Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: Our Haunted Lives, by Jeff Belanger

"So you basically only read church books and scary books and almost nothing else whatsoever, I guess."

"Yes, pretty much."

It's not that I don't want to read other things; I do. I just have unique taste, I guess, and don't tend to like the popular/trendy stuff as much. But I do have an open mind, and will read most anything that people recommend. I'm just not as good as I used to be at tracking that good stuff down. Several years back I had a customer service job and I worked the later shift so at lunch I would go to the library and load up on books, and I would check things out based on how interesting the cover was. I read a lot of lame stuff that way but did find some definite interesting and worthwhile things. 

Nowadays, I would have to run out of all of the backlog of books on my shelf that need to be read (still about 15 books to go) before I would be able to get back to the 'whatever looks good' system. And even then, books are racier now and I probably wouldn't have as much luck. 

But until then, here's the latest and greatest-"Our Haunted Lives." It was an interesting premise: the author runs a ghost story website and the book is his interviews of some of the contributors that he felt had the most interesting tales to tell.

The result is a fairly mixed bag. Mostly positive and worth a read, but uneven. For example, there are some incredible apparition stories in here, including one about a 'tar guy' that was flipping awesome. And then he'll follow it up with a 5-page interview with a guy who personally has never seen a ghost and doesn't believe in them but HIS EMPLOYEES SORT OF DO. 

Those uneven stories take you right out of it. He badly needed an editor to help him pick out the winners from the losers. In one story, a girl wakes up with a hand print on her arm, AND IT STAYED THERE FOR THE BETTER PART OF THE MORNING. In others, SOME DRAPES IN A HALL BLEW AROUND A LITTLE, AND THERE WAS A WINDOW OPEN BUT IT WAS FAIRLY FAR AWAY. 

But then there are great stories of cool ghosts and interesting encounters and really great detail, and for the most part he's an OK interviewer, pushing for details where needed. He does allow the people to go on a little too long, and he likes to include their personal belief system in it, so you can wind up with a guy telling a great story but then wrapping it up with a 2-page long summary of Lutheran spiritual beliefs, which would be interesting if they weren't completely wrong. 

But I liked the format; it hasn't been tried much, and I personally don't recall the last time I read a ghost story book that was a compilation of personal interviews. It's a fresh approach, and with a better editor, could definitely yield some great results if applied again down the road.

One thing that irked me, though, was not the author's fault. He closes the book with a story from a Hawaiian LDS guy who he said 'asked to be interviewed as his Hawaiian name to protect his identity against other Mormons that might not approve of his belief in ghosts.' Uh, raise your hand if you're LDS and you believe in ghosts. OK, so that makes about 98% of you. And this guy said he lives in Utah, too. He apparently leaves town every October when about 300 haunted houses pop up and all the radio stations start doing ghost call-in shows. LDS people are absolutely, completely OK with the concept of ghosts, good and evil. We don't entirely understand them, I think-I personally don't know why some people can apparently come back and/or be seen and/or interact with the living in ways that are good, evil, or benign-but we trust that they're part of the plan in some way that we just haven't discovered yet.

So way to go, doofus. Thanks for making it seem like the Church has some weird fringey set of beliefs about ghosts. If you wanted to be anonymous, that's fine. But don't go blaming it on the Church and its lack of open mindedness or something.


Hillary said...

Is he related to Michelle Belanger? She was the psychic on Paranormal State and also worked with Chip Coffey on Psychic Kids.

She also claims to be a vampire.

Christian said...

Hm, interesting! Maybe!

Christian said...

Hm, interesting! Maybe!