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End-of-Summer Beach Reads with a Science Twist


Looking for good book - maybe something a little different - to see you through those final days of summer?

LabLit is different than science fiction. It's fiction that features realistic science and scientists. LabLit.com founder and editor, Jenny Rohn, is prone to getting excited over "hard-core lab scenes." But she's more focused on finding a good story than making sure the science is perfect.

"I like the Lab Lit Light stories that just have a touch - a whiff - of science, just to draw you into a new engaging world," she admitted.

You might learn something new from her recommendations, whether about tree-to-tree communication or urban foxes, but you certainly won't feel like you're in school. Here goes:

  • The Overstory, by Richard Powers, was a New York Times Bestseller and 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner. Summer is a great time to sink into it, Rohn says, because - like a very large tree - it's got a massive circumference and lots of concentric rings. It's an interlocking story spanning more than a century and nine central characters, plus the trees, who are in trouble. Rohn says it's difficult to describe, but wonderful to experience, and sure to leave you wanting to go hug a tree.
  • The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde, melds historical fiction, present-day drama, and dystopian sci-fi in a story that highlights the importance of bees, and the fact that not all scientists are successful. Rohn admits it's a bit of a downer, but beautifully written.
  • Happiness, by Aminatta Forna, is short and sweet - the story of a chance encounter between a Ghanaian psychiatrist and an American scientist studying the habits of urban foxes. Rohn says this is one of those books where the fact that the main characters are scientists is a bit superfluous; it's really about human connection and the experience of modern, urban life.
  • Love and Other Dangerous Chemicals, by Anthony Capella, stars a stereotypical, nerdy scientist studying the female orgasm. It's "absolutely, utterly ridiculous," Rohn says. And the ethics are highly questionable, to say the least. But Rohn says it's hilarious, and a perfect beach read.
  • Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver. New out in paperback this year. The book visits two time periods: 1871 and 2016 and is set in Vineland, New Jersey. It deals with a young advocate of Charles who comes to town to be the new science teacher (1871) but he’s made unwelcome by religious people in town. In 2016, a woman in Vineland is reeling from a shattered life and family. They both find inspiration -- and an unlikely kindred spirit -- in Mary Treat, a scientist, adventurer and anachronism. The house is the common thread between them. “It's kind of discovering the story of the people who used to live there,” Rohn said.

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Elsa Partan is a producer and newscaster with CAI. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.