Friday, 4 October 2019

ReadItDaddy's Ultra-Special Mega-fantastic 3rd Book of the Week - Week Ending 4th October 2019: "The World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts" (Usborne Publishing)

I can hardly believe it's back! Anna Howorth, the tireless campaigner for the re-release of Usborne's fantastic "The World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts" has pulled off the reprint of the century, bringing back a book that has so much personal history attached to it. After years of searching in vain for used copies that weren't in a sorry state, I'm holding in my hand a pristine copy of the 2019 reprint.

Though the book is largely unaltered from its 1977 original version, this time there are two very important differences.

One is a foreword by fellow paranormal obsessive Reece Shearsmith, actor, writer and producer of some of the most darkly disturbing comedy shows you can name ("The League of Gentlemen", "Inside Number 9" to name but two).

The other...well that's something I could never imagine ever happening as I skulked around the library at middle school at the tender age of 8, the "New Kid" having recently moved to Oxford from London and feeling completely out of place.

The school library was two things - a place filled with something I loved (books, obviously), and a refuge from kids who liked nothing better than to dump your trainers down the loo at playtime, or rub crunched up packets of Pickled Onion Monster Munch into your hair (yeah I had hair back then, trust me!)

I discovered Usborne's "The World of the Unknown" series, having spent far too many years nicking my uncles' books about the paranormal. Titles such as "Stranger at the Pentagon" - a book all about Project Blue Book, the supposed secret dossier created by the US Government to catalogue and track UFO sightings, to "Strange Creatures of Time and Space" by John A. Keel - a book that is still an "uncomfortable" bedtime read even to this day.

Here though was a book for us, for kids, that wormed its way into your daydreams and tapped gently at your window as the Autumn nights drew in darker and darker.

The infamous "Altar Ghost" photo. See you in your nightmares later, kids!

"Ghosts" didn't pull any punches, and though largely illustrated, the scattering of photos inside were enough to give me the heebie jeebies. I still cannot get over that photo of the guy innocently sitting in his car smiling for the camera, with the spectral image of his wife's dead mother sitting in the back seat, eyes weirdly glowing...

So the thing I couldn't imagine? Well, this really...

Yup, being in the back of a book that you've always loved / been terrified of, is definitely something of a lifetime achievement. Again a huge huge thanks to Anna who set the ball rolling some time ago, putting out some subtle feelers on social media to gauge whether bringing these books back would be a good idea.

I think the rapturous response from just about everyone must have come as something of a surprise!

So for nostalgia fans like me, the reprint gives us the chance to recapture a tiny portion of our innocent youth where 'forbidden' books like this were like cat-nip.

For folk new to the book, like my daughter (who 'scoffed' at the 'obviously fake' photos, yet was found curled up with the book a few hours later, absolutely enthralled by it, with an expression on her face that I imagine I must have had when I first came across this, and the others in the series covering UFOs, Monsters and the like).

It is brilliant stuff, and you can hardly imagine that - back in the 1970s - books like this would have ever got into print (can you imagine the pitch meeting? "Yeah well basically Pete, we want to make a book that scares the living crap out of kids, that alright?"). The Black Shuck, Gef the mischievous ghost mongoose, phantom aircraft, haunted mansions, tracking ghosts yourself - all the goodies are in here, brilliantly and fabulously reprinted in a real keeper edition.

We only hope Anna can once again work her magic and bring back the entire range. We'll be waiting in the queue for when she does.

Sum this book up in a sentence: As our back-inside-cover quote says, it's the pinnacle of scariness, etched in the memories of an entire generation - no better way to put it really!

"The World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts" by various, is out now, published by Usborne Publishing (huge thanks for our review copy!)