My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview historian Mike Wallace about the second volume of his monumental history of New York City (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!
I can't decide if I was mis-sold on this book or not. It was about what I expected to read, I suppose, but not in the way I expected to read it. I dunno. I feel a little cheated but can't quite put my finger on why.
Ghostland is an exploration of American history through some of the countries most haunted locations. Houses, hotels, graveyards, and even whole cities are discussed because really, if you look hard enough, everyone has a ghost story to tell. Locations discussed include The Winchester Mystery Manor, Danvers Mental Hospital, Gettysburg, and the entire city of Detroit. It's definitely a different way to look at American history, especially if you're interested in the paranormal.
I think the biggest reason I feel cheated by this book is it did end up being more of a review and critique of American history than a book about haunted locations, which was what I expected and haunted. Some chapters, mainly in the beginning, were what I expected. For example, I found the chapter on the Winchester Mystery Manor fascinating due to it going quite in depth into ghost stories and the spiritualist movement while also discussing their historical significance. That to me was exactly what I wanted to read. An annoyingly large part of the book though was more like, "slavery is bad" and "ghost hunters are ridiculous." I'll talk more about that in a moment but it was not at all what I wanted to read.
This book was really interesting. It explored a lot of aspects of American history I was unaware of and when it did connect to ghost stories it was incredible. For example, in one chapter we learn how ghost stories in part inspired the formation of the KKK in that early members pretended to be specters of fallen soldiers to scare the newly emancipated slaves. That's something I never learned in history class.
There were some chapters that even if they weren't connected to ghost stories per say the history was presented in a new way that was fascinating. I particularly liked the chapter on haunted asylums since, even though the ghost stories were few and far between, Dickey a) didn't demonize psychology the way many people I know do when criticizing past practices and b) explored a completely fresh angle of the haunted asylums: why they were built they way they were. As a psych graduate I find the thought processes behind their architecture fascinating and I'm glad Dickey focused so much on that element, rather than just going "lobotomies are bad" and leaving it at that.
Also worth noting is the fact that Dickey explores ghost/creepy stories that don't always make it into the mainstream. I was particularly pleased to see that he included the stories of Elisa Lam and the history of the Cecil Hotel as well as the Lalaurie Manor in his explorations.
The biggest critique I have of this novel is that Dickey comes across as being incredibly full of himself throughout the entire thing. His writing style came across very much so like those "I, an Intellectual" memes and it was obnoxious. I think what got me the most is he came across as VERY disparaging of ghost hunters and tourists. His condescension towards those groups was unbearable. Judging only by the way he writes, he reminds me of the bullies from my English classes who never hesitated to inform you of how enlightened they were and how beneath them you were for not being as enlightened. That was definitely not what I signed up for and it made getting into the book very difficult.
Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars. The book has a lot of interesting information, but the author gets in his own way with his ego. Would recommend for those interested in haunted history but check it out, don't buy it.
Final thought: You can disagree with something without being a dick about it, Colin.
In 1999, the first book of a projected three-volume history of New York City was published, Entitled Gotham, it covered the history of the city from is beginnings as a Dutch colony to the 1898 consolidation that merged the city with east Bronx, Brooklyn, western Queens County, and Staten Island, and won its authors, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for their labors.
It has taken eighteen years for the second volume to be published, yet the result is well worth that wait. Picking up where the last volume left off, Wallace (who is now soldiering forward solo in his efforts) describes the development of the city in all its particulars, covering its many economic, social, political, and cultural aspects. Though diverse in its scope, much of it is united by a common thread of consolidation, which in many respects was only just beginning. Consolidation was a popular concept of the age, with economic combinations emerging in American industry that dwarfed what had come before. Much of this was possible thanks to the financing provided by Wall Street, which served as the beating heart of the new, ever-more nationalized economy.
Consolidation was also important at the local level, as the city’s leaders now sought to turn the political achievement into a practical reality. To that end, they created a common infrastructure that tied it more closely together, which they did in a vast construction boom that created many of the institutions and arteries upon which the city relies today. Their efforts were emulated by others, as groups from Broadway to the criminal underworld embraced the benefits of combination. Yet not everyone was accommodated in the process, and Wallace’s book chronicles the many disputes that characterized an often painful growth of Gotham into the global metropolis it became by the end of the First World War.
Comprehensive and engaging, Wallace’s book is a worthy follow-up to its award-winning predecessor. Though its size is daunting, the division of the material into subject chapters makes it easily digestible, while Wallace’s ability to use the stories of individual New Yorkers to tell the larger history of the city makes it enjoyable reading. In Wallace the city has found a worthy chronicler, and with the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and another world war looming, it is to be hoped that readers will not have as long to wait for the next volume.
THE DEVOURED is an insane read. Insane, I say!
A man leaves his wife and child to fight in the civil war. His wife, (and therefore his son, Emmett), are of native American heritage and while the man is gone, his wife becomes ill. Emmett, big for his age of 16, decides to seek out his mother's father, a Shaman, (from whom she's been estranged), to request a cure for her illness. Can she be cured? And if so, will she be cured? Lastly, what is the price for that cure? You'll have to read this to find out!
This book seems to have elements of everything. By that, I mean it has a western feel to it, along with some Norse mythology, (Thurs, giants, Utgard, at one point there was a large tree- Yggdrasil?), witches, cannibals, and I don't even know what else. You might think that there is just too much going on, but somehow Curtis Lawson pulls it all together within the framework of a man trying to save his family.
I especially liked the characters of the old man, (I'm not sure if he was ever named?), and his companion, a young black boy named Hank. At first, I liked Emmett, but his turn down a dark road changed that by the time it was all over.
It took a while for everything to gel for me, because there was a lot going on, but when it did, I was impressed by the skills on display. Lawson's knowledge of history and mythology is impressive. I was feeling slightly off balance due to all the different aspects of the tale, but I finally stopped worrying that I was missing something and just let the story sweep me along. And that it did, right up to the brick wall that is the denouement. It was just the type of ending that I love!
I listened to this book on audio, which was narrated by Jason Sprenger. I've never listened to his narrations before, but I thought he was excellent. His voicing of the different characters was very good, but his main voice was the BEST, reminding me of Sam Elliott at times.
Overall, this book was just plain FUN! A mixed up combination of genres, mythology, American history and more, I can't think of another book or author, (well, maybe Tim Curran?), that can blend such things successfully. Curtis Lawson did so, and did it in spades.
You can get your copy here: The Devoured
*I received a digital copy of this audiobook from the author in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*