John A. Keel (London: W.H. Allen, 1958; republished in 2013 by Anomalist Books).
A battered first-edition, ex-public library. Which only added to its charm. Loved this book. Old-fashioned yarns of 1950s weirdness and derring-do. I enjoyed most the passages on the Indian Rope trick and how to do it, and Keel’s own foiled attempt; and his explorations of Sikkim – because the scenery was just so otherworldly, and the atmosphere so strange-sounding.
The book is a first-person tale of a writer’s formative years, travelling the world explicitly in search of weirdness. Most of what he finds is explicable in rational terms, or is stuff that he can add to his repertoire of magic tricks. But every now and then he seems to rub up against something he can’t explain, such as a sighting of a yeti, or a Buddhist monk – encountered quite by chance – who seems able to move around with his mind a bare wooden stool. At least, Keel can’t work out how that one was done.
I wondered in a few places just quite how much Keel is bullshitting us – because he probably is. A little bit, at least. There’s a honed, commercial edge to his writing, which gives the impression he probably isn’t the kind of author who lets reality obstruct a gripping story. But what’s enjoyable about this book lies not so much in its attempt to grapple with the truth as in its presentation of humankind’s trans-cultural fascination with strangeness. The world Keel describes is pretty much vanished now, which today offers us yet another level of exoticism – of an elegiac kind.