Thursday, August 19, 2010


Book Reviewed: Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach

Lately, I've been craving good nonfiction reads. I don't know why, but I've gotten a little bored with novels this summer, so I've been putting a fair amount of nonfiction and poetry on my "To Read" list. When the well-loved science writer Mary Roach published her latest book last week, I decided I'd start with her. Roach is famous for funny, easygoing books on specific topics. Her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, was a huge success, and she's followed it up with looks at ghosts, sex research, and space exploration.

I decided to go with the topic that was sure to most interest me: the ghosts. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife was available at my library, so I reserved a copy and read it all in just a couple days. I had some mixed reactions to the book, but it sure did make for an interesting weekend. Each chapter stands alone, as Roach (in a funny and unaffected first-person voice) looks into different subjects related to the human soul and its possible existence after death. There are chapters in here about reincarnation, hallucinations caused by electromagnetic fields, and the research of near-death experiences. Through them all, Roach takes a warm view towards the people she meets and stories she finds. Ultimately, despite claims that she's just observing, she comes off as a little too skeptical all the time. I certainly can't claim to believe in ghosts (although I don't not believe in them either, I guess), but it would have been a little cooler to see her just relax sometimes.

Overall though, the book was very enjoyable. For some reason, well-researched, first-person nonfiction books like this read ridiculously easy for me. The student in me just loves to sit there and take it all in. That's why this book took very little time to read. I especially liked the fifth chapter, "Hard to Swallow: The giddy, revolting heyday of ectoplasm," which really lived up to its title. I was equally disgusted and intrigued by the subject, which is much more bizarre and yucky than I imagined. There are so many great anecdotes about the weirdness of scientists and parapsychologists and paranormal researches in here. Even at its most scientifically dry, the book is still a lot of fun. I will definitely be checking out more of Roach's stuff.

Other Books I Attempted This Last Week: I started a trashy romance, Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast, which went flat pretty quickly. I stopped halfway through. Also, I quickly abandoned a book I had really wanted to read: the new novel One Day, by David Nicholls. For some reason, I just couldn't get into it.

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