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Guided by Voices: 6 Books Supposedly Written by Ghosts

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They’ve left our earthly world, but spirits sure have a lot to share with us. At least, that seems to have been the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period that witnessed a boom in books said to have been drafted by the departed. That era was the golden age of Spiritualism, and many people claimed they communicated with spirits who guided their minds and hands into recording stories, poems, and even voluminous novels. Here are six books supposedly dictated by ghosts that remain widely accessible today.

1. HISTORICAL REVELATIONS ...(1886), EMPEROR JULIAN & THOMAS CUSHMAN BUDDINGTON

The Roman Emperor Julian was apparently so taken aback by how civilization developed in the 1500 years following his death in 363 CE that he felt compelled to express himself from beyond the grave via the printed word. Historical Revelations of the Relation Existing Between Christianity and Paganism Since the Disintegration of the Roman Empire, recorded by American writer Thomas Cushman Buddington, attacked Christianity as the root cause of what Julian supposedly saw as a world in utter disarray and desolation. Julian’s spirit condemned Constantine and his successors for embracing “a false religion” that bred violence and stagnated Europe’s development.

More realistically, this call to return to traditional Roman values was Cushman’s rather creative way to share his own grievances. Perhaps Cushman felt uncomfortable openly lambasting Christianity as an obstacle to moral and intellectual growth and found the emperor, who studied Platonic philosophy, a suitable figure to vocalize his concerns about the human race. In his preface to Julian’s writings, he praises the spirit, saying he “is of the most of the most pure and elevated character.”

2. MY TUSSLE WITH THE DEVIL, AND OTHER STORIES (1918), O. HENRY & ALBERT HOUGHTON PRATT

William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons via Public Domain 

Born William Sydney Porter, the celebrated writer known as O. Henry died in 1910 with hundreds of short stories to his name. Yet even death could not halt his creative output, as eight years later, a collection of stories surfaced, all purportedly newly written by him. They arrived through the medium Albert Houghton Pratt, who claimed that he communicated with O. Henry through a ouija board. The very first conversation had supposedly occurred on September 18, 1917, and many more followed, with Pratt inviting friends to gather around the board to listen to O. Henry’s spirit rattle off tales. Pratt, in his opening comments to the book, describes O. Henry as a chatty spirit; apparently “overburdened with plots,” the ghost at times even exhausted his human companions as sessions stretched into late hours of the night. He would also self-edit his narrations: Once, he told Pratt to erase the last half of a story that had come to him too quickly and that fell short of his standards.

Pratt apparently had full control over his own thoughts throughout these sittings and found opportunities to pose his own questions. Once, he asked O. Henry what he thought about movie adaptations of his books. The spirit’s response: “Foolish rehash of yesterday’s ignorance.”

It appears Pratt anticipated the negative reception of O. Henry’s alleged latest writings, too. In an introduction signed by “Parma”—Pratt’s pseudonym—he brushed off nonbelievers and any skeptics who might have found the prose style different from O. Henry’s. The spirit world, Pratt explained, simply inspires a different voice; furthermore, the stories prove that a leopard can change its spots.

3. HOPE TRUEBLOOD (1918), PATIENCE WORTH & PEARL CURRAN

Pearl Curran. Image credit: Walter Franklin Prince via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Also dictated through a ouija board was Hope Trueblood, just one of many works of fiction purportedly penned by the spirit Patience Worth in 1918. Arguably one of the most famous of spirit authors, Worth communicated through Pearl Curran, a housewife who lived in St. Louis. From 1913 through 1937, Curran dutifully recorded books, plays, poems, and short stories, at times receiving and scribbling thousands of words in one session.

Hope Trueblood, which told the story of a girl in Mid-Victorian England searching for her father, stands out from the rest of Worth’s oeuvre. The spirit was known for her archaic language and typically set stories far in the past: Telka occurred in medieval England; The Sorry Tale was set in the days of Jesus. Hope Trueblood unfolded in the present era (when originally published) and Worth employed plain English for the first time. Like many of her works, the novel received critical acclaim.

