Book review - Cryptopedia by Andrew Demcak
The cover art and title are what first drew me in to this one-of-a-kind read when author Andrew Demcak posted about it on Instagram. The art is of some sort of purple monster eating a plant, and the title is a mashup between ‘Cryptid/Cryptic’ and ‘Wikipedia’—fittingly, because the book is essentially a collection of ‘remixed’ Wikipedia entries on enigmatic mysteries, monsters and urban legends.
The way I read this book was almost sort of like a mini research project. Before reading Demcak’s prose on each ‘entry’ (some examples include Bloop, Hidebehind, and Imbunche), I would read at least the basic summary of the original Wikipedia entry. I highly recommend doing this, as I had not heard of 90% of these things before opening this book, and Demcak’s prose is made much more meaningful and relevant with some basic background. This book really draws you in and absorbs you, especially when read the way I read it, because you’re going from one engrossing, fascinating topic to another at a pretty fast pace, and your brain is just coming up with all kinds of theories, opinions, visuals and questions. I would also encourage keeping a list of some of the topics you want to explore even further after you read all the way through. Demcak’s prose itself is almost always written as if the legend in question is true and, curiously, he also often writes from the perspective of the alleged monster or creature itself. Each poem (I guess I would classify them as poems, although they are non-traditional in form) is also presented as if it is a Wikipedia entry. However, the vast majority—not all, but the vast majority—of the topics discussed in the entries/poems are, in actuality, very lacking in evidence and/or pretty much debunked. About 90% of the topics discussed in the entries were really just someone’s imagination, a group delusion, or something real in some sense that was way beyond embellished. This more practical and logical side to these stories is glossed over—intentionally, I’m sure—by Demcak in favor of immersing the reader in a world in which these things are true, simulating the feelings of the people who believe(d) in these legends. I think one of the biggest takeaways here is the vastness of the human imagination, how we imagine and think and feel ourselves into whole new worlds until reality all but dissipates. And that applies to a lot of overthinking and catastrophizing and jumping to conclusions that we do in our everyday lives, not just extreme examples like mythical creatures. However, I think another sort of opposing takeaway the book offers is a celebration of the unknown, and those lingering questions of “what if that creature/phenomenon really does exist, though?” We close the book with no more answers than we opened it with, and in fact, a few more questions, but that’s the beauty of it. I think also, that it being a meditation on Wikipedia in particular, which has often come under fire for not being an ‘accurate’ source of information—that in combination with the fact that it deals with the topic of myths and legends—it also kind of begs the question of what an ‘accurate’ source of information really is, or whether any can really be trusted. The poetry itself is, of course, experimental, and like any experiment, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s really beautiful and insightful and sometimes it’s just not that memorable and not as striking as the actual Wikipedia article. But over all, I am really glad I read this. Definitely one to add to your collection if you’re a lover of all things strange.