Laura's Reviews > Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife

Spook by Mary Roach
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's review
Jun 13, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: anthropological, talk-nerdy-to-me, non-fiction, jiggery-pokery, tigard-library
Read from June 13 to 16, 2010

This is a book that tries too hard to be cutesy. From page one, we're dumped with tons of cute little footnoted anecdotes about quaint pseudo-scientific afterlife-related topics (many of her anecdotes tend to veer far off topic), but nothing meaningful or even slightly memorable. Furthermore, Roach's humor comes across not as funny but as smug, even mean-spirited (and, as a firm non-believer, I was predisposed to agree with her point of view anyway).

Her research and organization were both terrible. She seemed to jump into topics haphazardly, with no segues between them, and with no reason except to poke gleeful fun at the topic she's investigating: "Look at me! I managed to get into the highly-exclusive Cambridge Library Manuscript Room! First, I'll make a joke about all the nerds doing research in the room, and what mind-numbingly boring topics they're studying! Then, I'll discuss at length how embarrassed I am to be studying such a silly subject! Then, after summarizing the articles I read in boring detail, I'll have a good long laugh about the ridiculous shenanigans people got up to in olden times, and how funny their beliefs sound today!" Long story short, her "investigations" into phenomena are cursory at best. This is a book that claims to speak for science...but true scientific research is never this shallow.

The only chapter that I really found interesting was the one on ghosts/ghost sightings. However, I was put off by Roach's presentation: for example, she investigates in some detail a case in which a farmer claimed to see the ghost of his deceased father; the ghost directed the farmer to a hidden copy of his will, a will which just so happened to give the farmer a greater share in his late father's estate. No surprise here: First, Roach "investigates" the ghost-sighting claim, then feels the (surely noble) need to tell the farmer's grandchildren that their ancestor was likely involved in some sort of scam (even though they previously had held no doubts about their grandfather's story, and didn't seem to want to hear any of her arguments).

Blah blah blah. Nearly none of this book is clever or particularly engaging. When it's not trying to be humorous, it just feels like a long list of names and dates and titles of research studies. Most inexcusable: this book is boring. I'm one who actually watches those terrifically bad Discovery Channel shows about hauntings (the ones with dramatic re-enactments, complete with computer-generated "ghosts" and spooky noises soundtrack). I shouldn't have found this book boring. I should have devoured it. Instead, I was bored out of my mind and desperately wished each page was the last.
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Reading Progress

06/13/2010 "So far, too cutesy. Feels a bit forced."
06/14/2010 page 85
27.0% "Not spectacularly impressed."
06/14/2010 page 150
48.0% "Funny to be reading this right after Alias Grace, which covered some of the same ground. However, this, unlike AG, has me extremely bored."
06/15/2010 page 215
69.0% "This book sucks and I want it to be over."

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Wayne (new)

Wayne Hi Laura,
You know I just LOVE a good ghost story!!!!!
The words of whatever story it is give me a REAL nervous reaction...I get shivers and goosebumps.
I just go COLD all over.
What a pleasure to let yourself go like this when basically you KNOW you are perfectly SAFE.

I DON'T believe in ghosts but I LOVE to hear real ghost stories and if you pry and show acceptance people who have had odd experiences will open up after you have exhibited a certain openness.
I have visited a once thriving Gold Town by the name of Hill End in New South Wales, not too far from Sydney, and have heard some wonderful tales from the few people who live there.
I can imagine how disappointed you must have felt when this writer did not deliver the goods.
But I give YOU 5 Stars for persevering to the bitter end!!!
I hope you are rewarding yourself with an enjoyable book at the moment!!!!

Laura Haha thanks Wayne!

It was hard going, but I have a real aversion to leaving books unfinished, even books (like this one) that I can't stand. Keeping track of what I'm reading on Goodreads makes it even worse for some reason. Although this book's loooong, dragging, insufferable chapter on ectoplasm (of all the exciting, ghosty-related topics she could have picked, she focused on ectoplasm!) really pushed me to my limit...

I love a good ghost story, and it seemed like there was so much the author could have done with it to make it exciting and liven it up. Didn't work for me at all. I liked her earlier book, Stiff, a lot, though. If you know of any spooky books you think I might like, let me know :)

message 3: by H (new) - rated it 1 star

H H Agree!!

message 4: by Wayne (new)

Wayne Laura,
Looking at my collection of Ghost Stories I find that most books I have purchased have been anthologies , so one story each from a vast array of writers.Only a few volumes where ALL the stories are by the one writer.
These latter seem to be a bit repetitive and expose techniques and themes...but still enjoyable.Some of these volumes are :Henry James, Charles Dickens, Sheridan Le Fanu,M.R.James ie.Montague Rhodes James, Edith Wharton,Daphne du Maurier, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood.
All of these are found in the anthologies with many others eg Bram Stoker's "The Judge's House" gives me the chills always but I don't know whether he wrote any other ghostly tales.His novels are more renowned.
Others are :Guy du Maupassant,Robert Louis Stevenson,Saki, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe, E.F.Benson, W.W. Jacobs (The Monkey's Paw seems to be the ONLY one he ever wrote!!!)Ray Bradbury....the anthologies are the best place to start.Some tales may not have sactual ghosts but are pretty weird nevertheless.
Have'll regret it!!!!!!!
Chilly Cheers from Wayne !!!!!!!!

Clarissa Johal You hit the nail on the head. Great review.

Jason you described her writing well... its something i can relate to when i want a quick read. my mind cant handle too much research based lit post grad school so she makes it easy for me... and im less distracted since she is always jumping around. try Stiff, though.

Griffin I really hate to bash an author who is trying her best, but you absolutely described this book accurately. Suffering from crippling existential depression, I thought this book would quell some of my fears about surviving death; or at least provide food for thought. Honestly she found a way to make this topic boring (a topic which by the way, sparks one of the greatest philosophical debates of mankind). Im about 60% of the way through this book right now, and I find it the least bit captivating or interesting and honestly, am struggling to finish it. I came here to see what the general consensus was and am glad to see im not alone.

Griffin PS the agonizing ectoplasm chapter made me want to light myself on fire.

Laura Lol years later and I still remember how bored I was by the ectoplasm chapter. Thanks for the comments and good luck with the last 40%, Griffin!

message 10: by Wayne (new)

Wayne Hi Laura,

Just reread and enjoyed this string or chain of responses and ideas which stretch from June 2010 to June 2012 to April 2013 to November this year 2016 !!

Quite an interesting little grove of opinions and thoughts.
Good value.

Come back and pay yourself a Visit, will enjoy a Blast fromt he recent past !!!
How are you going anyway ??
as ever Wayne !!

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