All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

on December 5, 2022

Lessons In Chemistry
Bonnie Garmus
Doubleday
2022, 400p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Your ability to change everything – including yourself – starts here.

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.

But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute take 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.

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.

This was on my radar for a long time, probably since just before it was released. I had an eBook copy I picked up but I ended up reading it in print from my local library, which I have been frequenting a lot lately! I had a lot of things requested and of course they all started to come in at once and all during the time I am super deep into finishing my final assignments for this semester. I have been trying to give myself a little time to read 100 or so pages a day of a book but I have to admit with this one, I read just over 100p on the first day and the next, I ended up finishing it.

I thought this was a wonderful story, harnessing the frustrations of women who are constrained into roles that they are ill suited for and do not wish to have thrust upon them. There’s no denying that Elizabeth Zott is highly intelligent and a gifted scientist but she is run out of a Ph.D program and forced into menial tasks at her place of employment, subjected to sexual harassment and denigrated because she’s quite beautiful and no one who is that beautiful could ever be clever as well. She earns the ire of men and women alike and that only increases when she begins a relationship with equally gifted scientist Calvin Evans.

There is warmth and humour in this, but also heartbreak and frustration. Elizabeth is desperate to be able to work, to exercise her mine and explore her ideas. It’s clear that she’ll never be seen as an equal by most of the other male scientists but they have no qualms taking her work and slapping their names on it, even though they can’t explain her ideas and research. Recently I was reading a thread on reddit I think, about things women are asked to do in their workplace simply because they are women, things like: making tea or coffee for people, being asked to ‘tidy up’ or bake something for a morning tea, take notes in meetings despite being in senior positions, even organise baby showers and gifts for pregnant colleagues, even if they do not have children and there are plenty of men in the office that do. Men in offices often show a sort of weaponised incompetence for organisational but menial tasks. If people enjoy doing these things, that’s fine. There are plenty of people that love to bake or buy gifts. But men, especially those in more senior roles assuming women should undertake the tasks because they are women is often the most common reason. Elizabeth is working in the 1950s and it shows in every day slurs, sexism and attitudes. Even when she is given a TV show for her charisma, despite the fact that she is incredibly popular, that she is doing something, they want to vamp her up, put her into a box, shoehorn her into a role that plays down her intelligence and plays up on her beauty. Thankfully though, Elizabeth is like a bulldozer, ‘no this won’t work’-ing her way through every tight dress she’s asked to wear and blithely ignoring inane scripts and talking to the camera in her own way, utilising her own personality to connect with women across the country.

The book I read after this reinforced how far there still is to go for women in terms of, well everything. But this book I feel like harnessed the frustration of a woman who just wants to be left alone to do a job she’s good at and enjoys. She doesn’t want to be fussed over, she didn’t want to be famous. All she wanted was a well equipped lab and when she couldn’t have one of those, she basically built her own. No matter what happens to her, she just keeps going and doesn’t let anyone drag her down, even when things are quite honestly, very dire for her. And she manages to surround herself with people who support her (even though some of them, it’s not right away) and I really enjoyed her relationship with her neighbour, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage.

Fun but with so much underlying seriousness.

8/10

Book #193 of 2022

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