There is much talk in the scholarly press world of the demise of quality in books. Successful books on the market seem to be written rapidly, sold on the popularity of the author, barely edited, marketed for a quick return on investment, then thrown into the $1 bins at wholesalers.

What are we ASCS members looking for in our books? What pleases us and what disappoints us? Are the complaints of the scholarly presses representing a new publishing trend, or is it just the way it's always been?

Most importantly, what books have "measured up" to your expectations in recent years?

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I know my wife Lisa uses the author as a first cut in searches for airplane reading. People have been selecting books that way for decades. I think that is why the author's name is in large letters on the novel jacket and the title is very small.

The same does not work with technical books because the authors tend to be one subject specialists. Certainly not in every case, but in genera, one good idea = one good book and the rest is pretty uninformative.

The complaints from the scholars make sense, but I think it has always been that way. You do not produce a technical book overnight and it may take years for the included information to be cited. Some of the more prolific popular paranormal authors seem to have a number of writers helping out. Others produce many one subject small books such as Haunted New York or Haunted ships. Those are probably best read and discarded like novels.

As an information junky, a book containing a well-considered theory might stay on my desk for years. I still have The Holographic Universe and The Tarot on my desk even though I read them many years ago.

I guess books can be a lot like food; sometimes you want steak and potatoes. Sometimes you want an apple.I'm reading two books at the same time--for that very reason. I'm thoroughly enjoying both, but one is great when I'm tired and one needs me on top of my game.

Paddy Fievet's The Making of a Mystic: Writing as a Form of Spiritual Emergence is inspirational and is offered in nice little chunks of feel-good. It's an apple. A very healthy snack.

Peter Harrison's The Territories of Science and Religion is a thick steak. Every sentence is packed with something to ponder, and it's taking me forever to get through it. And, like Tom, this one will be kept near probably for the rest of my career.

You have probably heard of Sturgeon's Law (attributed to the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon): "Ninety percent of everything is crap." Per Wikipedia:

The phrase was derived from Sturgeon's observation that while science fiction was often derided for its low quality by critics, it could be noted that the majority of examples of works in other fields could equally be seen to be of low quality and that science fiction was thus no different in that regard from other art forms.

Or, to turn the saying back to front, other art forms are no different in that regard from science fiction.

As with Lisa Butler's airplane reading, most of us choose books in part based on when and where we will read them, the amount of time at our disposal, and other criteria not strictly related to their artistic merits. It's safe to say, though, that even for "light" reading when we are traveling, when there are distractions, or when we're just tired and low on mental energy, we expect entertainment from our selections. And if intelligent people are entertained, some kind of artistry by the author is involved.

Given an infinite amount of time, I'd probably read every word written by Vladimir Nabokov, but I doubt he'd be my choice for a flight. Besides, I don't have infinite time (at least in this life; I hope his works, and those of many others on my "keep meaning to read" list, will be available in good editions on the other side).

What about books relating to ASCS interests? It would be false precision to say that 90 percent of them are crap, or any other proportion. In my view there is a lot of rubbish out there. I'm less bothered by spooky ghost stories and "Enlightenment in 30 minutes a day" stuff than I am by supposedly serious studies that seem to be cut-and-paste versions of existing works, and have nothing new to say. As for inspirational New Age accounts of personal spiritual journeys ... please.

Nevertheless, I have had no trouble finding worthwhile new or recently published books, including some by ASCS members.

The Sturgeon quote is perfect and certainly demonstrates that this problem has been with us a while. I agree that we have much forgettable tripe to wade through (or breeze past) getting to the books that will feed us--whether we're hungry for perfectly legitimate mindless entertainment or a book that turns our brain back on..

Rick, I'm also glad you raised the "New Age" comment. I want to start a new discussion on that. . . .

Rick, I have to agree with you about ... well, not just ASCS book, but technical books for a relatively small community such as our.

For instance, in Spiritualism, there seem to be two kinds of books. One is the hundredth rearrangement of history and the other is person accounts of after death communication. There are seldom new ideas.

In parapsychological literature, the books are a little more original, but most depend too much on meta analysis of prior art.

One of my major complaints about research reports is that they seldom actually analyze the data. Yes, the author does all of the obligatory statistical analysis, but the so what is usually missing. This brings me around to the problem I have with the research itself. The parapsychological research literature is mostly dull, because it is almost always focused on evidence rather than modeling. I read to discover how the author has modeled the observed evidence for personal use. What has the author learned?


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