Book Review: Up Late with Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I lucked into reading this so soon after publication because our library has a lucky day program where they have certain brand new books available only if you walk in to the library. This has been a great opportunity for me to read books with insanely long waiting lists because it was good timing on my part.

Hope Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl is not just a memoir, it is also a study of plants, a window into the world of academic science, and a story of someone with mental health issues (a part of the book I found especially compelling). I found this book difficult to put down, only stopping because I fell asleep (I picked it right back up the next morning and finished it, so technically I read it in under 24 hours). Each chapter about her life and education and scientific endeavors is followed by a shorter chapter explaining something about trees or seeds or roots or plants. As a non-science person, I found these easily digestible and simultaneously fascinating. I could also think of about fifteen students who I wanted to email and tell them to read this book immediately. Also, her blog is pretty darn interesting, and her twitter is a must-follow.

My first thought after reading the first two chapters was that I need to use this for teaching how to write college essays to my seniors.  Jahren’s prose demonstrates her passion for plants, but also shows a playfulness and authenticity my students would do well to understand and attempt.  I was so glad to have had the opportunity to read this, and I know I’ll be using at least the first chapter in class and recommending everyone I know to read it. As usual, here are some lovely quotes that explain why I enjoyed the book so much:

  • “Love and learning are similar in that they can never be wasted.”
  • “Being paid to wonder seems like a heavy responsibility at times.”
  • About her father: “He taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.”
  • “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of use is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”
  • “My mother taught me that reading is a kind of work, and that every paragraph merits exertion, and in this way, I learned how to absorb difficult books. Soon after I went to kindergarten, however, I learned that reading difficult books also brings trouble. I was punished for reading ahead  of the class, for being unwilling to speak and act “nicely.” I didn’t know why I simultaneously feared and adored my female teachers, but I did know that I needed their attention.”


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

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