Posts Tagged ‘science’

lab girl book tulips

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”

This is one of many wonderful lines from Hope Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read this spring. As I walked under budding trees and past flowering bushes, Jahren’s narrative of becoming a botanist, building three successful labs and constructing a life from scratch resonated with me deeply.

Jahren draws wonderful parallels between plants and people, exploring roots, leaves, seeds, flowers and fruit in both the botanical and human realms. She writes about the cyclical nature of growth, the right conditions for flourishing, the ways both plants and humans react to unexpected strain. She never loses sight of the fundamental differences between plants and people, but her elucidation of those differences is also insightful.

I’m over at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Lab Girl. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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favorite books 2016 part 1

We are halfway through the year already, and I’m reading at my usual breakneck pace – nearly 130 books. I talk about what I’m reading in my semi-monthly roundups, but I wanted to share the best of my reading year (so far) with you.

Here are the books I have loved the most this year. (Not all of them were published in 2016, though about half of them were.)

Book That Best Embodies Its Title: Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett. She writes with such grace and (yes) wisdom about the Big Questions of what it means to be human, and draws many other voices into that conversation. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time. So many great, thought-provoking sentences.

Loveliest Quiet Novel: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. This gorgeously written novel follows the intertwined lives of two couples, the Morgans and the Langs, over several decades. Beautiful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and wise. A book worth reading and rereading. (Recommended by Anne and others.)

Most Captivating Young Adult Adventure Story: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. I loved every page of Leah Westfall’s journey from her Georgia homestead to the gold fields of California. She’s hiding a lot of secrets (including her ability to sense gold), but she is strong, compassionate and utterly human. I wrote about this book for Great New Books.

Most Sweeping, Heartbreaking, Absorbing Epic Novel: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Four words: my dad was right. I should have read this years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did. I fell head over heels for Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their band of cowboys and wanderers, making the journey from Texas to Montana. It’s long, but powerfully rendered in simple prose. So good.

Wisest Memoir on Faith, Seasons and Home: Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy. I loved Christie’s honest, lyrical writing about making a home with her family in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, and the struggles of staying put and building a worthwhile life. Luminous, clear-eyed and utterly lovely.

Freshest Take on Holmes & Watson: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, which reimagines Holmes and Watson as 21st-century teenagers at a Connecticut boarding school. Charlotte Holmes is sharp, jagged and brilliant, and Jamie Watson is insightful and kind. (The dialogue is fantastic.)

Most Insightful Foodie Memoir: Stir by Jessica Fechtor, which recounts the author’s journey to recovery after a brain aneurysm, and how she found her everyday (and a lot of delicious, life-giving meals) in the kitchen. Warm, wry and beautifully written, with so many insightful lines on food, family and living well.

Most Brilliant Homage to a Classic: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, whose orphaned protagonist loves Jane Eyre but is not nearly so meek as that other Jane. Whip-smart writing, some truly wonderful supporting characters and so many fantastic lines.

Best Combination of Recipe Inspiration and Food Haiku: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, which includes mouthwatering recipes, lyrical tweets and some plainspoken wisdom about a tough year in Reichl’s life.

Best Reread: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos, which pulled me out of a serious reading slump. Beautifully written, deeply compassionate and so smart.

Best Book About Science and Life for Non-Scientists: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. A memoir about botany and building a life. Fascinating, sarcastic, lovely and wise.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2016?


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book stack purple tulips

The latest library stack (above) came in the week before Commencement, which caused a tiny bit of panic over here. But I’m working through it. Here’s the latest roundup:

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
Jahren is a botanist who has built three successful labs, and this memoir tells the story of her career and her longtime bond with her lab partner, Bill. Gorgeous writing, wry humor, and wonderful insights on plants and people. (Also: packed with fascinating information but not didactic at all.) Recommended by Lindsey and by Ann at Books on the Nightstand.

Model Misfit, Holly Smale
Geeky teen model Harriet Manners finds herself spending the summer in Japan for a modeling gig, where everything promptly goes wrong. I like Harriet but couldn’t quite believe she was that clueless. Really fun supporting characters and a great setting, though.

