Eternal Reads | LJ Reviews, September 1, 2016

Dickey, Colin. Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places. Viking. Oct. 2016. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9781101980194. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101980217. HIST

ghostland-jpg9716Dickey, author of ­Cranioklepty (grave robbers stealing the skulls of the brilliant) and Afterlives of the Saints (the long-lasting influence of holy weirdness), continues his exploration of the strange and macabre with this latest work. Each chapter is an essay revolving around a spooky site or sighting. The focus ranges from specific landmarks such as the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA, to institutions such as Southern U.S. plantations or asylums to entire cities such as Salem, MA, and New Orleans—all supposed magnets for supernatural activity. While the author doesn’t question the veracity of the apparitions, the narratives are not your typical “gee whiz” ghost stories. Dickey pops sensationalist bubbles by observing the underlying racism, sexism, and classism associated with many hauntings’ long-told tales. By exposing historical inaccuracies and sociological calumny, the work treats readers to a better understanding of the socioeconomic and political milieu in which these myths gained acceptance, ultimately providing a richer, more nuanced narrative. VERDICT Sophisticated readers with gothic sensibilities who enjoy literary histories, social commentary, and authoritative travelogs will find this a worthy title.—Janet Tapper, Univ. of Western States Lib., Portland, OR

Ocker, J.W. A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts. Countryman. Oct. 2016. 240p. photos. ISBN 9781581573398. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781581575545. TRAV

Travel writer Ocker (Poe-land) takes readers along with him and his family on an enjoyable trip to Salem, MA, during the month of October. The town is one of the largest Halloween-themed tourist spots, and the author examines how the holiday connects with its solemn past. Both the witch trials of 1692–93 and the life of 19th-century author ­Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, are woven through the narrative, giving it a solid historical starting point from which to explore the area’s modern take on witches and Halloween. The result is an entertaining and historical guide to the varied sites of Salem, with Ocker interviewing everyone from the mayor to local archivists to men in scary costumes, covering burial sites of witch trial judges, and perhaps the most awesome Halloween street party ever described in print, with Ocker’s good humor and touch of sarcasm marking his readable style. ­VERDICT A fun read for anyone who enjoys Bill Bryson–style travel writing, this entry will make readers want to visit Salem.—Sara Miller Rohan, Archive Librarian, Atlanta

The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters. Penguin. Sept. 2016. 320p. ed. by Scott G. Bruce. notes. index. ISBN 9780143107682. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780698406605. FOLKLORE

Humanity’s enduring fascination with the supernatural is explored in this collection of writings compiled by medievalist Bruce (history, Univ. of Colorado; Cluny and the Muslims of La Garde-Freinet). Set down by theologians, scholars, and playwrights, these tales of encounters between the living and the restless dead date from antiquity to the early modern period and are placed in their proper historical and cultural context by Bruce’s introductions to both individual pieces and the eras in which they were penned. Although the tone is inevitably more scholarly than shocking, it succeeds well as an education in how stories of wandering spirits have reflected throughout history common human anxieties about death, the disposal of mortal remains, and the fate of the soul. The selected excerpts illustrate how these fears have changed through the ages and the ways in which otherworldly accounts have been used to address them. VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in the supernatural, its religious and cultural influences, and depiction in the medieval era.—Sara Shreve, Newton, KS

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