Digging through the bookshelf this morning, I decided to think a bit about what books I would recommend as a starting point for those who wanted to dig more deeply into paranormal topics. Consider the following list a work in progress. Some of these are no longer in print and really hard to find although sometimes you can get them fairly inexpensively on Half or the like.
I recently appeared with Jim Harold on his UFO Encounters podcast with the first interview about The Chaos Conundrum. He very kindly is allowing me to share it with you. I urge to to go check out Jim’s Paranormal Plus Club for more great audio, as well as his excellent free podcasts.
December 7 at 11:00 PM Eastern, I’ll be on Where Did the Road Go? with host Seriah Azkath. The show streams live from its home station, WVBR in Ithaca (the streaming link is on the main site, linked above).
Aaron J Gulyas will be our guest. We will be discussing his latest book, The Chaos Conundrum. In ‘The Chaos Conundrum,’ historian Aaron John Gulyas examines how the paranormal has intersected and influenced our culture in myriad ways, from the conspiracy beliefs of William Cooper and Exopolitics to the challenge that the stories of Gray Barker presented to our concept of self and time. He looks at the maelstrom of personalities, agendas, impressions, data, confusion, and contradictions that can be found in the world of the weird, and demonstrates how they have become an integral part of our lives, whether in the form of flying saucers, hauntings, religious revelations, psychic abilities, or dozens of other guises. Gulyas delves into the stories of the people who have attempted to create order out of the chaos. Along the way he recounts his own journey from enthusiastic believer in the ‘shadow government’ and their underground bases to jaded academic skeptic, and then finally to someone who thinks there might just be something to the paranormal after all… but not what we have been led to expect or believe.
The Chaos Conundrum: “‘A compelling and very personal look at the impact the paranormal has had on the way we view ourselves and the world in which we live.’”
NOW AVAILABLE from the Redstar books online store, on Amazon in a few days, and in e-book versions as soon as we possible can. Nick Redfern, prolific author on the paranormal calls it, in his foreword, “A major contribution to paranormal research and observation.”
(I, of course, would never doubt the judgement of Nick Redfern
Writer and filmmaker Paul Kimball (who, through his wonderful work in editing the book, knows as much about what’s in it as I do), says that it is “A compelling and very personal look at the impact the paranormal has had on the way we view ourselves and the world in which we live.”
Personally, I’m excited to have this out there. It’s an eclectic book, but Paul Kimball’s edits and suggestions made the book much more cohesive and compelling that it might otherwise have been. It was the most thorough editing relationship I’ve had since graduate school and the book is much stronger for it.
There are some photos, ranging from a strange radio tower in downtown Flint to a family picture from 1932. I look at everything from Roswell (ugh!) to the connections between religion, the paranormal, and extremist politics. The best way I can describe this book (and one that I’ve used in conversations with friends) is that The Chaos Conundrum is what you’d get if you sat me down, bought me a beer and said, “Okay- what do you think about all of this?”
That said, it’s not what you’re expecting. Honestly, it’s not what I was expecting when I started writing it. But, in a way, it’s the sort of book I’d wanted to write for a very long time.
BUY IT HERE! (From Redstar)
BUY IT HERE! (From Amazon)
To the right is the cover to my new book, due out in time for the holiday shopping season.
I’m excited about this one, not least because it contains a foreword by Nick Redfern, one of the greatest authors on paranormal issues in the world today (not hyperbole, seriously). From the foreword:
Aaron Gulyas’ The Chaos Conundrum is a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, compilation of papers on a wide variety of paranormal phenomena. Or, as it’s collectively known in circles where the unusual is typically the usual: profoundly weird stuff. A cursory glance at the titles of the essays, and their attendant subject matters, might make some readers assume they are stand-alone pieces with no connecting or unifying parts. Well, those souls would be wrong. Actually, they would be dead wrong.
The connection is not so much the issues and topics that Gulyas places under his supernatural microscope. Rather, it is the fact that the essays all invite us to do one thing: address and consider alternative theories, paradigms, and ideas to those that the established figures of the paranormal would prefer we adhere to.
I invite you to indulge yourself in the work of a man who has made a major contribution to the domain of paranormal research, writing and observation.
Read it, consider it, and learn from it. Just don’t be an ostrich about it.
See, that’s pretty dang cool, right there.
This is a pretty diverse collection of essays on everything ranging from UFOs to religion to achaeoacoustics, which is pretty interesting. I also get to talk a bit about Gray Barker, who I touched on briefly in Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist. As I wrote about here, a couple years back, visiting the collection of his papers in West Virginia was an incredible experience and it was nice to be able to write about his work and its effect on me from a more personal perspective.
