Lessons In Chemistry is a hot book this summer, and politically timely as well. It’s about Elizabeth Zott, a chemist and mother living in California in the 1960s who faces repeated discrimination against women scientists and is forced to give up her job. Out of desperation, Zott agrees to helm an afternoon television program about cooking, where she achieves a degree of fame but still has to contend with the irrational ire of the male producer and station owner. Zott refuses to hew to societal expectations, working chemistry lessons into her cooking demonstrations and continuing to fight for equality and independence for women.
Why I picked it up: Strong word of mouth. I chose it as a Book Of The Month add-on in June.
Lessons In Chemistry is beloved across podcasts, blogs and Bookstagram, and by other readers I trust. People love Zott as a character, as well as her precocious daughter Mad and her incredibly wise dog, Six Thirty. I’ve seen the book described as “delightful”, “offbeat”, “witty” and “charming” and it is on a lot of people’s lists of the best books of the year so far. Perhaps it was in reaction to all the hype, but I just didn’t love it as much as many others have. I found the book pretty sad – a brilliant mind being kept from the discipline she loves due solely to her gender, thanks to the insecurity and cruelty of men . Garmus also really puts her characters through their paces in terms of family trauma – relentless. Finally, I found the book’s core message – “Do what you love! Don’t let anyone tell you no!” – simplistic.
So overall, Lessons in Chemistry was just OK for me. It was long – could have used a good edit – and by the end I was ready to be done. Zott was so clueless and self-absorbed sometimes that I never warmed to her as a character. The book served as a good reminder, during these depressing, turn-the-clock back days, of the need to to fight for equality, access and opportunity for women. And it felt fresh and original. But it wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year.
I listened to Lessons in Chemistry on audio. The performance by Miranda Raison was quite good. She gave Elizabeth Zott the steely confidence the character needed. In researching this post, I discovered that she is British, which makes her performance even more impressive, because I had no idea based on her accent.
Lessons In Chemistry was the 30th book of 2022 and satisfies the debut novel category of the 2022 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.