Books 10/6/05

I finished two books a while back and have been floating from book to book in the meantime. So, I should catch up.

The Spiritualists by Ruth Brandon concerns the Spiritualist movement, beginning with it’s conception in 1848 and taking it through the 1930s. The Spiritualist movement is fascinating to me, because it’s such a study in human psychology. As this book puts forth, the “founders” of the movement were frauds (I put founders in quotation marks because the little girls who began it all didn’t really set out to found anything), and those who had positions of prominence and renown within the Spiritualist world all later admitted that they too were frauds, yet lots and lots of people believed them, even after they came out as con men (or women). People were so desperate to believe that these people could talk to the dead that they would overlook and explain away the most blantant forgery. And many of them even convinced themselves that they had spiritualistic abilities of their own. Scientists who came in to investigate either allowed their own belief to sway their findings, or, if they were strictly scientific in their approach, were dismissed as antagonistic. If people who didn’t believe came to a seance and nothing happened to convince them of the validity of the medium, that could always be explained away as them bringing in a disruptive force that kept the spirits away.

The book covers both what the spiritualists claimed they could do, and the reality of what they were doing. The tricks that they pulled were quite impressive, and testify to the tendency of the human mind to see what it wants to see. Moving tables, taps, ghostly apparitions, and even ectoplasm are described, by people who witnessed them, in well documented excerpts from original records, and then analyzed and explained. When the feats were debunked by scientists, or were later explained by the spiritualists themselves, their accounts are likewise included.

The book is a great overview of the Spiritualist movement during its heyday. Of course, this kind of belief still continues today, and it’s interesting to see how spiritualists today (though I doubt they’d choose that title) present the same phenomenon.

I also read Architectural Follies by Gwyn Headley. Apparently a folly is an actual architectural term, the meaning of which is still a little unclear to me, even after finishing the book. It seems to be related to buildings that are strange and slightly (or very) outrageous, but that’s not always enough to make it a folly. Sometimes they’re just super expensive and unfinished, or not used for their original purpose. Or not.

Anyway, I got the book because it had a section on the Winchester Mystery House, and man, was it short and disappointing. (We’re talking 2 pages, each with a picture on the bottom half of the page.) It only covered the basic history of the house, with little to no discussion of the actual architecture or structure of the house, which is what I was looking for. That’s really the experience I had with most of the book- many fascinating buildings and structures were touched on, but just touched on. More pictures would have been nice, and more than just a teaser on each building would have been much appreciated. I don’t mind finishing a book and feeling inspired to do tangental research, but when I feel the need to research everything in the book then I don’t know that the book did its job.

Now I’m floating from book to book, not seemingly able to settle on any one in particular. I have a bunch of books about life in the 1920s to read, as well a couple more about specific Spiritualists, and I can’t decide where to land. I’m also partway through The Blessing by Nancy Mitford and The Witches of Eastwick… I need to just focus and finish something!

Current Total: 73
Just finished: Architectural Follies by Gwyn Headley
Currently reading: oh who knows?

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