Hope Trueblood, however, also drew more skeptics than Worth’s previous works. What would the spirit of a 17th-century English girl (whom Indians murdered when she immigrated to America) know of Victorian life? Yet people had difficulty explaining how Curran, who had little education and opportunity for travel, wove these stories that contained detailed, accurate descriptions of distant settings. The mystery captivated Worth and Curran’s readers, and it went with Curran to her grave. When she passed away in 1937, the headline of her obituary in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat read “Patience Worth is Dead.”

4. TO WOMAN (1920), MESLOM & MARY MCEVILLY

Internet Archive // Public Domain

An American medium in Paris known as Mary McEvilly received messages from a mysterious spirit named Meslom during a number of sessions held between October 1919 and March 1920. They form To Woman, a book describing the duties of the female sex to help better the world and lead mankind to salvation. Lofty, abstract statements fill the 108 pages, and Meslom’s often-repetitive ramblings are arduous to read. Overall, the spirit argues that women are responsible for human's spiritual progression since they are in more in touch with nature and have greater intuition than men, who have more highly developed powers of reason.

McEvilly identifies Meslom as a man, and although he praises women for their sensitivities, he also betrays sexist attitudes. Man will always be master, and women should surrender any hope of gender equality, he tells McEvilly; although they have good judgment, women will never make laws; women who steadily pursue an education may weaken their innate connection to all that is good. Most rewarding, he suggests, would be for a woman to instead pray frequently for knowledge that leads to spiritual development and happiness.

Curiously, To Woman emerged a few months before women in the U.S. received the full right to vote. Little record of Mary McEvilly exists, but her book must have come off as backward to more than a few people even when originally printed.

5. A WANDERER IN THE SPIRIT LANDS (1896), FRANCHEZZO & A. FARNESE

Google Books // Public Domain

Victorians would find a chilling moral lesson in A Wanderer in the Spirit Lands, supposedly dictated to one A. Farnese by an Italian man who had recently passed away. Identified only as Franchezzo, his spirit fills over 300 pages with vivid descriptions of his lonely, miserable journey through the spirit world. Those dark travels were his deserved punishment, he writes, as he had lived a selfish life in worship of the material rather than of God.

Franchezzo initially ventures into the cold and decaying realms of hell, and only through laborious works of atonement eventually passes through bright heavenly gates. His tale serves as an engrossing sermon, warning its readers of the terrible fate that awaits if they do not start changing their sinful behavior while on earth—before it is too late.

6. OUINA’S CANOE AND CHRISTMAS OFFERING, FILLED WITH FLOWERS FOR THE DARLINGS OF THE EARTH (1882), OUINA & CORA L. V. RICHMOND

Wikimedia Commons and Internet Archive // Public Domain

One of America’s most beloved spirits, Ouina was believed to be a young Native American girl who spread tens of thousands of uplifting messages from the spirit world. Beginning in 1851, she spoke through Cora Lodensia Veronica Scott, a famous Spiritualist from New York who had begun channeling spirits at a young age and launched a career as a trance lecturer (someone who performed public lectures supposedly received from the spirit world). Scott’s audience was often people who had lost loved ones; her romantic poems and tales painted the afterlife as a place filled with beauty and joy, offering mourners some comfort and rest from grief. Ouina’s Canoe was the first published collection of a handful of the spirit’s works, set to print at Christmas time as her gift to help and heal more people.

Along with verses filled with flowers, sunbeams, moonbeam fairies and morning stars, the book includes a biography of Ouina. Her own story is one of sorrow: Her mother had died in childbirth, and her father, chief of a tribe that resided along the Shenandoah River, decided to sacrifice her when she was about 15 to save his people from misfortune. With her touching history and messages of peace and love, it’s unsurprising that Scott’s guide received such great adoration, rather than cynical criticism.

(For five more books dictated from beyond the grave, click here.)

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12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
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Books make the perfect gift: they're durable, transportable, and they promise some (hopefully) quality alone time. But what do you get the aunt who loves mystery novels if you're not familiar with the genre? Or the nephew who devours travelogues and goes backpacking around the world? Look no further—we've got them covered, plus 10 other very specific categories.

