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Pickle Me This

September 16, 2020

The Smallest Lights in the Universe, by Sara Seager

Space made news this week with the discovery of possible life on Venus, and what was most exciting for me about this development was that on the team of researchers who’d made this discovery was Dr. Sara Seager, MIT Astrophysicist and author of Smallest Lights in the Universe, which I was reading last week. Can you imagine discovering alien lifeforms and releasing an emotionally powerful memoir all in the same season?

But then Sara Seager doesn’t do anything in an ordinary fashion, as the reader discovers. She write about her unconventional childhood growing up in Toronto, how her passion for astronomy grew, how she found her way to marriage and family, and how she endured the loss of her husband, who had kept their domestic life afloat while Seager had her head in the outer-reaches of space, developing theories of exoplanets that had seemed like fiction when she began her work in the 1990s. She writes too about her recent diagnosis on the autism spectrum, and her singular point of view in this regard is what makes her memoir so fascinating. When her first husband was interested in her, she writes, she initially rejected his advances, because she just wasn’t that into people, and her strongest feeling toward her fellow humans was “tolerance. I also loved the straightforwardness with which she writes about motherhood, which she was never ambivalent about, but which was hard to balance with a busy career, and even moreso after she became a solo parent. These kinds of ideas have been expressed so many times, but Seager manages to do so devoid of the usual cliches and with a fresh and interesting perspective. Further, her quest to learn what can be discovered in the outer reaches of the universe, her belief in other possibilities, in different worlds, is the kind of perspective than seems urgently necessary now, when we need curiosity and imagination more than ever.

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