Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
#20 this week
Rosepoint Publishing: Five Stars
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • ONE OF NPR’s BEST BOOKS OF 2022
A must-read debut! Meet Elizabeth Zott: a one-of-a-kind scientist in 1960s California whose career takes a detour when she becomes the unlikely star of a beloved TV cooking show in this novel that is “irresistible, satisfying and full of fuel. It reminds you that change takes time and always requires heat” (The New York Times Book Review).
“It’s the world versus Elizabeth Zott, an extraordinary woman determined to live on her own terms, and I had no trouble choosing a side…. A page-turning and highly satisfying tale: zippy, zesty, and Zotty.” —Maggie Shipstead, best-selling author of Great Circle
Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.
But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.
Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.
In the kitchen, bare foot and pregnant—oft repeated back then.
Neither my cousin nor I were considered for any kind of serious college education because back then women were—in the kitchen, ironing, cooking, cleaning, and having babies (see point 1). You don’t need an education to be just a housewife. Right…
And here is Elizabeth Zott, brainiac and early 1960s chemist, fending off unwanted advances at Hastings Research Institute.
Mz. Zott is fired when she gets pregnant, unwed. She met and fell in love with Calvin Evans, her intellect equal, brilliant, a Nobel-prize winner. But she refused to marry him and become background to Mr. Calvin Evans. He’s as socially stunted as she. They click beautifully—there is real chemistry here—but his unexpected death finds her with child and without a job.
In the meantime, the author racks up some amazing characters, most well drawn sufficient to draw conclusions as to whether or not they are likable or loathsome. A few were the latter—admittedly men—but not all of them. Six-thirty, the dog, is amazing and actually has his own POV. Yes, it dips heavily into anthropomorphism but works well.
When she finds herself a single mother with an extremely precocious four-year-old who is being taken advantage of at school, she demands to talk to the father and comes away with a new job; too broke to say no to being host of a cooking show on TV. Called “Supper at Six” she has very simple ideas on how to handle it–chemically. The station’s managers want her to dump the lab coat for a sexy dress. Not going to happen. It’s not a kitchen–it’s a lab. And the demographic loves it.
Yes, there is blatant sexism (that’s the way it was then), atheism, the glass ceiling, and possibly a few liberties using more recent scenarios in the atmosphere of the 60s decade. Sorry it fell back to Elizabeth being beautiful–couldn’t she have been just an average-looking woman?
Not uncommon then for a woman to downplay their own intelligence in a male-dominated world, but she does not. There are subtle bits of humor and the audible chuckle kind and I suspect there are probably more women forty and over who can laugh the loudest, identify the most, connect more strongly than the younger women.
I downloaded a copy of this audiobook from my local very well-stocked library—this being a prime example and I thoroughly enjoyed the narrators. Thought to be the barn-burner for 2022, there were also some critical thoughts on it—but you can’t say it isn’t engaging. Highly entertaining, intelligent, fast-paced maybe.
There’s real chemistry here. How did you feel about it?
Genre: Humorous Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, General Humorous Fiction
Publisher: Random House Audio
Listening Length: 11 hrs 55 mins
Narrators: Bonnie Garmus, Miranda Raison, Pandora Sykes
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Links: Lessons in Chemistry [Amazon]
Lessons in Chemistry [Amazon.uk] #11 this week
Barnes & Noble
The Author: Bonnie Garmus is a copywriter and creative director who has worked for a wide range of clients, in the US and abroad, focusing primarily on technology, medicine, and education. She’s an open water swimmer, a rower, and mother to two pretty amazing daughters. Most recently from Seattle, she currently lives in London with her husband and her dog, 99.
©2022 V Williams