1. FOR THE VINTAGE COOKBOOK LOVER: LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES: THE LIFE, ART, AND COOKBOOK OF CIPE PINELES, EDITED BY SARAH RICH,‎ WENDY MACNAUGHTON, DEBBIE MILLMAN, AND MARIA POPOVA; $27

Book cover for Leave Me Alone With the Recipes
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Author Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton fell in love with the work of Cipe Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast, after discovering her recipes at a San Francisco antiquarian book fair. Filled with vibrantly colored illustrations, Leave Me Alone With the Recipes shows the joyful spirit and homespun flair that made Pineles’s work so influential. Alongside the recipes, the book includes contributions from luminaries in the worlds of food and illustration, including artist Maira Kalman and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings renown.

Find It: Amazon

2. FOR ANYONE HAVING SURGERY THIS YEAR: THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE BY LINDSEY FITZHARRIS; $27

Cover of The Butchering Art
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Back in the bad old days of medicine, a consistently blood-soaked apron was a sign of pride. Surgeons rarely washed them—or their hands, or their operating tools. Joseph Lister, the somewhat reluctant hero of Lindsey Fitzharris's new book The Butchering Art, was the genius who convinced the medical world that germs were not only real but a major cause of mortality in their hospitals. With an eye for vivid details and the colorful characters of 19th century medicine, Fitzharris has crafted a book that will make you thank Lister for his foresight—and make you glad you weren't alive back then.

Find It: Amazon

3. FOR THE GENEALOGY OBSESSIVE: IT’S ALL RELATIVE: ADVENTURES UP AND DOWN THE WORLD’S FAMILY TREE BY A.J. JACOBS; $27

Cover of Its All Relative
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What constitutes a "family"? In his latest book, A.J. Jacobs (famed for lifestyle experiments like trying to live an entire year in accordance with the Bible) delves into the world of genetics and genealogy to try and orchestrate the world's largest family reunion. With his trademark humor and insight, he ends up exploring the interconnectedness of all of humankind.

Find It: Amazon

4. FOR THE SOCIALLY AWARE YOUNG ADULT: THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS; $18

Cover of The Hate U Give
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Already caught between the conflicting worlds of the poor neighborhood where she lives and her fancy prep school, 16-year-old Starr Carter finds herself in the middle of a tragedy when her childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer. As his death becomes a national flashpoint, it becomes clear that she may be the only person alive who can explain what really happened that night. Angie Thomas's writing has earned praise for being gut-wrenching, searing, and deftly crafted; Publishers Weekly called the book "heartbreakingly topical."

Find It: Amazon

5. FOR FANS OF PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY THAT READS LIKE A NOVEL: THE WARS OF THE ROOSEVELTS: THE RUTHLESS RISE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST POLITICAL FAMILY BY WILLIAM J. MANN; $35

You might think you know the Roosevelts, but historian William J. Mann looks beyond the well-worn stories to expose the bitter rivalries that drove its most famous members' quest for power. Along the way, he examines the Roosevelts who were kept away from the limelight, and the secrets they hold—all told in dramatic style.

Find It: Amazon

6. FOR THE INTREPID TRAVELER: ATLAS OBSCURA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S HIDDEN WONDERS, BY JOSHIA FOER, DYLAN THURAS, AND ELLA MORTON; $35

The book cover for Atlas Obscura's book
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An amusement park in a salt mine? Check. A tree so big it has its own pub? Check. A giant hole that's been spouting flames for 40 years? Check. This guidebook is a compendium of the world's strangest and most wonderful places, and it's guaranteed to inspire some serious wanderlust, especially in more adventurous travelers. For the complete experience, you can also get an awesome wall calendar featuring destinations from the book designed as vintage travel posters; there's a page-a-day desk calendar and explorers' journal too.

Find it: Amazon

7. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES WEIRD HISTORY: THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW SELECTED ESSAYS; $20

The Public Domain Review is one of the premier online destination for fans of curious history. If you know someone who enjoys stories about weird medieval medicine treaties, ancient automata, deranged 18th century scientists, and other odd subjects well off the beaten historical path, look no further than this book of essays (the site's fourth).

