Weird History – November 2016

Not gonna lie, this month was a terrible one for reading. Just for me, obviously, but it very nearly ruined the victory of October’s stellar five-book mountain.

My theme was “weird history”. Honestly, because I’m working on a supernatural book, I was really looking for an excuse to continue reading material along that theme.

Work of the Dead

What do you know, it IS a textbook!

The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains

This is a beast of a book. Humongous. 700+ pages of what equates to a thick milkshake of pseudo-anthropology, observational psychology, and mythology all about the meaning a dead human body as in society.

There are times when I feel like I should make a life as a career student, always in classes about new things. If this were the name of a college course, I would absolutely take it. Subject fascinates me, and it clearly fascinates Thomas W. Laqueur.

Thing is, this was part of my monthly recreational reading, and this book was written more for scholarship than for entertainment.

220 pages in, and I lemmed it.

There is a point, I believe, when you need to decide if this book is accomplishing what you need it to accomplish. When you pick up a book, you do it for a reason. You want to be entertained, you want to get deep into a new world or a new subject, you want to learn something, etc. I picked this up to be “edutained”. The entertainment factor was missing, so my education element also suffered.

I would love to go back to this book and give it all the attention and in-depth study it deserves, but my recreational reading shelf was not where it belonged.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted PlacesGhostland

There were several topics I’d hoped to hit while starting my reading into “weird history”. Fads, for one. Abnormal psychology, for another. I even wanted to find some bizarre biographies, like of a conman or a circus star. However, after the lemming of my first selection, Ghostland was the more obvious choice.

This is certainly edutainment. It’s more current than most books I pick up, having been published this year. It was instantly more comfortable to read.

That really made me wonder what, specifically, made me turn through this one quickly vs. the other that I slaved over.

The language, of course, was one. Colin Dickey works he tone and construction in Ghostland, at a sentence level, easily accessible. Few complex sentences, simple direct words, and terms that mean exactly what you assume they mean.

In academic writing, you sometimes have to boil words down to an agreed-upon meaning to get away from misunderstandings. In edutainment, you agree upon the readers’ widely accepted meaning and get on with it.

The biggest difference between the two books was specific stories. Laqueur had very little narrative at all. A paragraph per anecdote at the most often with a full page or three in between stories.

Dickey barely goes two or three sentences without being immediately in some kind of narrative, either as an account by the author sharing the method of gathering the stories of these locations, telling the “campfire version” of history, or relaying the documented history of the location.

As of writing this, I’ve still got more than half of Ghostland left to read. I write these as early as I can, the reading considered. It’s the 28th now, and I do stand an excellent chance of finishing. If, for any reason, I don’t, then I’ll be very sad because it’ll be time to move on to December reading, which looks very exciting!

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