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Book Review of: Not In Kansas Anymore

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Review of Not In Kansas Anymore, by Christine Wicker (Softcover, 2006)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book is entertaining, witty, informative, and thought-provoking. It's also a bit distracting--no less than three times, I checked the cover to look for Sarah Vowel's byline. The same tongue-in-cheek style and keen insight that make Vowel's books so enjoyable characterize Wicker's writing. Once I settled down into the subtle differences between these two outstanding authors, I was able to focus on the book and enjoy it.

I've always found it interesting that one group can look at another group and snicker at how silly they are. That ancient tribe that smears animal entrails on their arms? Yeah, they are backwards and weird. But we are somehow blind to how silly many of our own beliefs are. And even more startling is how unaware most of us are about the beliefs of people who may be living right next door.

The subtitle "Dark arts, sex spells, money magic, and other things your neighbors aren't telling you" gives the reader a clue about what the book holds. Wicker takes us along on her research for the book, chronicling one interesting encounter after another. She begins by bringing us along to the Vampire and Victims Ball. The attendees are mostly people who believe they are actually vampires.

Through Wicker's eyes, we meet people who are obviously deluded (what else would you call folks who actually think they are vampires, elves, or werewolves?). Wicker doesn't take cheap shots at these people, but lets them speak for themselves and lets us hear what they have to say. Each of them has fairly complicated "background" to justify, explain, and "make real" their delusions. This would all be an Alice in Wonderland experience, except these aren't metaphorical characters. They are real people.

What may prove especially valuable to the astute reader is comparing the delusions of the "obviously odd" people to the beliefs that are accepted as truth among many mainstream religions. It's a healthy exercise for anyone to broaden his or her horizons a bit and ask some fundamental questions. Wicker asks a few of her own, and shares some lessons she learned during her adventure of researching this book. She doesn't claim to be right or have a patent on the truth. She merely claims to listen to what people say and to reflect upon it. Any reader who does the same would benefit.

Following the main part of this book is a four-part "plus" section:

  1. A Note from the Author. She provides some personal thoughts on magic in America.
  2. Do You Believe in Magic? This 20-question quiz may produce results that surprise you.
  3. The Stats. Are you normal? Compare your beliefs to the statistics and see.
  4. Power Foods. You may recognize some of these food myths, cherish some, and simply laugh at others.

The title is obviously a reference to the Wizard of Oz. Recall that Dorothy and Toto left "normal" Kansas and had their adventure in a magical land. But I have spent the last decade in Kansas and know magic and delusion are very much alive here. That explains the "18th century mentality" behind certain Kansas laws. We're not totally backwards here, though, and every culture has its oddities. Actually, Kansas is a mix of very advanced and very backward--but isn't every locality?

I think Wicker does us a favor by pointing out that superstitions and counter-reality beliefs abound. Such things aren't necessarily bad on the larger scale of things, and she points that out as well. But realizing that our own cherished notions may not be infallible can help us understand more about ourselves and others we encounter every day.

 

A note on the writing: form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.

 

This page is the original source of this review, though you may also find it on Amazon or other sites.

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About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

The reviews I do will, contrary to emerging trends, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or not substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably another 6,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree undergrad and an MBA. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read to begin with.

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