I recently read The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery and I really enjoyed it. It was an insightful look at the backstage at an aquarium and at the octopus(es) that so intrigued the author. While not being too terribly fact heavy this book makes you question what your preconceived notions of the animals that exist around. The author makes you question whether the information that you learned in science truly encompasses everything about the animal whether or not they are capable of having personalities or even souls. Watching the author’s relationship with the different octopuses that she interacts with whether in the wild or in the aquarium leads her to question the assumed knowledge about the animal’s intelligence. I really enjoyed this book, it was fascinating getting a behind the scenes glimpse of an aquarium and the people who devote their time and energy to working with those animals. This book also contained an emotional account of people bonding over a shared passion and was a fantastic memoir of an authors experiences in working alongside people who are passionate in what they do.
The only disappointment with this book was in the lack of facts while there was some information you learned alongside the author I was wishing for a bit more information. I would not recommend this book to anyone who was looking for a book that delves deep into the science of the octopus because I felt that this book was more a memoir of the author’s experience in researching octopuses. Ultimately I did enjoy this book but I wished this book had more facts about the octopuses instead of the author.
Let me start this review by saying that this book was a massive disappointment for me. I read this in October looking for a creepy Halloween read. I thought this book was going to be the creepy ghost stories I was looking for, but it turned out to be anything but.
What its All About
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey premise is as it says, sharing ghost stories from across the country. The author’s thesis is ghost stories share more about the people and society telling the story than of those whose stories are being shared. That ghost stories can highlight our faults by defining something that went against societal norms as scary or neglecting what we as a society are ashamed of entirely. In many ways, these stories showcase the things that people are ashamed of. The author argues that ghost stories can reflect many of the contemporary society’s mores by what the society found or finds repellant. In many cases, something that goes against the society’s social mores leads to the rumors of something otherworldly happening and therefore the belief in the haunting.
My Thoughts on the Book
This book did start out well. The first couple of chapters were exactly as advertised. Each chapter is supposed to tell the story of a local haunting and then the author tries to explain how this reflected the culture of the local area. The first couple chapters were exactly as advertised. A local haunting is told and the author explained how that reflected the time period and the culture that the people lived in. But after a while, the author kept coming back to the same theme. How each haunting is flawed and how it can be debunked. This “openminded” author debunks every single haunting. It led me to believe that he picked the hauntings that were easily debunked. In fact, most hauntings seemed to be debunked with little to no extensive research on behalf of the author. It made me think the author was picking and choosing hauntings that fit within his overarching theme and that were easily debunked.
The author’s tone is condescending towards his audience and he feels the need to explain exactly how each haunting fits into his overarching theme of hauntings showcases societies flaws. He never lets the audience make the connection or the leap of logic. He pedantically explains what exactly the flaw of society is and then how the haunting showcases this, even when the connection is extremely obvious as the conditions within the sanitarium and prison. I think it would have been more interesting if the author had shared the details and then let the audience make the conclusion for themselves. However, at times I feel like the author had to explain so in depth because the actual research seemed to be lacking.
There are several chapters where the author discusses how in many different parts of America the ghosts are primarily white people to exclude stories that highlight the abuse and degrading conditions of enslaved people which can make people feel uncomfortable. However, he does include several hauntings that are of people who were enslaved. But these hauntings have also been contorted so that the slaves are portrayed as villains. I think it would have been more interesting if he had included one of these stories to illustrate his point but also included some of the stories he mentioned briefly of the ghost stories recorded by the slaves themselves.
As I alluded to earlier I think this book was not as researched as much as it could have been. There were several errors or rather omissions that showed that the author did not do extensive research on the area. He made several location errors such as describing Monticello as in the city of Richmond. (this might be because I live in the general area). The chapter about Shiloh also illustrates the fact that the author could have done much more research, the chapter on Shiloh is extremely vague. He does not include any specifics about the ghost stories at all, just mentions that there were a few soldiers supposedly haunting the battlefield. He does not mention anything about the battle at all, which cheapened the whole chapter. The reason I love reading ghost stories is being able to feel an emotional connection with the subjects of the story. Shiloh was the battle where the Union army was caught by surprise and suffered massive amounts of casualties on that first day. The massive amount of casualties that were caught by surprise, in particular, should have led to an emotional and evocative ghost story, but I don’t think the author did the research in order to find that out.
Since it’s Nonfiction November 2017 I decided to share 5 of my nonfiction favorites. Continue reading
It’s nonfiction November! And I decided to participate. I usually read about 2 nonfiction books a month so I decided to challenge myself and I hope to read at least 4 this November. I picked out 5 for my TBR just to give myself some variety and just in case I finish all of them before the end of the month (unlikely). I may have cheated on a few of these like Grant and started them before November (I have less than a hundred pages left). Here’s my TBR for the month. Continue reading