I discovered Hope Jahren and her writing via Twitter a few years ago, before she even had a blog. Instantly hooked, I added my voice to the rising chorus of #hopejahrensurecanwrite urging her to start a blog so we could get more from her virtual pen. I am constantly blown away by the astonishingly precise emotional power of her writing.
As you may have heard or read, Hope Jahren has a new book out, one that had even the notoriously hard to please Michiko Kakutani gushing praise at the New York Times, comparing the precise poetry and scientific imagination in her writing to that of the late great Oliver Sacks and Stephen Jay Gould! Other reviews of “Lab Girl” are unanimous in saying that Jahren’s writing will change the way you look at plants and at the world of science and nature.
My own amazement at plant lives, shaped in some part by Hope Jahren, has been exploding in recent years, as I read more about the astonishing things we continue to discover about their far from dull lives. Just this past week, I found myself urging my Intro Biology students out of their post-lunch lethargy by telling them to contemplate the life of a plant. Boring… they responded, before I started telling them about some of the incredible things plants do. Luckily, I had this passage from Lab Girl to read to them:
“It might strike you as fantastic, but you really can hear plants growing in the Midwest. At its peak, sweet corn grows a whole inch every single day and as the layers of husk shift slightly to accommodate this expansion, you can hear it as a low continuous rustle if you stand inside the rows of cornfield on a perfectly still August day.”
And today, when we start the unit on Fungi, I expect to share this gem of an observation:
“You may think a mushroom is a fungus. This is exactly like believing that a penis is a man.”
Somehow I was one of the lucky ones to receive an advance reader’s copy of Lab Girl, and have been meaning to write a review here. But this post ain’t it. Fan as I am of Hope Jahren’s writing, her book landed in my mailbox smack in the middle of the semester in an exceptionally busy and stressful year. I’ve started the book, but haven’t finished it yet, for… reasons…
I get the feeling that I may have pulled back from Hope Jahren’s book just a bit mainly as a perhaps misguided attempt to protect my time for things I must get done. And I don’t mean that Lab Girl isn’t something I must read – in fact I feel quite the opposite, that this book is more important than anything else right now, and therefore is something I must finish before anything else; and paradoxically, given the urgencies of other things, I’m forced to delay the gratification of immersing myself in this fantastic book because I have chores to finish. Why must one deny oneself such simple pleasures as reading a richly complex thing? Poorly structured procrastination? Lame excuse, I know, but I will allow myself to be swept away by Lab Girl very soon…
Meanwhile, my teenaged daughter S has swooped in and is devouring the book, savoring it slowly and reading particularly well-turned phrases and passages out loud to me from time to time. A budding writer herself, S delights in being swept away by Hope Jahren’s tales. After telling me more about it this weekend, and asking me how I could keep from finishing reading this book, S asked me to reread another thing which is her favorite from Jahren’s amazing blog: her open love letter to millennial women, which contains such passages as this:
“I finally understand why my mother was so adamant that I should not pierce my ears. Us old ladies have been disappointed to find that we are not so different from our male masters after all, when fear rotted our love into control. Your freedom terrifies us. In our day, if you admitted to being a lesbian, men tried to rape it out of you. For us, forty years of financial safety pragmatically trumped romance, and rendered purity before marriage one of many survival techniques. I struggle and hold my tongue, knowing deep down that you know best how to live in the world that you are creating. When you have time and pity, you are teaching me. You are better with people than I’ve ever been, naturally friendly and sweet.”
“Watching you from a distance, I like to think that you were born of the pain of my generation, of our punitive divorces and meager unfair paychecks and deadly IUDs. You are the precious daughters of the Revolution that we wanted, and of the broken-parts-missing Revolution that we got. When I am old and sick and ugly it will comfort me to know that you are the ones running the world.”
Indeed. Go read the whole love letter. Now. And then read the rest of her blog and bookmark it and add it to your RSS feed or whatever other device you have for keeping up with blogs. And buy and read her book “Lab Girl“.
Because you know what?