Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Lab Girl", A Memoir of a Female Scientist Forging Her Proper Life

Do you have behaviors that you wish you'd begun when you were younger?  I know I do.  One of my regrets is that I didn't read more biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies when I was in my teens, 20s, 30s, and even in my 40s.  I especially regret that I didn't read more about the life stories of women that I admired, so that I could get a wider understanding of what being a woman in our culture entailed, both positively and negatively.

Regrets aside, I've started reading more biographies and memoirs in recent years.  I love the perspective it gives me on possibilities, life choices, the cost of fame, the commonalities that we all experience, and a myriad of other issues, both philosophical and mundane.

I don't remember where I first heard about Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) or what the reviewer said about this book, but I immediately knew I wanted to read it...and I am so glad that I did.

Hope Jahren was born in 1969, 13 years after I was born, into a family with a father who was a scientist and teacher, a highly intelligent mother who was a housewife, and 3 older brothers.  She learned to love science in her father's classroom laboratory and, building on the platform of a rather ordinary childhood, she has become an award winning geobiologist, recently based out of the University of Oslo.

It's rare to find a book, written by a scientist who based the thematic structure of the book on plants, described as "mesmerizing", having a "zing", or "electric".  These words have all been used to describe this book, and they are spot on.  Dr. Jahren intersperses vividly written and lyrical short chapters on plant biology with engrossing tales of the people and the events in her life that have helped shape her into who she is today.  Incidentally, in her childhood Dr. Jahren studied English literature with her mother, as her mother worked to earn the bachelor's degree that she'd been unable to obtain before marriage.  Dr. Jahren herself started college as a literature major before realizing that science was her true passion; her facility with words and metaphors and her compelling prose betray her ongoing love of language, despite her choice of science as her career path.

From this book, "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."

Lab Girl is a seed that has been cast out into the world to germinate.  Whether it develops into a towering oak or stays a struggling seedling depends in great part on how deep and rich the soil is upon which it lands, how many people read it and absorb the wisdom it has to offer, then pass that wisdom along.   Most of all, I can envision Lab Girl bearing valuable fruit such as young girls being able to see a path forward if they choose science as a viable life path and ordinary people learning to see plants as the living heroes of our planet that they truly are.

Read this book.  Judge it for yourself.  Then let me know what you think.  I'm betting you'll be encouraging others to read Lab Girl, too.

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