The figurative language of Hope Jahren…

Reading time: About 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of images from Hope Jahren…

Hope Jahren is an American geochemist and geobiologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, known for her work using stable isotope analysis to analyze fossil forests. But she is also the author of a remarkable memoir by the modest name, Lab Girl.

Although the book has been (aptly) described as “a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world”, it is most noteworthy for its superb use of figurative language. It’s also breathtakingly funny.

Here are my favourite bits:

  • Even the flowers that she grew were selected for their toughness: the golf-ball-sized buds of peonies that spilled out petals as they swelled into pink blossoms the size of cabbages….
  • As we dug in our garden, I listened to the lazy buzzing of bees as they staggered drunkenly from flower to flower.
  • Because the project was drawing to a close, I could calculate the exact day the lab would run out of funding. I was sitting in my office pouring over chemical prices, casting spells on dimes and trying to alchemize them into dollars, but I still couldn’t push back bankruptcy for more than a few months.
  • Sitting next to Lydia and carefully mimicking her actions didn’t turn out to be a bad way to learn sterile technique, which is more like dancing with your hands than it is like making something.
  • If you pick one up [a fruit from Celtis occidentalis] and squeeze it, however, you’ll find that the berry is as hard as a rock — mainly because it is a rock: just under its rosy skin is a shell harder than that of an oyster.
  • Thirty-found pounds of maple leaves may not taste sweet to you and me, but they actually contain enough sucrose to make three pecan pies, which is the sweetest thing that I can think of right now.
  • Vines are not sinister; they are just hopelessly ambitious.
  • He summarizes the results of all of my prenatal visits and lists the medications that I have taken in a terse and disjointed monotone, making the whole thing sound like an e. e. cummings poem that didn’t quite make his editor’s cut.
  • Immune to both mirth and sorrow, the doctor consults his watch and walk out, with the students trailing behind like the world’s lamest paparazzi following the world’s most uninteresting celebrity.
  • A couple of hours go by, during which the blood pressure cuff squeezes my arm encouragingly every twenty minutes and reminds me in happy beeps that I am doing just fine.
  • He stares at me with the calm, friendly face of a Saint Bernard who has just dug you out of the snow and who assures you that a rescue team will be here any minute, and would you like to suck on some ice chips while you wait?
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