Column Description: Join Alicia Abdul each issue as she recommends a book or two through the lens of lifelong learning. Be it fiction or nonfiction, using a format like verse or graphic novel, books can teach us, inspire us, and reconnect us. So, what better way to pay tribute to the things that keep us reading just one more chapter past our bedtime or that we can’t see over when stacked tall as we leave the library than hyping them here?
Nonfiction is a go-to genre, especially in audiobook format. I might be in the mood for history and other times adventure or science, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a new release or an older title. The Libby algorithm brought me to a few suggestions that included Jill Heinerth’s Into the Planet: My Life As A Cave Diver published in 2019 which I speedily downloaded.
It was a pleasant surprise that Heinerth narrated her memoir of cave diving. A synergistic magic between the listener and reader happens when the author reads their book and it makes more sense when it’s a personal story such as Heinerth’s is. She covers ground from harrowing experiences fending off a home invader by slashing him with a sharp object to translating her newfound lifeforce by leaving a company she helped build to become a diver. After years of photography and diving practice, she wanted to go deeper into uncharted territories: cave diving which not only meant actually following underground cave systems that were never explored by humans to recovering the dead bodies of cave divers (often dear friends) who could not escape this underwater fate.
She details her failed first marriage which felt more like a diving partnership than actual intimacy and painfully surviving decompression sickness known as the bends. But in addition to the personal elements, she discusses the mesmerizing siren song of underwater exploration and specifically addresses the risk-taking gene which has been studied. Are some predisposed to dangerous and deadly sports and adventures because of their genetic makeup? Think about those you know. Could it be possible? Heinerth makes a compelling case laid bare in her story from fending off an attacker (she stood her ground and attacked him--who would have cowered, hid, or tried to evade instead?) or the heart-pounding squeeze into tight spaces where the equipment must be strapped to the diver’s side body rather than on their back or front because they are scraping walls, tops, and bottoms of mysterious rock formations.
What makes a person want to do that work? What makes a person want to become a librarian? Is there a gene? Likely not, but most would agree that there are inborn and learned traits that make successful librarians in any field of librarianship which can at least be condensed to themes of intellectual freedom and a lust for learning.
It would be presumptuous to draw a straight line from cave divers to librarians, yet the parallels of undiscovered caves to libraries with their endless possibilities make me rethink one of the final scenes in Heinerth’s book in which she became the first expedition to dive into an iceberg in Antarctica, which might feel a little like settling into a new book--the potential is there for those that seek it.
Alicia Abdul has worked as a high school librarian for the City School District of Albany since 2007. Her contributions to the profession include reviewing for SLJ, SLC, and VOYA, serving on YALSA committees, and presenting at local, state, and national conferences on books, programs, and graphic novels. She has a keen interest in writing and contributes to the Albany Times Union’s books blog and manages her own at readersbeadvised.wordpress.com along with being published with the Nerdy Book Club, SLC, and in SLJ. You can usually find her at home with her family drinking tea and baking while looking for a dress to buy.