, and storylines are showing up in all kinds of cinematic genres where they were formerly absent or rare, and at such a rapid pace that “In time — a very short time — the fantastic, not the illusion of reality, may become the default mode of cinema.” (See “Has Hollywood Murdered the Movies?” The New Republic, September 14, 2012.) A similar situation exists in the book publishing industry, where apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and horror-oriented themes have seeped through the category boundaries of science fiction and horror to infuse a growing swath of literature at large.
Nor is this fantastic metastasis limited to books and movies. In fact, it’s not even limited to art and entertainment as such. Victoria Nelson — to name just one insightful observer — argues in her books The Secret Life of Puppets and, most recently and pointedly, Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural that the fantastic, especially in the mode of the Gothic (or “Gothick,” as she styles it), forms a kind of American sub-zeitgeist that stands in direct counterpoint to the prevailing secular-materialist culture, and that this has now burst the bounds of entertainment proper and increasingly come to resemble a new kind of sleek, chic, and pointedly supernaturalist spirituality, thus giving us a glimpse of “what a post-Christian religion in America might look like.”
In the midst of such a situation, the publication of Wiley-Blackwell’s The Encyclopedia of the Gothic can only be described as “timely.” Describing itself as “comprehensive and wide-ranging,” and containing more than 200 original essays produced “by leading scholars writing on all aspects of the Gothic,” this two-volume reference work is intended to “provide comprehensive coverage of relevant authors, national traditions, critical developments, and notable texts that continue to define, shape, and inform the genre. . . . From American Gothic and angels to Wilde and witchcraft, The Encyclopedia of the Gothic is the definitive reference guide to all aspects of this strange and wondrous genre.” Read the rest of this entry