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Lab Girl
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GROUP READS > December NONFICTION selection LAB GIRL

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message 1: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
For our last book of 2018, we will read Hope Jahren's 2016 memoir, Lab Girl.

Anyone read this before? Who will be joining me this month? I swear I put a request in for this through the library, yet it hasn't come in. Sigh. I may, as usual, be a bit late joining in, but please start without me. Share your thoughts, questions, etc. etc.


message 2: by Jo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jo | 27 comments I read it this January and did not rate it too well- yet this does not necessarily mean it is a bad book. As a memoir, it contains opinions and attitudes, some of which I strongly disagree. But then, the world she describes is very close to my current reality and my daily experiences strongly influenced how I read her accounts. I'm wondering how I might have received Lab Girl had I read it some other time. - Further thoughts and questions will have to wait. The lab is waiting.


message 3: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda | 4 comments I'm an hour into the audio book (from the library, I have memberships to 4 library districts so I can get what I want FAST). So far it's great!

Random thoughts:
1. She's making dirt sound interesting lol
2. She has a real gift for descriptive writing. "Beautiful" comes to mind.
3. The author reads her own audiobook, which makes it feel even more personal and special.


message 4: by Samanta (new) - added it

Samanta Sauro | 2 comments Just got it from the library; very excited to read this as it's been on my to-read list forever!


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Oppsy! So sorry I just remembered to check in and see what was up for Dec. I got this as an audio book on Scribd so will start listening to it. :-)


message 6: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I finally got my copy from the library and hope to dive in this weekend.

I like Amanda's first random thought above... "She's making dirt sound interesting lol." I can't wait, haha.


message 7: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda | 4 comments @El that makes me happy! :)

In the audio book she refers to "Chapters" a few times in passing. When you (or anyone) gets to a few of those mentions, let me know what you think that means. Not having a physical copy has its downsides.


message 8: by nil (new) - rated it 5 stars

nil (nilnil) I finished this last week and I really enjoyed it. I relate to the way that she sees the world and some of her experiences in it, and I felt that the sort of vignette nature of each chapter actually wound up making a really nice and lilting narrative. I appreciate how she wove her own life experiences with her lab experiences because they are clearly so intermingled for her. I truly love her relationship with Bill and I found myself very moved by their story. I am going to carve Bill's name in a new tree. :)


message 9: by nil (new) - rated it 5 stars

nil (nilnil) Jo wrote: "I read it this January and did not rate it too well- yet this does not necessarily mean it is a bad book. As a memoir, it contains opinions and attitudes, some of which I strongly disagree. But the..."

I am curious with what you disagreed with so profoundly? I think it would be useful for discussion here.


message 10: by Jo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jo | 27 comments Legal disclaimer first: I’m in the final phase of my doctorate. I am absolutely unable to comment on anything that’s related to science in an objective way.
That said, when reading Lab Girl, I was largely put off by my view on general work ethos in the sciences.
“Literaturewise”, I thought her snippets of personal philosophy rather trivial. Maybe the wisdom of experience is to value the trivial, or maybe I missed something. Anyway, I did not like it and, as mentioned in the appraisal quoted on the back, it truly reminded me of Oliver Sacks. I did not like Stream of Consciousness for the same reason.
I liked the biology parts, though, and I’d happily read volumes on botanical gems for the lay audience written by Hope Jahren.
The science work ethos. I’ll keep the comment as brief as possible…
The author of lab girl conveys enormous pride in 80-hour working weeks (if I remember the number correctly). Proudly mentioning long working hours is part of the scientific code of conduct. I agree that one of the motors driving science is passion, and I’m the last person to stay at home on weekend if there’s a promising experiment to perform- but what I see in consequence of this “glorifying of suffering” is that people stay at work until late for the sake of staying late.
This puts pressure eg. on parents who would like to spend the evening with their children. It drives clever, well educated women to leave science when they have children.
It drives heedless activism. There are millions of ways to waste (public) money in flawed experiments.
It promotes (together with other factors) abusive work relations. No doubt the author depended on the underpaid work of her postdoc friend to produce the data to get the funding… Yet as scientific mentor she should have encouraged, even assisted him to find a paid position somewhere else. Advance his career. Come back to her lab when there’s funding. It seems that in this case, she rewarded him for his loyalty, though. This is by far not always the case.
- I'll stop here. I risk going on forever.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm listening to the audiobook and I love it. It reminds me of my dad who was a teacher (biology/chemistry/physics) and how I got to hang out with all the preserved dead things in formaldehyde. I really did love it.

