Title: Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science and Love
Author: Hope Jahren
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Memoirs, Nature, Science
Dates read: 21st – 27th October 2019
5th sentence, 74th page: I started to leave, but hesitated when Bill looked up at last.
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.
Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.
This book is absolutely freaking amazing!!! Not just because it is written so well and about the natural sciences. But also because I connected completely to what Hope Jahren was saying. She recalls her years in her PhD, the weirdness that is her obsession and just life as an academic in general. I might just be starting out in that life… but there was so much that was relatable. And it made me feel better about all of my multiple freak-outs and insecurities…
Lab Girl has most certainly become my all-time favourite memoir. Partly because it is in an area that I am more intimately familiar with than almost any other. But also because it deals with a lot of hidden issues in life. Talks about mental health. Focuses on what it takes to become who you want to be. Yet weaves throughout botanical knowledge and scientific principles that almost feel like coming home.
There is no one in the world that doesn’t have to deal with self-doubt. That doesn’t feel like others are judging them and querying their every move. That make them think they are somehow less. Add to that a mental health issue and being a female in a traditionally male-dominated career… it’s a tough world out there. And Jahren faces up to the realities of this fearlessly. Yet, she does so with a healthy dose of humour and light that doesn’t feel bitter and contrived. That doesn’t make you angry at the system, just understanding of the challenges faced.
Hope’s relationship with Bill is amazing. All throughout, he is her voice of sanity and reason. The person who has her back and supports her no matter what she does. We all need someone like that in our lives. Whether it is a co-worker, a friend or a lover… it doesn’t matter the amazing power of their relationship made me so incredibly jealous. I don’t know that I’ve ever had someone totally appreciate my world in that way, and it is something that I would love to find in my professional life – someone who is obsessed with invertebrates just as much as I am.
This is one of those memoirs that I’m never, ever going to forget. It is intense, wonderful and intriguing. The perfect miss of personal anecdotes, science and the telling of reality merge together fantastically. I can understand why it was on a summer reading list, and I’m so glad I succumbed to the compulsion to buy it!!!