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Book Rec: Lessons in Chemistry

“No surprise. Idiots make it into every company. They tend to interview well.”

I’m sure you’ve already seen the hype for Apple TV’s movie version, but Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry is not your average beach read. The protagonist, Elizabeth Zott, is unapologetic and inspiring. Set in the 1960s, Zott is a chemist living in an unpredictable and sexist world. 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.

Years later, Zott finds herself a single woman and reluctant star of an acclaimed 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, Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Lessons in Chemistry comically tackles feminism and rationalism.

It’s different. It’s funny. It’s full of fuel.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your overall impression of Elizabeth Zott? Do you think she handled the constant sexism well? How would you have responded in similar situations?

  2. Zott refused to accept the limits placed on her by society. How do other characters in the novel rise to her challenge of testing societal norms?

  3. Discuss your thoughts on Six Thirty and his ability to learn a vast vocabulary. In the book, he struggles to understand the word “smart,” finding its very definition unintelligent. What does “smart” actually mean to you?

  4. How does Zott’s upbringing and volatile relationship with her parents impact her relationships as an adult? How does Zott’s upbringing of Mad impact her ability to grow relationally?

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