Science and the Heart in Hope Jahren's Lab Girl


Here's my first post about writing, reading and thinking about narrative nonfiction. It's not a blog (certainly no log of my blogged thoughts!), just some occasional tips about composing life stories into literature.

I hope you will find it useful and motivating. (And you can unsubscribe anytime easily and safely.)

I've recently read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, a tale of how Jahren "found a sanctuary in science, working with both the heart and the hands."


Lab Girl is a story of Jaren's evolving life as a geobiologist. In addition to reading a book for its story, it's really useful to read to discover and learn from a writers' techniques that enhance the narration. Here, Jahren does something I always love; she creates texture in her writing by tracking patterns in her life and making rich meaning of them for the reader.  

Jahren's love for plant life permeates the entire book. Yet in some intercalary chapters (think Steinbeck's in Grapes of Wrath) she devotes various chapters to a description of the growth of a tree, from a seedling to a full life in the forest. Throughout, she uses this metaphor to remind her human readers of their affinity to the compelling natural world. Her writing is a model of subtlety and evocation.

In another case, dear to my heart, she threads her love of literature throughout by comparing what Charles Dickens says about the heart in David Copperfield to her growing understanding of her own expanding heart.



Consider these techniques for texturizing and layering meaning in your writing. And write back; let me know what you think about this post and what you're interested in. As I learn this new platform, I'm hoping these newsletters will increase in sophistication and snazz.