Book Review: Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal, Erin Gilbert, Abby L. Yates & Andrew Shaffer (2016)

September 1st, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Now ruining your childhood in print format.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Blogging for Books.)

The great Carl Sagan said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Who are we to argue with him (or his ghost)? We are unquestionably proposing some extraordinary concepts here. At the same time, it’s one friggin extraordinary book.

Humanoids, vapors, several dozen more
Free-roaming, anchored, are you keeping score?
Possessing, repeating, alone or in swarms
Powerful metaspecters changing forms


The author photos from the original (left) and revised editions.

— 3.5 stars —

If you’ve seen the Ghostbusters reboot, then you know that Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Abby (Melissa McCarthy) co-wrote a book on the paranormal while in college – and that, years later, Abby’s decision to resell all those extra copies, unceremoniously crammed into storage, is what brought the estranged friends back together. In the vein of Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope and John Winchester’s Journal – fictional books pulled from screens both large and small and manifested right here, in the real world – Three Rivers Press brings us Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal. Revised and updated, with bonus content from Jillian Holtzmann, Patty Tolan, and Kevin the secretary.

Ghosts from Our Past is a cute little book; Shaffer captures the characters’ voices reasonably well, and the contributions from the other members of the team are a nice touch. The book’s divided into three parts: Our Stories (Erin, Abby, and the Metaphysical Examination Society; membership: 2); Our Research (basically the history of paranormal investigation, Erin and Abby’s spectral field theory, and supernatural taxonomies and case studies); and Our Methods (how to study the paranormal your own bad self).

It’s this last section in particular that makes Ghosts from Our Past a nice gift idea for kids who are either fans of the franchise, or interested in the paranormal more generally. The book’s got a participatory bent, and budding (pseudo)scientists can play at being a Ghostbuster: included in the back matter are liability waivers, interview forms, even a stakeout journal. I can just picture some adorable little geek girl making her own EMF Meter using a needle compass and asking the neighbors if she can check their homes for spectral activity. All the feels!

While the book doesn’t offer a whole ton of new background information beyond that found in the movie, I enjoyed Erin and Abby’s stories, as well as that of the genesis of the Metaphysical Examination Society. I skimmed the other sections, off and on; the case studies are surprisingly interesting, and I devoured the bios of paranormal investigators as well. There’s a bit of crushing on The X-Files – which debuted during Erin and Abby’s freshman year of high school – which is fun, and a sketch of “Spooky” Mulder, which isn’t as awful as you’d think.

The book’s pretty heavy on photos, diagrams, and illustrations – even after they lost the 200 pages of photos of “spectral orbs” that turned out to be nothing but dust on Erin’s lens – so it’s a fairly quick read. Like I said, this would be a fun “activity” book for younger fans of the film.


Or adults. No judgments here, Ed Begley Jr.



New Forward by Martin Hess * 11

Introduction to Revised Edition * 15

Part 1 – At a Glance * 21
Chapter 1: Ghost Girl: That One Time I Saw a Ghost (For Real) – Erin’s Story * 22
Chapter 2: Curious Georgina: Portrait of a Young Supernatural Scientist – Abby’s Story * 32
Chapter 3: The Metaphysical Examination Society – Our Story * 42

Part 2 – At a Glance * 57
Chapter 4: Ghosts Throughout History: Pondering the Preponderance of Paranormal Activity * 58
Chapter 5: Paranormal Investigators: A Look Back * 70
Chapter 6: A Scientific Exploration: Introducing the Spectral Field Theory * 84
Chapter 7: Unnatural Anthropology: The Evolution of Supernatural Taxonomy * 96
Chapter 8: Vengeful Spirits and the Dangers of Their Return to Our World: Case Studies of Malevolent Entities * 104

Part 3 – At a Glance * 125
Chapter 9: Paratechnology: A Primer * 126
Chapter 10: Preparing for the Metaphysical Examination: Choosing a Location * 140
Chapter 11: Conducting the Metaphysical Examination: A Methodical Examination * 148
Chapter 12: Attracting the Paranormal: Luring Spirits from the Other Side * 158

New Afterward: Anyone Can Be a Scientist * 169

Epitaph to the Revised Edition by Kevin * 173

Ghostbusting Resources * 175
Paranormal Quickstarter Guide * 177
Sample Waiver of Liability for Metaphysical Examinations * 178
Is It a Ghost? A Handy Quiz * 179
Kemp’s Spectral Classification Table * 182
Parapercipient Interview Form * 185
Supernatural Stakeout Journal * 188
The Devil’s Dictionary: Paraterminology You Need to Know * 191

Bibliography * 211

Acknowledgements * 215

Photography Credits * 217

About the Authors * 219

Excerpt from Erin and Abby’s Forthcoming Book, A Glimpse into the Unknown * 221


(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Patty wrote a section for the “revised and updated” edition called “Haunted History: Case Studies.”

Animal-friendly elements: n/a


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