26. Spook by Mary Roach
As my last book of the year, I read Spook. Verdict: eh. There were some really interesting parts, and I can see why a lot of people really enjoy reading Roach’s books. She writes about history and current events in a scientific but approachable manner, and it’s definitely easily digestible. Some of my favorite parts are her footnotes though, when she goes into really esoteric parts of the history, but most of the book was too focused on achieving the goals of each chapter for me to really enjoy it.
In Spook, Roach looks into the phenomenon of ghosts, spirits, possession, séances, and the like. On the whole, it’s a fascinating topic, but I think it would have been slightly better as a series of shorter, but more in depth articles for the New Yorker or a similar online publication. In Spook, each chapter focuses a little too much on proving a point or following a story further than I cared to read about it, and it didn’t feel quite natural to me.
However, some of the chapters were definitely better than others. I loved the story about the North Carolina farmer who went to court to prove that supernatural spirits existed so that he could prove that a second will and testament (the provenance of which came to him in a supernatural dream) was accurate and written by the hand of the deceased. I also really enjoyed the section about women who conducted séances and the tricks they employed to fool people. I’d heard about the phenomenon before, but never fully realized how many people were drawn in by these types of charlatans at the time. All the pictures of ‘ectoplasm’ were just gauze that women would hide in their cavities. Yep, alllllllll of their cavities. And some would undergo full bodily examinations before séances to prove they weren’t hiding anything (even though they always were). Overall, a pretty enjoyable read, but nothing too special. I think it’s a book I’ll quickly forget, but I’m not upset at myself for reading it (like the Chelsea Handler books I regret reading, or Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which I have soured on even more since writing my review – it just gets worse with time). I’d recommend picking it up if you see it at the library, or borrowing it from a friend as I did, but it’s not really a book I’d buy.