I'm not that far into it I guess because the way it's broken down in the audiobook is different from the actual chapters in the book so she does refer back to chapters and I like that but I can't say I understand it completely because of the book format.

But I love her voice, narrative, what she's saying. She makes dirt and plants fascinating. If she's flawed that's awesome because we live in a very flawed world under a very flawed system.


message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 20, 2018 07:43AM) (new)

Amanda wrote: "@El that makes me happy! :)

In the audio book she refers to "Chapters" a few times in passing. When you (or anyone) gets to a few of those mentions, let me know what you think that means. Not hav..."


This is my best guess because I'm listening to the book as well. The audiobook isn't broken up like the Chapters in the physical book so I can't tell if she is mentioning something I've already heard or not. But I like it. I like the way she's referencing something else that happens in the book. It's kinda like foreshadowing. It's not enough to take away from the book so maybe as I'm further in I'll figure it out more.

If you figure it out before me please share! :-)


Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
I'm also about 30 percent in to this book. Sometimes I enjoy it, and sometimes I don't. I'm not sure what it is. I like her story and her voice, and I do enjoy reading about her developing relationship with Bill since I know it is a lasting one, it's interesting to read their backstory.
I find her casual comments about the sexism she experiences in the scientific field kind of jarring because she just mentions them in passing as she's telling her story but doesn't comment on the actual sexism of the incidents. Like she's just talking about another part of the day. For example when she talks about choosing a midnight shift to avoid working with a hostile male and kind of crossing her fingers that he never shows up when she's alone.
Where I am right now is the middle of her thesis work and I'm enjoying reading about where her passion will take her, although sometimes at a loss about her work even though she clearly cuts a lot of the heavy science out in an effort to keep it interesting and understandable to the layperson, i.e. me.
As for the print book, I haven't encountered any mentions of chapters, and it makes me curious to try out the audio.


message 14: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda | 4 comments @coral if you give me a time code, I can review on my audio book and get a digital copy from the library. I'm even more curious what this "chapter" thing is about!


Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
@Jo, I'm totally with you on the thought that she should've championed Bill better. I think of how she got mentored and nudged towards her PhD program by other scientists and I think she should've done the same for him. At first I thought maybe it was just a hands-off topic in their relationship dynamic, but when he's so poor that he's homeless and they're eating garbage she could have done better by him imo.

I do really like this book anyway. I find it interesting how she begins the chapters with information about trees and plants growth and behavior patterns, and it links up with her next bit of story.


message 16: by Yulia (last edited Dec 27, 2018 09:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Yulia Vorotyntseva (aehie) | 7 comments Anita wrote: "I find her casual comments about the sexism she experiences in the scientific field kind of jarring because she just mentions them in passing as she's telling her story but doesn't comment on the actual sexism of the incidents."

Yes, that was what bothered me about that book (and many similar works, like "Lean In"). I believe she mentions the issues very vaguely because open statements would jeopardize her career and create a threat of lawsuits. But vague statements like "they did not believe a woman could do science" perpetuate the public impression that women are just whining about imaginary problems.

Here is her piece on a real issue, published in NY Times (and shielded by NYT lawyers). Highly recommend for getting a prospective on the book.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/op...


message 17: by Tim (last edited Dec 29, 2018 01:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Regan (dumbledad) | 22 comments 1) I thought the take on gender was interesting. She opens the book with a quote that felt, if you'll forgive me, masculine:

There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule. It's burnished aluminium feels cool against your lips, and if you hold it level to the light you can see God's most perfect right angle in each of its corners. When you tip it sideways, it gracefully transfigures into an extravagant rapier that is also retractable with great stealth.

She talks about masculinity and femininity at the end where she writes

I have been admonished for being too feminine and I have been distrusted for being too masculine.

2) I agree with @Jo that she's perpetuating terrible work practises (and work practises that may hurt women more than men) but she is telling the story of her career, and that's how it was, not how it should have been. But yes, the macho posturing about how many hours you work is annoying in real life and in a book; as she writes

However much you love your job, it ain’t gonna love you back

3) I did find some of the advice about how to do science (or, I guess, any endeavour) useful, things like these:

stay in the moment of what went wrong

all the best-laid plans in the world can be rewritten into something better from the right perch

a problem has eluded me not because it is unsolvable, but because its solution is necessarily unconventional

4) The book also reminded me constantly of the hackneyed phrase "Behind every great man there's a great woman" but here with the sexes reversed.

