Daniel Cohen,
Real Ghosts
(Pocket, 1979; Aladdin, 1992)

It's hard to offer a good evaluation of this book. As an adult, I found it pretty darn disappointing. Daniel Cohen, though, is writing for children as much as if not more than he is writing for us grown-ups, and in that light the book isn't quite as bad.

Either way, though, it's a pretty paltry collection of ghost stories. Don't let the title or the cover image fool you -- there's nothing remotely unsettling about anything in this book. Several of the stories aren't even true. So why's it called Real Ghosts? That's a good question. Cohen explains in the opening chapter that his real ghosts are ghosts that a lot of people have believed in -- whether their stories were true or not. To me, that's a pretty lame definition of "real ghosts."

At least Cohen doesn't tease you into thinking this is going to be a fascinating read; he starts out with the best ghost story he's ever heard -- and it's not exactly an exciting one. It's basically the story of a pilot who was supposedly spotted on base at the very time he was crashing to his death miles away. Cohen lauds it for its evidentiary credentials, despite the fact that said evidence looks extremely shoddy to my eyes. Next, he tells a rather mystifying story about a respected judge being visited by a reporter at the time of the reporter's death; it's actually a pretty decent ghost story -- until we find out that the impeccable judge has the most unreliable memory of anyone I've ever heard of. The rest of the book consists of a few more bland ghost stories and minor treatments of spiritualism and exorcism in relation to ghostly activity.

A young reader might enjoy this book (and still go right to sleep in the dark after reading it), but those with a serious interest in ghostly phenomena won't find anything of substance in this quick read.

by Daniel Jolley
25 February 2006

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