Saturday, December 03, 2016

Lab Girl

I'm really torn between 4 and 5 stars for Lab Girl, a memoir by scientist Hope Jahren.  On the one hand, I loved the plant science, the discussion of life as a university scientist and professor, and the insights into living with mental illness.  On the other hand, I did find Jahren a bit wearying.  In a way, she is like Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild.  Their lives and issues make for good memoirs but neither is someone I warm to, have much in common with, or want to spend a lot of time with.  That's not to say I don't derive insight and inspiration from their stories, but...they are a bit wearying.

I listened to audio versions of both Lab Girl and Wild, which I think was good.  I only experienced the books driving around, doing errands, rather than long reading sessions by the fire.  Neither of these memoirs lend themselves to long reading sessions by the fire.

In addition to learning about trees, grasses, mushrooms, radishes, botany, earth science, and what the dinosaurs ate, I loved the sections of the book where Jahren connected a part of her story with a particular piece of literature.  By far my favorite was the section, fairly early, where she is a student and working in a hospital pharmacy and she links it beautifully to David Copperfield.  This thread is not a single strand but an intricately developed literary construct that plays in several ways.  For that section alone, I bumped it from 4 to 5 stars on GoodReads.  Anyone who can make sense of their life and situation by relating them to David Copperfield is worth reading and listening to.


  1. The references in these books to the natural world sound interesting. I am currently reading Love And The Platypus by Nicholas Drayson. Though a work of fiction the main character is a zoologist as is Drayson. This book is also full of such references.

    The David Copperfield references also sound interesting.

  2. I have to admit that I rarely like anyone who writes a memoir but that doesn't make their stories less interesting!

  3. "Anyone who can make sense of their life and situation by relating them to David Copperfield is worth reading and listening to."

    I love that!

  4. I've been wanting to read more non-fiction books next year, and this sounds like a good one to add to my list. Thanks! :)

  5. Ha ha. Love your point at the end. The author is pretty wacky in the book but surprisingly also literary for a scientist. I agree that makes her an unlikely combination and her book a worthwhile read. She has a lot of passion for her plants & job too.

  6. I agree with you about the "wearying" aspect of the experience of reading Lab Girl. I found that my brain and body, too, would get tired with all those late nights and feverish activity.
    But it was well worth sticking with it for me. Hope is so different than I--imagine someone loving doing all kinds of experiments and loving your laboratory! I found that exciting.
    Just found your blog and will keep visiting!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)