I am not a big reader. Never have been. I read inside my head with drama, word by word, line by line, like Morgan Freeman is in there narrating.
It takes me a hyperbolic year to get through a book I really like. I guess that’s why I’m short on fiction and long on non. These non-fics pictured are all books I really like and haven’t finished, in some cases for so long that I must really, really like them. Is autumn a good season for finishing things? I feel like it is, and it isn’t. Like anything, it probably depends on what you’re talking about.
I have heard that, right now, up to this very moment, it is a good time to start things: a new moon, a new season, and a new hue colors the very air and the rest of my surroundings. But when it comes to finishing things – like these books, for example – I am inspired by the very air to tackle them one by one. The timing seems right for the ethereal subject matter prevailing in all of them.
Is it just me, or is the elusive “thinning veil” of lore making all the sunsets look cool to the touch? Is the slower vibration of atoms allowing me to not only to see but to think more clearly? I’ve been through a few autumns in my life, but when they finally roll around after summer and change things, it always feels like I’m pondering these changes, and maybe everything, for the first time. So maybe autumn is a season of both old and new? (Hmm, I never thought of it that way. . .)
In a thoughtful (thought-fall?) mood, I guess I naturally turn to the spiritual-philosophical books on my shelf. I’m a psychological counselor by training, but even that sounds too, I don’t know, touchy feely for these moments. I’d rather seek wisdom, and drink in the kind of musings scholars and poets used to have when walking along paths winding through trees on the outskirts of town – what the Germans called philosophenweg.
Autumn makes me pretty unoriginal. I wear more orange, crave pumpkin spice, bake sweets (and eat them, gain 5 pounds, and never lose it). I made a pumpkin cream cheese torte yesterday. It’s almost gone, so now I want candy corns. It’s the color and honey sweetness I like most, and the heart-palpitating sugar rush I like least. It’s bad enough to keep me from buying a bag (because, clearly, I have little self-control and will eat the whole bag). I guess I do have some self-control, then.
In this ever-digitalized age, I’ve begun (see? something new again) a practice of reading daily from a real book – you know, with pages you can turn down and words you can highlight with an ink pen. I’ve heard it helps you retain focus, concentration, and your basic feeling of contentedness. Because I wax philosophical in the fall, especially just before Halloween, I have spirit and magic and immortality on the brain. In light of that, these books are my current calling.
I’ve delved the least into Will Storr vs. The Supernatural: One Man’s Search for the Truth About Ghosts, but since I’ve already started it, this may be a good time to get back into it. Will Storr’s writing style is a little journalistic for me, though, so it takes a certain objective mood. Besides, I get the feeling he’s always about to say something snarky, and I’m not in the mood for that. I’ll save it for tomorrow’s real-book reading.
Today I read about FWH Meyers, a Victorian Age cofounder of the Society for Psychical Research, and all his rich, elitist, sciencey friends at Cambridge, Trinity, and Harvard who used scientific method to prove or disprove spirit phenomena, mesmerism, thought transference, and psychic abilities. A lot of people know about the origins of the Spiritualist movement, the prevalence of charlatans, and the “real ghost hunters.” But a lot more people don’t know that the hunt for ghosts began not only out of curiosity and desire for meaning (which the Civil War, Darwin and AR Wallace had just squashed to some degree), but – for scientists, at least – also as a kind of public service to shield the gullible Everyman and Everywoman from paying a month’s salary on a fake psychic reading with their fake dearly departed granddad.
One of my favorite of these original ghost hunters is William James, the proclaimed “father of American psychology” and the first president of the American Society of Psychical Research. To read James’s writing can be rather snoozy and even enraging if you don’t like lofty treatises on the varieties of religious experience or how and why to vivisect a cat, but to read about him is enthralling. From his depressive romance with life to his mix of scientific bent with philosophical yearning to prove something as ethereal and immaterial as life after death, if nothing else, you have to admit the man aimed high.
Of course I have to balance out all that man-centered history with woman power, and Victoria Woodhull embodies this. In Other Powers, I learned she was the first woman to run for U.S. President, one of the first successful women stock brokers, and a proponent of free love who ran brothels and often worked in them. On top of that, she was actually a pretty good psychic. Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad financier and one-time richest man in America, employed Victoria as his spiritual advisor, or more like his spirit-communicating advisor. She advised him based on psychic and/or predictive messages, which sometimes directly led him to expand his empire and wealth. He wasn’t shy about admitting it. When someone asked him the million-dollar question, “How did you do it?” (i.e. make all that money) he replied: I consult the spirits. “Okay, Mr. Crazypants,” I’m sure was a retort at some point, but the man literally burned money in his fireplace, so. There’s that.
Talk about talking to the dead, there’s not just a psychic here and a psychic there in a little town called Lily Dale Assembly. In Lily Dale: The True Story of The Town that Talks to the Dead, it does take a village . . . to talk to the dead. (In case there’s ever a movie made: tagline c. 2014 Lisa Borja) Journalist Christine Wicker visited Lily Dale community to interview many of the inhabitants of what is actually more of an unincorporated community that started (in Victoria Woodhull’s day) as the Camp at Cassadaga Lake in New York state. Whether they’re all really good psychics is not for me to say, but I found it fascinating to read about the history and how many famous people have been there (and still go).
Ah, the magic of – well, of magic. I can’t spend this whole magical season of rust-colored leaves and cool sunsets reading about history. I still need one more point of balance, and for that there’s Harry Potter. Harry Potter books started a literary non-realism craze we’re still in, to some extent, but nothing in my opinion has done it with such a popular focus on pure imagination for its own sake – not to prove anything to anyone except that magical thinking (when not a function of a mental health disorder) is kind of fun. Even though I am still, after upteen years, in the middle of the series (shhhh!), I have as recently as days ago dreamed of trying to enter a kind of 9-and-three-quarters-platform dimension just by running at it head first. So, judge me or don’t – a snob or two of the Society for Psychical Research probably would – but like I said, it’s all about balance. Balance, and inspiration.
That said, it’s a beautiful autumn day, and I haven’t done my real-book reading yet. Or, maybe this would be a good time to start something new – right now, in this very moment. I hope I do, but considering the height of my still-unread pile in front of me, maybe just not a book. How about baking?
Pie. No – pumpkin spice muffins. Pumpkin spice something.