BOOKS: A One Man Fringe Festival

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STEVE VOLK:  It was late at night, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross had swapped her hot cups of tea for whiskey sours. The room was filled with cigarette smoke. Kubler-Ross and her research partner, the Reverend Mwalimu Imara, were putting the finishing touches to On Death and Dying–the book that would make Kubler-Ross a star, introduce the once ubiquitous Five Stages of Grief and galvanize the international hospice movement. But there was one chapter still under discussion, a chapter in which Kubler-Ross addressed all the strange stories resuscitated patients told: about floating out of their bodies and meeting with deceased loved ones, of visiting what they took to be the afterlife. “Do I put this chapter in?” asked Kubler-Ross.

“Not if you want it published,” replied Imara.

On Death and Dying came out in 1969, with no mention of those classic Near Death Experiences. (The NDE didn’t steve_volk.jpgenter our cultural lexicon until 1975). But almost forty years later, the stigma against sharing any story with paranormal overtones persists.

As a journalist, I find this state of affairs to be curious. Polls on the subject demonstrate that a majority of Americans hold some paranormal belief. A Reuter’s poll of people around the globe found a little more than half the world’s population believes in God and the afterlife. U.S. polls regularly show that about half of us believe some UFOs might be ET spacecraft. As a species, we believe in many things unproven. So it behooves us to learn to talk about them in an open, honest way.

My contribution is Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable–And Couldn’t. In it, I weave numerous tales that bear the stigma of what I call The Paranormal Taint, including ghosts, the afterlife, mental telepathy, UFOs, dreaming, meditation and prayer. I hope the result is entertaining, a tour through a territory we in the mainstream too often neglect. But more than that, I hope the book acts as a permission slip, so that people might feel inclined to share these stories without fear of ridicule–or diminished job prospects. MORE

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