It took me a while to finish, despite being a “page turner”. I took a break after getting about half way through – unable to read more for the moment. I think I had expected to be able to identify more with Jahren – we are about the same age, we are both academic biologists, we are both women who had children relatively late in life. I thought I would see myself in her, and when I didn’t, I was disappointed, and put the book down for a while.
I kept thinking about that person, that person who is not me though superficially similar, and was curious what happened next, so eventually, I started in again. I’m glad I did. I loved how chapters move fluidly between describing the life of plants to describing the life of the writer, and how those plants and how that person, had to struggle wildly to keep their leaves in the light.
I think Jahren describes some of the peculiarities of academic culture particularly well – how grants get funded, how research is paid for, why basic research is important. Those parts I could relate to. I could also relate as a mother - how impossibly beautiful my children are. I long to be present if or when they, too, give in to biology and have children of their own. The two brief pages in which Jahren mourns and celebrates her granddaughter to be brought me to tears.
What I had more difficulty relating to is Jahren's research partnership with Bill, her wildly unsafe and inappropriate behavior at times around the lab and on the road, her certainty from childhood that science was her path. I also can’t quite relate to her amazing ability to claim her own existence as important, special, worth putting down on paper. I deeply admire it, however, and while reading, I wondered often, ‘What must it be like to be inside that head? … to be able to fully claim this life she leads?’ She inspires me to claim that for myself - the importance of my own life, to me and to those I’m lucky enough to be loved by. I, too, am worthy.