Not In Kansas Anymore, by Christine Wicker (Softcover, 2006)
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:
- A Note from the Author. She provides some personal thoughts on
magic in America.
- Do You Believe in Magic? This 20-question quiz may produce
results that surprise you.
- The Stats. Are you normal? Compare your beliefs to the
statistics and see.
- 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.
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
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