Book Review: How to Build A Lie Detector, Brain Wave Monitor & Other Secret Paraphsychological Electronics Projects

The authors, Mike and Ruth Wolverton, not content with the world’s longest book title, add the subtitle “Your passport to the world of the paranormal using everyday electronics!” (Exclamation point in original.) Whew! (Exclamation point, mine.)

gordon meyer holding book

I’ve been searching for this 1981 paperback book for a long time. I wanted a copy for two reasons: First, books published by TAB were some of the first books I owned. Back then, books about computing as a hobby weren’t very common, and the Computer Book Club was a rarified source of information for people like me, and many of the books that the club offered were from TAB.

computer book club ad

The other reason I wanted this book is its subject. Technical, but approachable, books about fringe science are rare, and this is one of the classics. (Which is one of the reasons it’s hard to find a copy.) And it is very nearly cover-to-cover esoterica. This book features ESP testers, UFO detectors, ley line apparatus, ghostly voice recorders, Kirlian photography, and so much more. (Sadly, there is not an Orgone energy accumulator.)

Not only is each subject accompanied by detailed instructions on building an electronic gadget to experiment with, there is also a historical (and sometimes personal) discussion of the phenomenon. Back in the day (as in, before the internet), this type of information was rare gold.

Will I actually build any of these gadgets? Maybe, the first obstacle will be translating the Radio Shack part numbers to modern components.

In a fun moment of synchronicity, when I received the book in the mail, I learned that I had purchased it from a used bookstore in Utah that wasn’t too far from where I grew up. (Amazon Marketplace obfuscates where you are buying from, so I didn’t know this until it arrived.) Moreover, tucked inside the book was a business card from a previous owner. He was a senior engineer at Hughes, in Texas. It’s interesting to see which projects he has marked with dog-eared pages. I’ve already continued the tradition by marking my own favorite chapter with my card; perhaps the next owner will enjoy that discovery too. (I chose the chapter on dowsing, which is a familial practice.)

Book Review: Flying High: Flags of the United States

This is a personal publication featuring a review of all fifty state flags, plus a few others. Each high-gloss page features an illustration of the flag, its ranking (from 1 to 50) and a discussion and critique of the flag’s design.

gordon meyer holding book

I learned several things reading this book, and I was entertained in the process. For example, did you know just over half of all state flags consist of the state’s seal on a field of blue? As the author points out, this is boring, and a lost opportunity for uniqueness and good design. I also learned that Idaho is the only state flag that includes the state’s name twice. That’s plain silly, Idaho, WTF?

The author, Billy McCall, correctly praises the Chicago city flag, yet fails to picture it. (Boo!) To make up for it, he does show some truly horrendous city flags, such as Milwaukee and Pocatello. Yes, Idaho. Again. Get a grip, Idahoans.

There’s a guest essay about the state flag of Utah, and the missed opportunity they had to adopt a redesign that features a big, nifty beehive. The essay, though, expresses some puzzlement over the symbolism of the beehive, not knowing that it is a symbol of Mormonism. (See my post How the Mormon Church Pervades Everything in Utah.)

This book began life as a series of zines about McCall’s favorite flags, but for this compilation, he includes all fifty states. He says that much of his information about the flags came from wikipedia, so you might not want to use this book to study for a Jeopardy audition. And occasionally, there isn’t a lot to say about a flag, so there are a few diversions thrown in too. Don’t let any of this dissuade you, it’s a fun book.

For another publication by McCall, which I also enjoyed, see Book Review: The Difference Between.

Get your copy of Flying High at the author’s website or, as I did, at Quimby’s in Chicago.

Book Review: Dinosaur Therapy

This book of single-page comics about introspective dinosaurs is, apparently, a bit of a cultural hit right now. I was unaware of this when purchasing it; I was simply reacting to its minimalist writing, design, and cute artwork.

gordon meyer holding book

The book is quite fun, and there’s a lot to admire about how the writer, James Stewart, and the illustrator, K. Roméy, put it all together. The topics might exhibit a bit too much navel-gazing and angst for some, but the charm and cleverness outweigh that monotony. (Yes, I know that dinosaurs don’t have belly buttons. But having lived in California for a decade, I know overly wrought self-indulgence when I see it.)

If it hasn’t already happened, I’m confident that there will soon be a “page a day” calendar edition of this comic, as it’s perfect for that sort of Far Side treatment and sharing.

You can literally find this book everywhere because it’s a Sunday Times bestseller. I discovered it at Barnes & Noble, but you’ll find it at the Amazon too.

Book Review: The Book of the Raven

This British publication by Angus Hyland and Carolyn Roberts is subtitled “Corvids in Art and Legend.”

gordon meyer holding book

I bought the book as a gift for a friend, but before I had the chance to give it away its compelling design and quality captured my attention and I simply had to read it. (Forgive me, buddy, I was gentle with it.)

The book draws from literature, poetry, science, fable, and art to present a comprehensive and compelling cross-section of how corvids have been portrayed and studied across hundreds (if not thousands) of years. The blurbs are short (the longest being Poe’s famous poem) and the artwork is produced with careful attention to detail. Overall, it’s as nice as any “art book” you’re familiar with, albeit in paperback. (And without the high cost.)

I’ve always felt a special affinity for ravens (especially so after my maternal haplogroup was identified — Ursula represent!) and this book is sure to please anyone who feels similarly. Get your copy at Amazon.