This one has been a much more intensive and compressed writing experience and the editing has been a really nice experience, with Paul Kimball of Redstar providing some great insights.
At this point, I’m thinking this may be my last (or close to my last) word on the paranormal for a while (at least in this particular form). I’m really looking forward to this one hitting the streets.
(Cross-posting from the Saucerio Tumblr)
I just finished watching the documentary about Gray Barker, Shades of Gray. It’s very well done, but one thing I would have liked to see addressed is a different take on his hoaxing, misrepresentation (fabrication?) of stories, and colluding with various fakers and frauds. The film discussed Barker’s sense of humor about the subject, but I think there’s a case to be made for Barker’s hoaxing being a form of performance art.
I learned, a very tiny bit, on my trip to the Gray Barker archive about Barker’s personal life–particularly the ways his activities and sexuality didn’t fit particularly well with small-town West Virginia in the 1950s. I think, perhaps, that the Saucer exploits could have been a kind of pressure release valve . Enabling, through his editing and publishing, the creation of a world where an outsider status worked to his advantage. Unlike the world of Clarksburg, WV.
Religious Studies scholar David Halperin, back in February of this year, wrote of Barker, “When he wrote about Bender, he wrote about himself. The Men in Black, with their hush-up threats and their terror, hovered over Gray Barker each day of his grownup life. That was what gave They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers its tremendous emotional authenticity, calling out to a boy obliged to bear a different secret” (Gray Barker, the Men in Black, and North Carolina Amendment One). That says says it about as well as I could. Halperin discussion Barker’s status as a Myth Maker, creating stories of the Men In Black, reflecting the fear he must have felt as a gay man living in 1950s West Virginia. I think, however, his myth making goes further than that.
One aspect of Barker’s role that I think goes under-examined is his place as a publisher, distributor, and promoter of all manner of saucer and new age-related materials. His work work was about far more than the Men in Black, the Bender story, the IFSB. For a generation (at least), he was a major source for books, magazines, and pamphlets on The Weird. I believe this, as much has the MIB aspects of his life that Halperin described in the linked article, speak to his embracing of an outsider status, living in that particular time and place.
This is particularly true of the Contactees which, of course, are a longstanding interest of mine (Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist! Coming in 2013!). Barker did a masterful job of promoting them without explicitly endorsing them; recognizing that their stories were interesting, even if not especially true. His editing of these works (such as Bender’s Flying Saucers and the Three Men and Gray Barker’s Book of Adamski) demonstrate a particular viewpoint. He was not just a myth maker, he was a world builder–helping establish the parameters of a collective reality.
The people behind the Gray Barker project at West Virginia University’s Center for Literary Computing put it this way, “Gray Barker’s work is a act of literary self-creation. If the postmodern novel troubled the notion of authorship, of intertextual relations, and of the margins between text and context, then the Gray Barker archive is the most extensive, successful, and aporetic postmodern novel ever written” (Gray Barker Project Description). They may be overstating it a bit, but there is no doubt that Barker’s collected output represents something huge and significant.
Gray Barker died when I was a child, long before I knew about flying saucers in any detail. I think there’s a word–that slips my mind–but the basic feeling I have when I read his words (and the words of that entire generation of saucer people) is a nostalgia for something I never experienced. Partially this is due to the utterly drab and nihilistic world of “UFOlogy” which my generation inherited in the 1990s. Partially also, I think, it is due to the utter fun of Barker’s writings. They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers is one of the few saucer books I can read over and over again. His The Silver Bridge (about the Mothman events) is the same way.
True or not (and whether he knew it or not) Barker was creating art which will outlast the more realistic and less interesting books on the paranormal which have been produced.
I think it’s why I keep coming back to Barker as a sort of touchstone of paranormal and Saucerlogical thought. Oh, I respect the work of others, especially the Jacques Vallees of the field but no one had the art and passion that Barker did. I think that may be because his work was great despite its intentions; subliminally great, if you will. Down there in the soul of the fast-buck huckster and hoaxer was a raw talent for making The Weird wonderful. Oddly, I have trouble putting my admiration for his work into words that seem to fit my feelings.
It’s probably an October thing, thinking about Barker and writing these ideas down. I first read They Knew Too Much on a few sunny October days off from work in 2000 and Autumn, for some reason, makes me want to think about Flying Saucers. The decay of the trees and grass and the year itself conjures feelings of The Weird.
Now, I need to do some real work and then–if I’m lucky and have time, I’m reading some Gray Barker.