Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

This book, half memoir, half homage to the green things in life — the plants, the soil, the richness and complexity of the natural world — was so well-written and touching that I found myself reading and re-reading passages just to experience their beauty all over again. Jahren, a geobiologist who followed her calling to science during a time when very few women inhabited the field, pulses back and forth between chapters about the life cycles and complexities of the plants she studies, and her own complicated life (one during which she struggles with bipolar disorder and sexism within her chosen field). Her writing style makes the complicated approachable, something not all science writers do well. One of my favorite chapters, chapter 3, is a short but moving description of a seed. An excerpt:

A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance — to take its one and only chance to grow.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

The parallels to the human experience are clear and meaningful throughout Lab Girl; as Jahren shares with readers her own personal struggles with mental illness and professional success, she flits back to the plant world, leaving the reader no choice but to look out the window and see the green world as something miraculous and full of wonder, something with which to be connected.

Listen to this beautiful interview Renee Montagne conducts with Hope Jahren — I find her just incredibly strong, thoughtful, and inspiring. And if you’re up for some more of Jahren’s beautiful writing, check out her blog here.

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  1. Dear Lauren, thank you thank you thank you for introducing me to the work Hope Jahren! I am an academic mum in a very similar field of science (currently in Germany, soon in Stockholm). It is so, so hard to find female role models in my job, simply because there are still so few. I am completely smitten with Jahren’s blog, she is wise and hilarious and I cannot wait to invite her to give a talk in my department! I’ve been following your blog for years as well and I am glad that you’re back. You are a constant source of inspiration, thank you.

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