Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Paranormal Reading: A Buell Book Commentary

Again, I've let my blogging fall on the wayside. There has been so much going on—exams, university work, research for books—that I keep forgetting to set aside time to write. But it has been worth it. I have over 100% in my psychology course and very high marks in the other classes. I'm assisting in research for a book due out this fall and starting early research for a book I'll be co-authoring next year. Let's just say my days of dabbling in local ghosts are far from over...

I have taken the time to catch up on some reading over the past few months. I do plan to keep the trend going and talk briefly about them on this blog. After Ghost Hunters (which is currently being borrowed by my psychology professor... I knew I liked her for a reason), I finally sat down to read Ryan Buell's book Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown. In many ways, the book was a pleasant surprise... though at times it left me shaking my head.

Having read a few books written by people in the limelight, my hopes weren't too high for Paranormal State. If I were to judge purely by the television show, I would say that Ryan and I are polar opposites. After reading the book, however, that view has somewhat changed. In reality, from what Ryan says about his view on the paranormal, we think quite a lot alike. He's not the demon-obsessed religiously-superior fanatic. His approach toward the paranormal is rather neutral and unbiased (to some degree: we all have a certain level of bias) and he's a staunch skeptic with psychics and mediums (unless proven otherwise, as he says he was wth Chip Coffey, Michelle Belanger—who wrote an excellent foreword—a fellow Clevelander, and Lorraine Warren). The procedures for membership indoctrination into PRS is impressive. While his "brief histories" in the book were lacking many key figures (How could you leave out J. B. Rhine?), I like to believe that the in-depth classes required for all members covered them.

In these respects, Paranormal State brought me to admire Buell. Yet there were many instances where I was disappointed. The first was quite simple: for a Journalism Major, I expected the writing to be more of a journalistic caliber. At times, it read like typical, casual conversation trying to blend in with the in-crowd. Parts almost read like, ". . .and I was like, 'Fuck, dude, that's so lame!'" (paraphrasing, of course) It was hard to ignore a certain amount of egotism woven into the passages as well. While at times he was extremely unbiased in his observations, there were still hints of superiority. A few times I felt he crossed the line into blatant name-calling:

"I love ghost hunters, but sometimes they can be really thick and immature . . . The spirits do not need a bunch of overweight, fashionless ghost geeks walking in and asking for the spirit to do parlor tricks for their amusement." (p.142)

That's not to say I felt the whole book deserves to be written off based on a few momentary lapses in neutrality and humility. I could relate to his very brief mention of "coming out" to others in the field. Having walked that tightrope, I know how difficult it can be to address your sexuality with those you admire and work with. Buell is well-read (I was shocked at how many of his recommended books were on my list of best books), and his hard work and dedication shows. For those reasons, I can let the arrogance slide. If you want a fast interesting read, I do recommend it.

I'll be tackling more books, hopefully this week, including The Mothman Prophecies and a book by Michelle Belanger. I have a few more days before getting swamped with work again. As the weather improves, I hope to get out there and check out some places as well. But for now, back to the grindstone...