Mother-Daughter Book Camp, Heather Vogel Frederick
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Frederick’s series about a group of teenage girls in Concord, Mass., who start a book club with their mothers. This final volume takes them to summer camp, where they’re working as counselors before heading to college (sniff). They start a book club with their campers to counter homesickness. Super sweet and funny. A great ending to the series.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
When pastry chef Olivia Rawlings sets her workplace on fire, she flees Boston for tiny Guthrie, Vermont, where her best friend helps her find a job baking at the Sugar Maple Inn. The owner is stern but the locals are kind – but Livvy, used to leaving and being left, isn’t sure she can settle down in Guthrie. A heartwarming debut novel with mouthwatering descriptions of pastry and really engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of a dying breed: Antari, magicians who can slip through the doors between worlds. As he navigates between three different Londons (Red, Grey and White), he stumbles upon a dangerous talisman from the fabled Black London and meets Lila, a trenchant pickpocket who proves a worthy partner in crime. A gripping, fast-paced fantasy novel, but I was seriously creeped out by some of the magic. Recommended by Jaclyn and Leigh.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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book breakfast tea the novel cure morning

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
When Sarah Grimké turns 11 in 1803, she receives an unwanted gift: a 10-year-old personal slave, Hetty “Handful” Grimké. Although Sarah tries to free Handful, the two girls are bound together for the rest of their lives. Drawing on historical accounts of Sarah Grimké’s life, Kidd has created a rich narrative of loss, love and bravery, narrated by both Sarah and Handful. I especially loved Handful’s mother, Charlotte, and the portrayal of the city of Charleston.

Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything, Amanda Gefter
Since she was a teenager, Amanda Gefter has relished long discussions about physics and the nature of the universe with her father. But when the two of them crash a physics conference to get the inside scoop on the nature of reality, their hobby becomes an obsession. A smart, funny, highly readable memoir-cum-exploration of spacetime, reality and various physics theories. Gefter makes her subject accessible even to humanities geeks. To review for Shelf Awareness.

The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton
A small girl arrives in Australia on a ship in 1913, carrying a small suitcase which holds a few obscure clues to her past. Taken in by a loving family and named Nell, she learns about her origins as an adult, and attempts to trace her biological parents. After Nell’s death, her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the quest, traveling to England to visit Nell’s childhood home. A multi-generational saga – part family history, part fairy tale, part Gothic mystery.

The Dirt Diary, Anna Staniszewski
Rachel Lee is so bummed to spend her weekends helping with her mom’s new cleaning business. But if she doesn’t, she’ll never make back the money she secretly took from her college fund. Cleaning the houses of all the popular kids in her grade, Rachel discovers some serious dirt – but is it ethical to use her newfound knowledge? A sweet, funny story with a likable protagonist. (A total impulse buy at the Booksmith and well worth it.)

Lord Peter: The Complete Stories, Dorothy L. Sayers
I can’t get enough of Lord Peter Wimsey, that bon vivant sleuth with a (long) nose for murder. These short stories featuring him were like a box of chocolate truffles – rich, varied and best savored one at a time. Bunter, that imperturbable valet, appears frequently and the last two stories include Peter’s wife Harriet, whom I adore.

The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You, Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin
A witty, ingenious compendium of novels to cure almost any ailment, from wanderlust to a stubbed toe, from the common cold to being disappointed in love. The only downside: some of the remedies (i.e. the novels) are depressing! Took me ages to finish because I read it in snatches, but highly enjoyable.

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, Katherine Pancol
When Josèphine’s ne’er-do-well husband runs off to Kenya to work on a crocodile farm, she’s strapped for cash until her trophy-wife sister Iris makes her a deal: Josèphine will write a historical novel and pocket the royalties, but Iris will get all the credit. (Of course, it’s not that simple.) Frothy, a bit racy and très French, this novel was so much fun. I hope its two sequels get translated into English.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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