I recently finished reading a book on paranormal phenomenon that I had great hopes for. It seemed to me, looking at the synopsis and taking a glance at the foreword that the author might have some original ideas derived from years of experience in the field. I was crushingly disappointed and I am going to go into detail about why in this post. What I am not going to do is name the book or its author since I do not want to get into a flame war. Suffice to say that the author is fairly well known in paranormal circles and is the author of several previous books which I have not read.
In fairness to the author, let me say straightaway that the sections of the book which dealt with some of his personal investigative experiences were quite interesting. I am always interested to read new tales of high strangeness so this tome was not a complete loss for me. My issues with this book apply to more than one paranormal author that I have read so I am going to allow myself a little rant.
Rant the first. If you are going to write a book then have some idea what you are going to write about. If you did not pay attention in your English classes throughout school here is a helpful hint – every written work should have a thesis. For a book on Fortean phenomenon that seeks to bring forward a particular theory, that theory would be the thesis. You, as the author, have a responsibility to tell me, the reader, what your theory is and what evidence you intend to bring forward in the very first part of the book. I, the reader, should not be subjected to long, disconnected, rambling discourses about a theory that leave me wondering just what in the world the author is trying to prove.
Rant the second. Hire a copy editor, for the love of the gods. Almost every paranormal book I have read has been rife with spelling, punctuation, syntax and other errors that could easily have been avoided by some judicious editing. I understand that no one is perfect and that mistakes can get by the best editor but the reader should not have to stop, go back through a passage and try to piece together the meaning because words are missing or mis-arranged or because the writer did not understand the difference between there and their (as but one example). The reader’s job is to read the book, not decipher it.
Rant the third. The Internet is not a suitable bibliographic source unless the site is one attached to some academic endeavor or provides a link to an out of print book that the writer is referencing. Even then, it is the book that should be referenced as found on X web site (for example the Sacred Texts web site). Being of a magical bent and having a lot of experience with the modern neo-pagan movement, I am particularly incensed when a writer makes statements about magic or the beliefs of the modern pagan world and bases these references on sites written by people who have obviously never done anything but read about magic and neopaganism. If you can not be troubled to go out and find a genuine practitioner, then kindly do not include such claptrap in your book.
Rant the fourth. This person told me that another person told him that his third cousin twice removed once encountered the Bouncing Bat Beast of Bongo does not constitute evidence of any kind. If you can not trace the story back to its original witness or to historical documentation then it is suspect. You may mention it, perhaps as a lead in to providing evidence on a subject or as a way of prefacing your tale of the search for evidence but please do not submit such hearsay evidence to the thinking reader with any expectation that he or she is going to give it the least credence.
Rant the fifth. Name dropping is quite alright as long as it serves a purpose. If you once met Charles Fort and had a lively conversation with him as he riffled through reams of reports and shared them with you then, by all means, include that tale in your text . . . if there is some point to it. Name dropping is usually accomplished in paranormal books as follows: There I was, on the trail of Nessie, when I encountered Charles Fort on the shores of Loch Ness. We retired to the local pub for a pint, talked about all manner of things that have absolutely nothing to do with Nessie and then went our separate ways. Trying desperately to make this encounter fit into the book, I reach deep and pull out some small reference in the conversation that seems to have something to do with what I was talking about and then go forward, having written a couple more pages to fill in my book. This is the sort of maneuver that college professors expect in English papers and count off for, I see no reason to be more merciful to a “professional” writer.
End of rant. I understand that some, if not most, books on the strangeness out there are case study books. I love these sorts of books, books that provide me with lots of witness accounts with perhaps a little conjecture or speculation in them. If I am going to read a book that sets forth a particular theory and tries to provide evidence for it, however, I expect, perhaps unrealistically, that the book will be well written, well researched, well edited and cohesive. I do not think that is too much to ask, even if the author is not an academic. If I were going to advise someone attempting such a work, I would advise that at least one of the test readers be someone outside the field who has the background to look at the proposed book as an argument piece and can point out some of the glaring flaws above. If you want to see a book with a well put together set of arguments, check out Chris Carter’s Science and Psychic Phenomenon.