Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ghosts In American Houses by James Reynolds

The title of this book is kind of a misnomer. It's more of a book of folklore and stories. I read a lot of ghost books, and they usually talk a lot about the ghost and haunting, and people who have seen the ghost. Then they give you some back story on the ghost, or speculate about who the ghost could be. But James Reynolds starts by telling a long and detailed fascinating story. You forget you are reading a ghost story until the last paragraph when he briefly describes how people will see a lady in Victorian dress walking down the street with her head held high and not realize that they have seen a ghost.
Another thing is not all of these ghosts are in houses. This book got it's title because of his earlier books Ghosts in Irish Houses and Ghosts in English Houses. The stories in those books are pretty much all set in grand old houses heavy with the weight of history. They are the kind of places you expect to find a ghost. Well of course castle so and so has a ghost, it's 1200 years old! But there's no buildings with near that much history here. It seems like the houses are emphasized more than they should be. But James Reynolds was a very atmospheric writer and did a wonderful job with describing the houses so I don't wonder that he chose to focus on them.

American ghosts are scrappier, and not as obsessed with haunting ancient buildings, though there are mansions in the book. But the stories are just as likely to take place in Pennsylvania barns, shacks in the Ozarks, the Streets of San Francsico, the hills of New York State and alongside moving trains through the Great Plains.

In fact James Reynolds was also a painter, and I know in his other books and in earlier editions of this book there are both black and white and color illustrations by him. There were none in this book, not even the cover. That was disappointing . I'm going to keep my eye out for an illustrated edition of this book. This summer I will be going back to California to collect a lot of my belongings, including a shed full of books in the Mojave desert. I have his Irish and English ghost books there and I am really looking forward to reading them again.

I read a lot of ghost stories and a fair amount of folklore, and I'm impressed that all but one of the stories in this book are new to me.

I would like to know more about the life of James Reynolds, his writing and his art. I have not been able to find much on the internet. I have not even been able to find a bibliography.If anyone has information please let me know. I would especially love to own some of his art.

I did find in my searches a review of this book in Time Magazine, which is archived on the web. This book cost twelve dollars when it came out in 1955 - a fortune!

Time Magazine Review of Ghosts in American Houses

I would like to find a complete bibliography. These are the ones I could find on the web:

Ghosts in Irish Houses
More Ghosts in Irish Houses
Ghosts in English Houses
Ghosts in American Houses
James Reynolds' Ireland

The edition of Ghosts in American houses that I have has a horrid cover. I can't believe they didn't use one of his paintings. The cover is a sort of lurid looking ghostly bride descending a staircase. I was going to scan it so I could post it here but I can't find it. I imagine it was stolen by a ghost. Though I don't actually believe in ghosts. I probably read more "non-fiction" ghost books than any most other non-believers!

On edit - I now have another version of this book and have scanned the cover, which has one of James Reynold's paintings on it. I also got Ghosts in Irish Houses and will be reviewing that one soon.

I just ordered James Reynolds' Ireland from an online used bookseller and am looking forward to reading that.

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