Thursday, 17 January 2019

Are books about the paranormal too 'twee' for today's kids? This Week's #ReadItTorial

It's definitely something that's common to a lot of miscreants my age, that we grew up in the 1970s and 80s on a diet of books that - as kids - we probably shouldn't have been anywhere near.

There was a lot of talk on Twitter about the return of Usborne's truly brilliant (and quite traumatic) "The World of the Unknown" range, including the pinnacle of scariness, the "Ghosts" edition.

Thanks to Usborne's fantastic writing teams, and a ton of quite harrowing photos and illustrations, these books are etched in the memories of an entire generation. I remember getting copies of these through (of all things) our School Book Club, sneaking them home and then actually being too petrified to read them at bedtime, waiting until the daylight hours and bright sunshine to dip into them

So hearing that Anna Howorth over at Usborne is considering petitioning to bring them back into print is just the best news ever. My childhood copies have long been lost, and they're actually fairly sought after online so other than stumbling across them in secondhand book stores or at boot sales, I didn't think we'd ever see their ilk again.

It is a bit of a 'lost' genre for today's kids, the only recent example I can recall of a book dealing with mysteries and the paranormal is B Small's truly excellent "Real Life Mysteries" which did a fantastic job of updating the whole mysteries / phenomenon book for a whole new generation (and won a Blue Peter Award for it to boot!)

I started to think back to my two "Bad Influence" uncles who weaned me onto books about UFOs, mysteries and paranormal goings on when I was a nipper. They were the ones who used to buy truckloads of books by Erich Von Daniken, John A Keel and Arthur C Clarke and many other luminaries who used to publish paperback and pocket edition books full of weird happenings across the globe.

TV used to have lots of different shows also focusing on weird phenomenon too.

Anyone remember Leonard Nimoy hosting the "In Search Of..." series?

Oh and of course, speaking of traumatic childhoods, there was always this show - the theme tune alone used to scare the living daylights out of me even before ol' Arthur cropped up to do his short pieces to camera ahead of the show's theme for that week...

I still have this book and I still can't believe how scary the show was as a kid
Then there was this. A real game-changer, a whopping great big paperback edition of this was my go-to for weirdness as a kid...

"The World Atlas of Mysteries" by Francis Hitching. Featuring THAT picture of someone's burned up ankle in a spontaneous human combustion case. ARGHH you know the one I mean. 
My uncles also collected "The Unexplained" which was a weekly magazine all about this stuff, and later on I inherited another bizarre but completely enthralling book about weird creatures from them too:

The cause of so many nightmares. Totally engrossing!
This was my introduction to "The West Virginia Mothman" - a strange winged beastie which inhabited a huge region around the Blue Ridge Mountains back in the 1960s and scared the plops out of local residents, with many eyewitness reports collected by Keel himself as he visited the area.

I suspect that all these books fed into my love of science fiction and fantasy too, and of course ghost stories and I wonder if there would be a market for books like this these days.

I guess in today's internet generation of kids, it might just be that today's bookworms aren't really interested in mild scares from real-world mysteries which have probably long been debunked but weirdly I still find myself drawn to the "Mysterious Universe" website to check on the daily goings-on in the worlds of mysterious phenomenon and the paranormal.

Who doesn't love a good ghost story after all?

Really hope Usborne do bring these back and if they don't I might just bloomin' well write my own mysterious phenomenon book and start pitching it instead!