Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

TitleLessons in Chemistry
AuthorBonnie Garmus
Length394 pages
Notable InformationNY Times best seller; NY Times Notable Book of 2022
GMA Book Club pick,
Apple TV+ Series coming later in 2023
Finished ReadingApril 17, 2023

In 1961 Elizabeth Zott is a chemist struggling to make her way in the male dominated world. Furious that another girl is taking her daughter’s lunch at school she marches down to the TV studio where the girl’s father, Walter Pine, works.

“Supper at Six debuted four weeks later. And while Elizabeth wasn’t entirely keen on the idea – she was a research chemist – she took the job for the usual reasons: it paid more and she had a child to support.”

Page 6

We then drop back in time to see how Elizabeth Zott came to that place where she became the host of a  local TV cooking show. We follow her family life, misogynistic -driven struggles pursuing chemistry in college, finding her partner, Calvin, raising her daughter as a single mother, and career challenges. The short version of her career problems:

“Frask thought. ‘Well, I spread vicious rumors about your mother, which culminated in her firing, which led directly to her state of penury, which led to an eventual return to Hastings [Research Institute], which led to your mother screaming at me in the women’s bathroom, which led to the discovery that we’d both been sexually assaulted, which led to our inability to get our PhDs, which led to unfulfilling careers in a company led by a handful of incompetent [a-holes].'”

Page 348

Under Zott, who approaches cooking as a chemist would, the show transforms beyond managements understanding. Taking women seriously gives them the ability to break out of their “wife” roles. 

“…Supper at Six is not just an introduction to chemistry, … It’s a thirty-minute five-day-a-week lesson in life. And not in who we are or what we’re made of, but rather, who we’re capable of becoming.”

Page 334

Elizabeth is intelligent and gritty and has many obstacles to overcome. Is that enough for anyone – let alone a woman – to succeed?

“It was a form of naïveté, [Calvin] thought, the way she continued to believe that all it took to get through life was grit. Sure, grit was critical, but it also took luck, and if luck wasn’t available, then help. Everyone needed help. But maybe because she’d never been offered any, she refused to believe in it.”

Page 74

Many of the characters in the novel need help. Through her show and in her life Elizabeth Zott provides the inspiration for many in her circle to break down the barriers they face and move forward in life. There are many dominoes that are carefully lined up through the novel so they can all fall beautifully in place and Elizabeth can find her rightful place as a pioneer in women’s liberation movement.

Despite the serious subject, the novel has a comic undertone. Their dog, Six-Thirty, knows hundreds of words and does all it can to keep the family safe. I love how six-thirty got its name [sorry, you’ll have to read the novel to find out]. Through Calvin, Elizabeth is introduced to the sport of rowing; I chuckled when I read this description.

“To get to the point where rowing might resemble skinning, you’ve probably reached the Olympic level and the look on your face as you fly down the racecourse is not one of calm satisfaction but controlled agony. This is sometimes accompanied by a look of determination – usually one that indicates that right after this race is over, you plan to find a new sport.”

Page 62

And this serio-comic take on parenthood (One of many) is hilariously true.

Having a baby, Elizabeth realized, was a little like living with a visitor from a distant planet. There was certain amount of give and take as the visitor learned our ways and you learned theirs, but gradually their ways faded and your ways stuck.

Page 162

This is a highly entertaining book of a serious subject. If you are one of the few people who haven’t heard of it, pick it up.

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