I am my parents' only child so I had plenty of opportunities to develop an overactive imagination during my youth and overact it did. As a kid, I was afraid to swim in the deep end of the pool because I was certain that dark shadow hovering under the diving board was a shark lying in wait. If I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would sprint down the hall and fling myself from my bedroom's doorway through the air and into bed so the fanged beast underneath would not be able to snatch me. When the wind shook the tree outside my bedroom window causing the moonlight cast upon the wall to shift and shudder, I saw from beneath the blanket pulled to just under my eyes a spirit from beyond waiting in the corner for me to fall asleep so it could haunt my dreams. As I grew into adulthood, my imagination was tempered by logic and reason. The pool shadow was just the absence of light and the fiercest beast beneath my bed was a dust bunny. But I was not so sure about that moonlight spirit and even as an adult, I have had unexplained experiences that keep me on the fence regarding the existence of ghosts.
In her 2005 book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, author Mary Roach takes a trip through bizarre historical and contemporary experimentation in search of an answer to the question of where we go when we die. Raised in a household of faith, Roach was exposed early to the concepts of an omnipotent higher power and a spiritual afterlife, but she was an inquisitive child and had questions. Science seemed to have more answers than faith did so she turned to the source that satisfied her curiosity more often than not. What she discovered during the writing of this book may have just led to more questions and in some cases, utterly failed to provide a satisfactory answer. Undeterred, Roach approaches each case with the same wit and humor we discovered in her previous book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I often barked a hearty guffaw at Roach's observations. She employs the same sarcasm I myself express but in an eloquent manner.
Mary Roach is not just a humor writer. She, with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology, does her homework as evidenced by the plethora of footnotes throughout the book and the twelve-page bibliography. As a scientist, she possesses a healthy desire to know the unknown. In addition to studying the experiments of long dead scientists, Roach takes a direct approach by participating in experiments herself. This willingness to get her hands dirty grants her more credibility than if she were just armchair quarterbacking the experiments of others. Plus, she seems to have had fun doing it which is exhibited in the tone of her writing. Her literary voice has helped her become one of my favorite science writers and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. If you possess a healthy sense of humor and a curiosity about our world, you will find a friend in Mary Roach.
After reading Spook, the questions remain for author and reader alike, but I sure enjoyed the journey. I continue to ask myself "what if" and on occasion, late at night when I am exhausted, I see that spirit from beyond hovering in the corner, waiting for me to fall asleep.