Tag Archives: badassery

Review of Lab Girl

Check out my latest review for Orion magazine, and then check out the book!

Lab Girl by Hope JahrenLab Girl
By Hope Jahren
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
$26.95, 304 pages.

“People are like plants: they grow toward the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed — a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be,” writes geobiologist Hope Jahren, in Lab Girl, her luminous debut memoir.

Raised in a stoic, midwestern household where “the vast emotional distances between the individual members . . . [were] forged early and reinforced daily,” Jahren grew up living a bit of a double life. By day she helped her mother in the garden and did traditional “girl things,” but at night she’d follow her father to his teaching lab at the local community college and find her true sanctuary. Roaming after hours, rifling through drawers, contemplating equipment, and experimenting with pH strips and slide rulers, Jahren felt like a superhero in the lab, shedding her daywear as she transformed “from a girl into a scientist.” In spite of a complete lack of female scientist role models, her desire — even need — to become one herself was built upon this bone-deep instinct she doggedly pursued for decades.

Today, with a bevy of prestigious awards, professorships, and a long list of scientific publications written in a rare “language that very few people can read and that no one ever speaks,” Jahren is prolific in her field. But it turns out that she has impressive conversational chops, too. Peppered with literary references to Ganet, Beckett, Dickens, and Thoreau, Jahren’s honest prose is insightful, eloquent, and funny, and she has a gift for explaining hard science in the most bewitching way.

As chapters alternate between the personal and ecological, we learn how willows clone themselves, how trees remember their past, how seeds incubate, and why cacti form spines. But we also see how these natural phenomena parallel Jahren’s own journey. A passage on the tenacity of a vine that “becomes whatever it needs to be and does whatever it must in order to make real its fabulous pretensions” is cleverly paired with a frustrating but fascinating account of the never-ending battle to secure funding for science. It’s a common struggle in a country that “may say it values science, but sure as hell doesn’t want to pay for it.”

But the real heart of the book is the story of her touching relationship with Bill, her brilliant, disaffected lab partner. Fiercely loyal to each other, Bill and Jahren are kindred spirits, fraternal twins born of different mothers, matched in their insatiable curiosity, monster work ethic, and eccentricity. Together they build and move three different labs, often living below the poverty line in lean times, and in Bill ’s case, actually living in the lab.

Lab Girl is a book about being a woman in science as much as it is a clarion call to follow your passion. But in the end, it’s easy to see the book as a love note — not just to plants, to science, and to the sweetness of discovery, but also to friendship and loyalty, to journeys big and small, to belonging and becoming.

— Kathleen Yale

Fighting the Good Fight

I’ve been thinking about the immune system a lot lately. Partially because of my family’s recent experience with tragic immune failure, but also because it’s the season of sickness. Okay, yeah, and because I spent a full month reading, researching, and writing about the lymphatic and immune systems, culminating in our crowning final four Crash Course Anatomy and Physiology episodes.

So, if you are perhaps bedridden with the flu and looking for some educational entertainment, or are just curious about exactly how you’re fighting off that cold, how vaccines work, or auto-immune deficiencies, or what your immune cells have in common with Mad Max, then please, pull up a chair and spend a little time with one of the most amazing and fierce systems in your body.





Give My Love To Rose

It’s been a week since my sister-in-law Rosaleen passed away following a second, shockingly fast bout of the Hodgkin’s lymphoma we all thought she beat earlier in the year. I honestly still can’t make sense of this, can’t find the words, it still feels so unbelievable, the bad dream anyone who has lost someone they love is so sadly familiar.

I did not know Rose for as long, or undoubtedly as deeply, as some, but I did love her fiercely, and immediately. She was just that kind of chick.

We scoped each other out from a distance long before we actually met in person, with a kind of curiosity, excitement, and natural insurance that me getting with her big brother was going to be a really good thing for all of us.

Our first direct communication involved our deep and mutual love for Last of the Mohicans — a movie she watched literally every single morning of one summer vacation, while across the country my teenage self beaded bone chokers, wore moccasins, and listened to the soundtrack on repeat while sitting under an entire wall plastered with related posters.

That was the first of an infinite number of things we had in common, and I think we were both genuinely grateful and really excited to be sisters, forever.


In that way, with Rose, I lived more in the future than the past . . . imaging decades of holidays together along with Rob, our brother, the worthy love of her life. Of vacations, perhaps even of living in the same town, raising children together. I was saving all of our son’s best fox and dinosaur outfits for her. All the books she sent to him. 

The world seems a little dimmer without her, without that vision of a shared future. Already there are so many things I want to talk to her about.

Because Rose was that perfect mix of both totally unsentimental and completely sentimental when a thing or moment was worthy. She possessed my favorite combination of having exceptional taste in all things literary, musical, culinary, and fashion-oriented, but was also able to appreciate, even revel in, the best of low-brow, dirty cheese, and quirk. She could talk pop culture, bad TV, and celebrities. She unabashedly loved that canine abomination Boo for Pete’s sake.

She was tough and sassy and stubborn and always spoke her mind. She called bullshit when she saw it, and had no tolerance for it. She did not suffer fools.

But she was kind, so kind, and generous with her love and loyalty. She was whip smart, passionate, and witty. She knew something about everything. She could do the best Jersey mom accent, make a bangin’ 80’s mix, and wear the hell out of bright red and hot pink lipstick. She was both cool and goofy.

She loved children and was amazing at teaching them about the science and heart of the world. She was a voracious reader, a frenzied dancer, the best kind of friend, wife, sister, daughter, and role model. She was, and always will be brave, vibrant, and beautiful. I’m going to miss the hell out of her. I already do.

She leaves holes in hundreds of hearts, but also the memories to refill them again and again, like so many thirsty cups. We are all of us so much better for knowing her.

I am heartbroken that Atticus will never feel her embrace again, or get called out for bad behavior, or hold her hand on a walk through the woods.That he’ll never be able to crawl into her lap for a bedtime story.

But we will talk about her. We will remember. He will know her.

Rosie will be the heroine of our most adventurous tales. She will make mischief and mend hearts. Hold lightening in her veins. Climb mountains, crawl in bear dens, and pull monkeys’ tails. She’ll fight ogres, outsmart wizards, and stand up to bullies. She’ll lead sharp V-shaped flocks of geese to warmer climates in the fall, and leave strings of tiny foot prints like long necklaces in the new snow.

And when the wind blows through the trees and ruffles their leaves in gentle applause, he will know that’s just Auntie Rose saying hello.

Every day.

auntie rose

Of a Feather

Wow, just look at what artist Chris Maynard can do with a feather…

Check out his gorgeous shadow boxes and Featherfolio here.

Feathers, Form and Function: New Cut Feather Artwork by Chris Maynard feathers birds

Feathers, Form and Function: New Cut Feather Artwork by Chris Maynard feathers birds