Lab Girl — an experiment that works

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

3 words: lyrical, poignant, personal


Oh, man, guys. A workplace memoir that’s smart and a pleasure to read, and it’s about a workplace I’d detest.


The recipe for my perfect book.


I so loved reading this thing.


Jahren writes (gorgeously) of her life as a scientist. She studies plants and trees, and her lab is her refuge and her true home.


And her lab partner Bill is her best friend and colleague. And they’re both quirky (especially him) and interesting to hang out with on these pages, even though sometimes they’re digging deep trenches so they can study soil (which sounds dull and tedious, except when Jahren’s writing about it).


Jahren’s passion for her work is a beautiful thing to read, especially since she’s quite a lovely writer. Take this:


“I must have cracked thousands of seeds over the years, and yet the next day’s green never fails to amaze me. Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.” (31)


So sometimes when she’s writing about plants, she’s also writing about life. But never in that treacly, sickening way that’s overly obvious.


I read this book while listening to Quiet by Susan Cain, and there was some really fascinating overlap. Hours after hearing Cain describe the phenomenon of solitary researchers making breakthroughs in the middle of the night, I read Jahren’s description of just such a moment in her research.


And there were moments when this book reminded me of one of my favorite memoirs of all time, True North by Jill Ker Conway, in which she describes her graduate school years with a good deal of joy.


This is a lovely book. Smart and also wise.


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