Column Description: Join Alicia Abdul in each issue as she recommends a book or two through the lens of lifelong learning. Be it fiction or nonfiction, using a format like a 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?
Nothing gives me greater excitement than a high school student walking into the library and asking for books about murder. I know they’re not looking for a how-to guide nor do I judge them especially if they’re exuberant about the request because their proclamation means that they’ve found a topic to keep them reading. And maybe it’s also a little bit of me I see in them; I was reading Anne Rice at twelve. And in my thirties, I have stacks of books about death and murder-- fictional and real-- rated on Goodreads.
A memorable undergraduate course I took was called Sex, Death, and Salvation, where one-third of the course was spent reading and discussing death through 17th-century writers. For an eighteen-year-old who feels invincible, it was humbling to confront death even if it was through literature. And I’ve never shied away from discussing death since. And learning more when I can. A favorite YouTuber and writer is Caitlin Doughty, a California mortician whose focus is on destigmatizing death (from the actual event and post-death activities to simple discussion of death) in American culture. She’s a storyteller and activist, but not a scientist.
Sue Black-- she’s a scientist, a forensic anthropologist to be exact and her 2020 publication Written in Bone: Hidden Stories In What We Leave Behind was the perfect mid-month audiobook (listened to through Hoopla courtesy of my public library). I was fascinated by her stories. Not gratuitous. Not shocking. Real-life. Her experiences as an English woman in the field of forensics. What she’s learned. How she puts it all together. And she packages the book neatly by going from head to toe. What can she know about a person from their skull after death? How can she tell a fetal leg bone from that of a two-year-old? Why would she need to know that? And then I question, why do I need to know that? Because we’re human and death will befall us all, not often in horrific ways described in her stories which are more mysterious than mundane but yes because we’re human. And everyone has a story to tell. Sue Black wanted to tell hers. I am an armchair scientist who will never be a forensic anthropologist, but for close to twelve hours, I embodied one.
Reading allows us to jump in and out of experiences. Live lives we can’t have. Be told a story we can only dream of happening to us one day. If your fascination is on the morbid side, so be it (and let me know what you’re reading too). If you’d rather be cruising through space thousands of lightyears from now, you do you. Reading if nothing provides us this space.
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.