Find It: The Public Domain Review

8. FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE A GOOD MYSTERY: THE BIG BOOK OF ROGUES AND VILLAINS, EDITED BY OTTO PENZLER; $25

Cover of the Big Book of Rogues and Villains
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At the heart of every good mystery is a (usually dastardly) perpetrator, whether it's a Count Dracula or a Jimmy Valentine. With this anthology, Edgar Award winner Otto Penzler has combed through 150 years of literary history to find 72 stories featuring the most famous and entertaining antiheroes authors have ever been able to dream up.

Find It: Amazon

9. FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THE BORSCHT BELT IS: JEWISH COMEDY: A SERIOUS HISTORY BY JEREMY DAUBER; $28.95

Jews and humor go together like challah and Manischewitz (after all, as my bubbie says, if you don't laugh, you'll cry). In this "serious history," Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber considers the origins of Jewish humor in Biblical times through its life on Twitter today; how it's reflected—and even influenced—Jewish history; the production of major archetypes like the Jewish mother; and the prominence of Jewish comedians like Sarah Silverman and Larry David. You don't have to be Jewish to love it, but it may help you understand the in-jokes.

Find It: Amazon

10. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES DARK SHORT STORIES: HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, BY CARMEN MARIA MACHADO; $16

Book cover for Her Body and Other Parties
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A story told in the form of Law & Order episode summaries. A strange plague that makes girls go invisible, as narrated by a mall worker. A recollection of romantic encounters with the last of humanity’s survivors. In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado fuses urban legends, dystopian tropes, and heavy helpings of sexuality to create a new kind of magical realism strangely appropriate to our era. The images will haunt you long after you put the book down, if you let them.

Find It: Amazon

11. FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES BIG-DEAL LITERARY NOVELS AND ALSO ABRAHAM LINCOLN: LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, BY GEORGE SAUNDERS; $18

A meditation on sorrow and the Civil War populated by a rag-tag group of ghosts, Lincoln in the Bardo starts with the real-life death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, Abraham's son. In the book, Willie has entered the Bardo—a Tibetan Buddhist term for a transitional limbo—where there's a fierce struggle underway for his soul.

Find It: Amazon

12. FOR THE GENERALIST: A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION; $45 FOR THREE MONTHS

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Book of the Month Club

Can’t decide what to get, but feeling generous? Give your friend who loves to read a new hardcover book of their choice every month. Literary fans who are short on time will love having someone else do the legwork to find the best new novels; plus, there’s early access to new releases. Prices vary depending on the length of the subscription, and there’s a deal right now where you can get a month free when you give a subscription as a gift.

Find It: Book of the Month

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10 Little Facts About Louisa May Alcott
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Born on this day in 1832, Louisa May Alcott led a fascinating life. Besides enchanting millions of readers with her novel Little Women, she worked as a Civil War nurse, fought against slavery, and registered women to vote. In honor of her birthday, here are 10 facts about Alcott.

1. SHE HAD MANY FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Louisa's parents, Bronson and Abigail Alcott, raised their four daughters in a politically active household in Massachusetts. As a child, Alcott briefly lived with her family in a failed Transcendentalist commune, helped her parents hide slaves who had escaped via the Underground Railroad, and had discussions about women’s rights with Margaret Fuller. Throughout her life, she socialized with her father’s friends, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although her family was always poor, Alcott had access to valuable learning experiences. She read books in Emerson’s library and learned about botany at Walden Pond with Thoreau, later writing a poem called "Thoreau’s Flute" for her friend. She also socialized with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe.

2. HER FIRST NOM DE PLUME WAS FLORA FAIRFIELD.

As a teenager, Alcott worked a variety of teaching and servant jobs to earn money for her family. She first became a published writer at 19 years old, when a women’s magazine printed one of her poems. For reasons that are unclear, Alcott used a pen name—Flora Fairfield—rather than her real name, perhaps because she felt that she was still developing as a writer. But in 1854 at age 22, Alcott used her own name for the first time. She published Flower Fables, a collection of fairy tales she had written six years earlier for Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.