Book Review: The Secret of Terror Castle

You have most likely heard of the Hardy Boys, but are you familiar with “The Three Investigators?” These teenage friends and their improvised detective work were very much a part of my formative years, so I was happy to discover one of the novels about them at Downtown Book in Milwaukee.

photo of book cover by gordon meyer

The series consists of dozens of books, of which The Secret of Terror Castle is the first. As such, it’s a great introduction to the boys and their exploits. It was published about the time I was born, so it was a few years later when I discovered the stories, thanks to the wonderful Scholastic Books program at school. (I have a vague memory of donating my copies to my grammar school library when I got older.)

My friend Spencer and I formed our own “detective agency” based on these adventure stories, and we pursued it doggedly by inserting ourselves into petty neighborhood crime investigations. That came to a screeching halt when an actual city detective caught us collecting fingerprints and intimidated us into finding different hobbies.

So, how does a teenage mystery novel hold up in the eyes of a grown man? Pretty good, actually. There’s a strong nostalgia component, of course, but I was surprised at how many of the details I’d forgotten but still enjoyed upon rediscovery. However, I proudly still remembered the solution to the crime in the story.

If you’ve read these in the past, I strongly recommend revisiting the books. They’re great fun. You’ll have to excuse some things — such as the relentless fat-shaming of one of the protagonists, the lack of female characters, and the frequent sidelining of the bookish, and ‘crippled,’ member of the team. But these elements don’t overwhelm the story (although they might help explain the continued marginalization of the series) and the clever, solid mysteries are well worth your time.

Book Review: The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers

This is a collection of “gruesome tales,” compiled and re-told by Jen Campbell, along with amazing illustrations by Adam de Souza.

book cover held by gordon meyer

The memorable and striking tales are from all over the world. (As you might gather, from the titular story.) Campbell, in the afterword, explains that she has made every effort to restore the stories to their original, dark content. (Many fairy tales have been neutered by well-meaning parents and Hollywood execs.) She has also stripped them of any moralistic addendums that some re-tellers insist on adding. (I’m looking at you, Grimm brothers.) The result is remarkable, sparse, and hair-raising. In nearly every case, I wanted to immediately close the book and find someone to share the story with. These are not the Disney-fied fairy tales of your youth.

Also following a grand tradition, Campbell has, in some cases, slightly tweaked the stories to suit her own, modern sensibilities. That is, sometimes genders have been changed, or situations adapted to be more inclusive. This is done deftly, and had she not mentioned it in the afterword, I wouldn’t have noticed. Bravo.

Treat yourself to this book. It’s a keeper, and a conversation piece. You can get a copy at Quimby’s, as I did, or of course, the Amazon. (If you’re hesitant to dive into a so-called “Children’s book,” you need to read this other review of mine.)

Book Review: Poor Little Ghosts

I’m jealous of Davidt Dunlop. Not only did he write this charming tale, but he also created the remarkable illustrations that accompany it. That’s more than his share of talent, in my opinion. (He also has the most autocorrect unfriendly first name that I have ever encountered. Yes, goddmanit, I meant to type that “t” at the end!)

Like all good ghost stories, this one is short, poignant, and haunting. I mean that literally, it raises questions that stick with you. Questions about the nature and assumptions behind ghost stories.

gordon meyer with book cover

One tradition not questioned, thankfully, is the depiction of ghosts wearing bedsheets. I truly love a good sheet ghost (I blame Gilligan’s Island) and this book is chock-full of them. I’ve read it over and over for this reason, sometimes not noticing even a single word.

You can get a copy at Quimby’s.

Book Review: A Purple Thread

Author: Nina Antonia

Subtitle: The Supernatural Doom of Oscar Wilde

This booklet, published by “The Peculiar Parish of Fiddler’s Green” is utterly charming in both content and design. Just holding it and paging through is a pleasurable experience, and then when you begin reading, a whole new world (to me, anyway) unfolds with each page. As soon as I finished it, I went back to the start again, as if riding a soothing, lovely amusement park ride.

gordon meyer with book

If you’re a regular reader of mine, (thank you) you might recall that just over a year ago I was reading my first Oscar Wilde story. So, I can hardly be considered knowledgable about the man, but nonetheless I enjoyed this author’s exploration of occult and esoteric connections across his life and publications. I definitely have a new appreciation forming, and I look forward to exploring more of his works and legacy.

I got my copy of this book from Quimby’s in Chicago, and I encourage you to do the same, but you must also do yourself the favor of browsing the publisher’s website.

Book Review: The Practice

Author Seth Godwin is a contemporary writer who has managed to establish himself as a brand, thanks to the plethora of marketing and self-help books that he has published over the decades. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of them, but The Practice leads me to believe he has run out of original material.

What is the book about? Well, having read it through, the best I can come up with is that “the practice” is “the work” you must do to ship “creative projects”. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying. The book is basically a collection of 200+ short pep talks that are frequently repetitive, often inconsistent, and sometimes laughably vague. Oh, and each one is numbered, as if we are expected to refer to them as if they are Bible verses.

gordon meyer holding the book

Despite Godin stating in this very book that good ideas rarely come out of conference rooms, the apparent source for these bits of motivation/inspiration/advice came from an “Akimbo Conference.” (Whatever that is.)

The author(s?) also frequently borrows common anecdotes (mostly uncredited), but changes them so as to diminish their meaning. I turned against this book when Godin, or whoever is writing, makes it clear that they don’t understand Lou Reed, Higher Education, Apple, or Conjuring.

One interesting thing that did jump out to me is that this is the first self-help book I’ve read that directly references the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. The author ruefully observes that “the perfect tomorrow we hoped for is never going to arrive.”

Overall, I found the book to be as disappointing as it is disjointed. Godin should have “done the work” to make this a more useful and coherent book.