Alibi V.26 No.43 • Oct 26-Nov 1, 2017 

Book Review

Into the Unknown

Investigate the paranormal through the pages of Riley Mitchell's book

Riley Mitchell
A young Riley Mitchell
courtesy of the artist

The Essential Paranormal Bucket List

Riley Mitchell
Rio Grande Books

In the epigraph of Riley Mitchell's first book—The Essential Paranormal Bucket List—he quotes American illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, who said: “The inclination to believe in the fantastic may strike some as a failure in logic, or gullibility, but it's really a gift. A world that might have a Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster is clearly superior to one that definitely does not.” I'm of a mind to agree. I love a good ghost story and one well-told still has the power to keep me up at night; and I honest-to-God think that I might've seen a UFO in the backwoods of northern Arizona. I'm fascinated by the histories and symbolism contained in practices of divination like tarot, tassomancy and the I Ching. That's why—despite a low-key aversion to the “bucket list” format, which is sort of a long-format, printed and bound listicle—I really enjoyed Mitchell's round-up of paranormal wonders from the world over.

Twelve. That's how many of the 100 activities outlined in the book that I have completed. Some are easier than others—like, who hasn't contacted the spirits of the dead with a ouija board? (But, did you know that before it got such a grim rap in The Exorcist, ouija boards were just considered toys, first produced in the 1890's by a Baltimore manufacturer? Riley does a good job injecting this sort of trivia into the book.) Other highlights checked off of the list for me include: Driving the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada, paying my respects at Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, visiting Edgar Allen Poe's grave in Baltimore, hiking to a vortex in Sedona, and checking in to the haunted Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff (it was on accident, and I didn't know it was haunted at the time, but seriously, I picked up on the creepy vibes).

And still, within the pages of this kitschy book, Riley suggested points of discovery that I hadn't considered before. For example, tucked near the back of the book at number 13 is “Join the Ghost Club”—a group dedicated to “exploring, discussing and analyzing aspects of ghosts, hauntings and other paranormal phenomena” whose storied members include the likes of Charles Dickens. When you pay your member dues you become connected to a network of likeminded truth-seekers and receive monthly dispatches from the field of parapsychology. Or how about reading the collected works of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—the medium who founded and outlined the beliefs of Theosophy through her classic The Secret Doctrine? The revelations don't stop there. Did you know there's a haunted forest in Kent, England known as “The Screaming Woods” where allegedly more than 30 townfolk (including 11 children) were killed on Halloween night in 1948? Or that you can take lessons in the art of levitation? These are the kind of secrets evinced in the slim 120-page volume.

Last fall, sitting in the basement of The Stanley Hotel (which served as the inspiration for The Shining) during a ghost tour (number 22 on the bucket list) a small group of us listened intently as our guide told the story of a transient woman who once made her home in the quiet underbelly of the massive estate, and whose spirit—supposedly—chose to return to it. I began to feel queasy. Behind the guide's back, slowly, the door began to rock on its hinges, and then more quickly, until it slammed. The tour guide began to cry, admitting that she hadn't seen evidence of this particular spirit in months. As the tour disbanded, we wandered the basement and I pushed the door over and over again—seeing if it could have been rocked shut by an errant breeze. The air was too still, the door was too heavy. It was a little thing—but it has continued to nurture my curiosity, and so has Riley's book. For those who wonder in earnest about the unexplained, The Essential Paranormal Bucket List might prove just as worthwhile. To be able to believe in these things—even just a little bit—makes the world more exciting. And that is a gift.

The book was published by Rio Grande Books. Find out more on their website, riograndebooks.com or pick up a copy at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW) on Oct. 30, where the author will also do a reading and lead a discussion of the work at 6pm.