Thursday, September 10, 2009

New This Week: The Masonic Myth and Occult America

During this time of economic turmoil, next week Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown, is expected to pull a J.K. Rowling by single-handedly hauling the publishing industry out of the toilet. And, speaking of toilets, even though lots of reviewers will inevitably heap scorn on Brown’s latest offering, The Lost Symbol (Doubleday), a lot of bookstores are hoping history will repeat itself and that sometimes lazy book buyers will come thundering into their stores ready to buy the newest Brown... and perhaps something else.

It is this “something else” hope that fuels the onslaught of related and kinda-related books every time a new entry by a megaselling author hits the market. Obviously, The Lost Symbol, with its five million (five million!) hardcover first edition printing and massive promotional push will be no exception. A lot of more-or-less-removed-by-one type books are hitting the market even now. For this particular release, the top of these is The Masonic Myth (HarperOne), by inside man Jay Kinney. It’s important to note that Kinney didn’t conceive of The Masonic Myth as an also-ran. As Mokoto Rich pointed out in The New York Times a few days ago, Harper purchased the book two years ago and held it for publication this week, when interest in all things Masonic will reach an all-time high: if everything goes according to plan, that is. It’s kind of a shame, really, because The Masonic Myth ends up coming off looking like one of those cheesy books thrown together to take advantage of a fad and, really, nothing could be further from the truth.

Former Gnosis editor-in-chief Kinney knows his esoteric traditions. In The Masonic Myth he does a great job of sharing a whole lot of never-before-seen inside stuff in an easily understood way. There is a lightness to Kinney’s writing here, despite a topic that seems often to move towards the dark. He keeps things in perspective, even while he helps us do the same.

“Secretive brotherhoods can be excellent devices in suspense thrillers,” Kinney writes near the beginning of The Masonic Myth, “but novels are, by their very nature, fiction …. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Let’s see if that’s true.”

Along the same lines but with a broader reach and more solid appeal (and -- perhaps not so mysteriously -- the same release date) is Occult America (Bantam) by Tarcher/Penguin editor-in-chief Mitch Horowitz.

As the title implies, Horowitz’ book looks at how the occult has impacted the development of the United States. (Hint: More than a little.) In fact, the book is subtitled The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.

“Mysteries can be found wherever you look,” Horowitz tells us early on, “especially when you’re not sure what you’re looking for.” There is much in Occult America that is more grounded, less esoteric, but what could be more filled with poetic truth?

Occult America is fantastic: interesting, entertaining, enlightening, sometimes even moving. It’s Horowitz’ first book. I’m guessing it won’t be his last.

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