3. SHE SECRETLY WROTE PULP FICTION.

Before writing Little Women, Alcott wrote Gothic pulp fiction under the nom de plume A.M. Barnard. Continuing her amusing penchant for alliteration, she wrote books and plays called Perilous Play and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment to make easy money. Alcott wrote about cross-dressers, spies, revenge, and hashish. These sensational, melodramatic works are strikingly different than the more wholesome, righteous vibe she captured in Little Women, and she didn’t advertise her former writing as her own after Little Women became popular.

4. SHE WROTE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE AS A CIVIL WAR NURSE.


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In 1861, at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Alcott sewed Union uniforms in Concord and, the next year, enlisted as an army nurse. In a Washington, D.C. hotel-turned-hospital, she comforted dying soldiers and helped doctors perform amputations. During this time, she wrote about her experiences in her journal and in letters to her family. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches, a fictionalized account, based on her letters, of her stressful yet meaningful experiences as a wartime nurse. The book became massively popular and was reprinted in 1869 with more material.

5. SHE SUFFERED FROM MERCURY POISONING.

After a month and a half of nursing in D.C., Alcott caught typhoid fever and pneumonia. She received the standard treatment at the time—a toxic mercury compound called calomel. (Calomel was used in medicines through the 19th century.) Because of this exposure to mercury, Alcott suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for the rest of her life. She had a weakened immune system, vertigo, and had episodes of hallucinations. To combat the pain caused by the mercury poisoning (as well as a possible autoimmune disorder, such as lupus, that could have been triggered by it), she took opium. Alcott died of a stroke in 1888, at 55 years old.

6. SHE WROTE LITTLE WOMEN TO HELP HER FATHER.

In 1867, Thomas Niles, an editor at a publishing house, asked Alcott if she wanted to write a novel for girls. Although she tried to get excited about the project, she thought she wouldn’t have much to write about girls because she was a tomboy. The next year, Alcott’s father was trying to convince Niles to publish his manuscript about philosophy. He told Niles that his daughter could write a book of fairy stories, but Niles still wanted a novel about girls. Niles told Alcott’s father that if he could get his daughter to write a (non-fairy) novel for girls, he would publish his philosophy manuscript. So to make her father happy and help his writing career, Alcott wrote about her adolescence growing up with her three sisters. Published in September 1868, the first part of Little Women was a huge success. The second part was published in 1869, and Alcott went on to write sequels such as Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

7. SHE WAS AN EARLY SUFFRAGETTE.

In the 1870s, Alcott wrote for a women’s rights periodical and went door-to-door in Massachusetts to encourage women to vote. In 1879, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote in local elections on anything involving education and children—Alcott registered immediately, becoming the first woman registered in Concord to vote. Although met with resistance, she, along with 19 other women, cast ballots in a 1880 town meeting. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, decades after Alcott died.

8. SHE PRETENDED TO BE HER OWN SERVANT TO TRICK HER FANS.


Orchard House, the Alcott family home. Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand (Flickr) // CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the success of Little Women, fans who connected with the book traveled to Concord to see where Alcott grew up. One month, Alcott had a hundred strangers knock on the door of Orchard House, her family’s home, hoping to see her. Because she didn’t like the attention, she sometimes pretended to be a servant when she answered the front door, hoping to trick fans into leaving.

9. ALCOTT NEVER HAD CHILDREN, BUT SHE CARED FOR HER NIECE.

Although Alcott never married or had biological children, she took care of her orphaned niece. In 1879, Alcott’s youngest sister May died a month after giving birth to her daughter. As she was dying, May told her husband to send the baby, whom she named Louisa in honor of Alcott, to her older sister. Nicknamed Lulu, the girl spent her childhood with Alcott, who wrote her stories and seemed a good fit for her high-spiritedness. Lulu was just 8 when Alcott died, at which point she went to live with her father in Switzerland.

10. FANS CAN VISIT ALCOTT'S FAMILY HOME IN CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS.

At 399 Lexington Road in Concord, Massachusetts, tourists can visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home from 1858 to 1877. Orchard House is a designated National Historic Landmark, and visitors can take a guided tour to see where Alcott wrote and set Little Women. Visitors can also get a look at Alcott’s writing desk and the family’s original furniture and paintings.

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