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Spook by Mary Roach

January 23, 2011

I read Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife for three reasons: 1. I loved the author Mary Roach’s sciency/investigative book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. 2. Roach is smart and funny (see her TED talk) and 3. I found the hardcover at St. Vincent De Paul for $1.74.

I have a soft spot for the afterlife. If L.Ron Hubbard’s correct, I get a free trip to Venus. If he’s not, I won’t know, because I’ll be dead. Anyway, I enjoy things pertaining to the afterlife because of the folklore surrounding it. Spirit photography? Séances? I love reading about these things. (Never, however, ask me to sit around a Ouija board. Just freaks me out.)  To show you how much this fascinates me, I would like to direct you to a project I created for a Digital Imaging class. We had to manipulate photos and do something cool with them. I had been enjoying my folklore class (Wojcik FTW!) and worked it into my project: I created a LiveJournal account (named Ecto-Cooler, after the Hi-C flavor inspired by film’s greatest blob of ectoplasm) and posted fake spirit photography. I graduated five years ago, so the links are broken. However, I think it’s appropriate to recreate the page here for all of posterity.

That doesn’t mean I’m not a skeptic, though. I just think it’s a rollicking good time. So, I didn’t pick up Spook because I wanted research to prove we have souls that live on after our body expires. Nah, I just wanted to read about experiments and weird people. I recommend the book, for it most definitely featured those two things. Roach starts the book admitting that she’s skeptical, but is going to try and approach all of her reading, interviews, and observations with an open mind. This proves to be very difficult; at times I wonder why she said this. It makes you question her motives. Nevertheless, she recounts all of her experiences in labs, workshops, peoples’ homes, taxicabs…in great detail and with respect. She’s not out to make fun of anyone, but to document the search for the soul.

She interviews people who research or have a good story that proves reincarnation, weighs the soul after death, views the soul on different wavelengths, speaks to spirits, hears them in white noise, etc. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of spiritualism. We meet people who are convinced their son is a reincarnated nearby villager or that EMFs expose nearby spirits (these people probably didn’t take kindly to Michael Keaton’s magnum opus White Noise.)
Roach herself takes some courses to detect spirits (via photography or sound equipment) and determines that the people into it, although the proof is not on their side, are sincere and overly optimistic. The days of making good money contacting spirits is (mostly) gone—excepting big name mediums like John Edward, of course.

If any of this stuff is remotely interesting, I recommend reading the book. If you are looking for Roach to provide proof that the soul exists apart from our living selves, you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to learn nuggets such as “the heyday of spiritualism—with its séances and spirit communications zinging through the ether—coincided with the dawn of the electric age” (201), then this book is for you. I don’t read nearly enough non-fiction, so I don’t have much to compare this to. I enjoy Roach’s willingness to talk to anyone and try anything and her humorous approach to it all. I think Stiff is a better book (it really got me thinking of what to do with this body when I’m gone)—funnier and more interesting—but most of Spook‘s chapters kept me intrigued.


Next up: The Hunger Games (Finally, I’m reading something relevant.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dustin McKague permalink
    January 26, 2011 8:03 pm

    I am still working on this read, but so far my favorite quote (and my belief) is, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

    • January 30, 2011 9:43 pm

      Yeah, that really sums it up. Good call on quoting that. Also, I was happy to hear your favorite chapter thus far was the ectoplasm one. Given my adoration of old timey spiritualism, it was my favorite too!

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