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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book Review: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
by Colin Dickey
October 3, 2017
Publisher: Penguin Books
330 pages

ISBN: 9781101980200
Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living—how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the facts behind a ghost story but also to how changes to those facts are made—and why those changes are made—Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of the things left undone, crimes left unsolved.

Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we are most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.
It hit me as I began to read this book, that I had checked out the hardcover version from the library. It had been a shock to find my name in the part about Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Virginia, and I remember him interviewing me a couple of years before. This is not a traditional book of ghost stories. If that is what you're looking for, you will be disappointed. The author offered a perspective on how ghost stories emerge, develop, and change according to various social, political, or economic contexts. Although I do not agree with him on some of it, it was a new way of trying to explain why maybe ghosts haunt. It would have been nice if he would investigate these places first hand, as I doubt he had done at most (maybe except where he lives at), as I know he interviewed me through the Internet. It would have been interesting to see if he would have different theories in being in the real places first hand.

Still, this being Halloween and the time of ghosts and things that go bump in the night, this still would be an interesting read for paranormal fans.

I gave Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places 4 ghostly sheep.

Pamela K. Kinney

About the Author:
Colin Dickey grew up in San Jose, California, a few miles from the Winchester Mystery House, the most haunted house in America. As a writer, speaker, and academic, he has made a career out of collecting unusual objects and hidden histories all over the country. He’s a regular contributor to the LA Review of Books and Lapham’s Quarterly, and is the co-editor (with Joanna Ebenstein) of The Morbid Anatomy Anthology. He is also a member of the Order of the Good Death, a collective of artists, writers, and death industry professionals interested in improving the Western world’s relationship with mortality. With a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Southern California, he is an associate professor of creative writing at National University.

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