We’ll start with the current occupant of my nightstand: Lab Girl by scientist Hope Jahren. I confess that I picked up this tome based on the decorative and somewhat creative cover art, but mostly because my beloved husband often calls me ‘_____ girl’ (think, ‘Ice Cream Girl’, or ‘Piano Girl’, or ‘TB Girl’) and I liked the way it sounded. I generally lean towards fiction and I’ve never had much scientific curiosity.
I love this book. I love the science, the almost-casual discussion of the miraculous ways that trees grow, and what a mass spectrometer is for, and what the life of a research scientist is really like. I love the way Jahren bounces between sketches from her personal life and the ‘epic love story’ of the wasp and the fig. I love this; that the timing of what I’m learning about the amount of magnesium needed for chlorophyll so that trees can have a normal life cycle lines up so brilliantly with a teaching and discussion group exploring the coexistence of theology and science. I read about how a barrel cactus sheds its roots to live without water, and I ponder the miracle of all creation.
Without giving too much away, I will state that what pushed this book to the front of the line for me unfolded in Chapter 9, completely unexpected and almost jarring. It is as honest and straightforward glimpse into mental illness that I’ve ever seen, and because it lay in wait quietly, without any foreshadowing, the surprise was both exhilarating and devastating. I confess that I’m on the final section of the book and have not quite finished – but I am propelled to complete it in its entirety because I have come to care so deeply about this scientist.
I’ve never given trees a second thought, but in the past few days I’ve looked harder and higher, and I have seen some things. Did you know that the leaves at the top of the tree are intentionally smaller than those on the bottom branches? Do you know why?
There are questions I never thought to ask, for which I now crave answers. That’s what a good book does.