5) I loved this quote, about (plant) sex:

Successful plant sex may be rare, but when it does happen it triggers a supernova of new possibilities

Lots more thoughts, but that'll do for now.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Yulia wrote: "Anita wrote: "I find her casual comments about the sexism she experiences in the scientific field kind of jarring because she just mentions them in passing as she's telling her story but doesn't co..."

Thanks for posting the article. If she wanted to write a book about sexism in science she would do that and have all the lawyers lined up like you pointed out.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Anita wrote: "I'm also about 30 percent in to this book. Sometimes I enjoy it, and sometimes I don't. I'm not sure what it is. I like her story and her voice, and I do enjoy reading about her developing relation..."

I like the casual reference to how bad it is for women in this profession (like in all professions) because that's how women have to think about it right now in order to survive.

Not all women like my aunt have the guts as a nurse when confronted by a doctor that demanded she either sleep with him or he was going to go ahead and tell everyone she had with - go ahead, first no one will believe you because I'm that pretty and second I'll tell everyone one what a lousy lay and tiny dick you have.

All my aunts and mother were this tough and I considered myself very lucky to have been brought up by them and heard their stories but not all women have those resources and you know what, they shouldn't have to.

This isn't a women's problem it's a men's problem to fix.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm not sure about the 'championing Bill thing'. Maybe I'm not there yet? They're in Atlanta and he won't crash at her place and just wants to be dropped off downtown. I mean she can't make him accept help but maybe there's something more in the story I haven't gotten to yet.


Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
That's true. One can't say much publicly without being held on charges for all sorts of other things. I finished and found that I really enjoyed it. I found her voice on a fluid gender spectrum because of comments she made about herself being able to be a father to her son because that was what she knew she could do and being masculine in the lab, as Tim mentioned as well. I loved alk the things she said and also noticed done things she seemed to withhold, like more commentary on the sexism - as you said Coral, it would have turned this into something else. A great way to finish the year, with a good non fiction, hard science, female written book :) Happy New Year everyone. Hoping for more great reads in the next one.


Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
Sorry for those typos :/


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

I finished this last night and loved it. Really loved it. Made me tear up and everything.

So Bill is awesome and she did take care of him the best she could. He's a grown man so he made his own choices. They are a great team. I love the few times I've seen this kind of characterization on TV (can't really think of any movie where this plays out) and so glad to see it expressed here in a non-fiction book.

Her narrating her mental challenges. Shoot this was a no holds barred exposure of herself and we are all flawed human beings so I was happy to read about another flawed human being making their way through the world just fine.

I now want to buy the lots next to my house and plant as many trees as I can on them.

I want MORE science books written by women so if you have any suggestions please post them.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Anita wrote: "That's true. One can't say much publicly without being held on charges for all sorts of other things. I finished and found that I really enjoyed it. I found her voice on a fluid gender spectrum bec..."

Her voice narration was amazing and just breathed a life into it I don't think another person could. There's got to be more science books out there like this right? hehe


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Amanda wrote: "@coral if you give me a time code, I can review on my audio book and get a digital copy from the library. I'm even more curious what this "chapter" thing is about!"

You know what she totally dropped this after maybe a 1/4 of the way through the book and never referred to other chapters again! So weird!!


message 26: by Jo (last edited Jan 14, 2019 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jo | 27 comments Coral wrote: "I want MORE science books written by women so if you have any suggestions [...]"
I absolutely loved A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind by Siri Hustvedt. It contains a long essay on consciousness ("The delusions of certainty") which I found a remarkable review on what's known (or not) about "the mind", combining input from various disciplines.
If Siri is "too dry" for your taste, you might want to try Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie. It is not strictly a science book but rather a fine example of nature writing. Not "hard", but maybe "soft" science. Partly.
Oh, and one of the most important science books by women is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I found that one a rather tough read, though.
Since all of this is not related to Lab Girl, I feel it's somehow out of place here, sry for that.
Coming back to the original topic- all your comments helped me to see the positive aspects of the books that were clouded from view. It's still not the right book for me, but you have improved my overall opinion of it. Thanks!


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