May 2022 Book Club Recommendation: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A Love Reading Star Book and Debut of the Month, Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry is a wonder. Perhaps best summed up as being a funny, feminist Mad Men set in the sexist world of science through the 1950s and 60s, it’s fired-up by the indomitable spirit of its main character, the unforgettable Elizabeth Zott, who refuses to bow to convention through her trail-blazing life.

After finding and losing love, Elizabeth blends her brilliance in the fields of chemistry and cookery when she’s invited to front a TV show that transforms women’s lives as much it transforms what American housewives put on the table. “There’s nothing average about the average housewife”, she asserts before proceeding to tear up all rules of TV cookery shows, and commonly-held views about the lives women can lead.

Incredibly funny, moving and radiant with life-affirming, boundary-breaking nourishment, we reckon it’s a great choice for book club chats. Before you dig into the discussion questions below, read our review of Lessons in Chemistry. You might also want to discover more great novels for your book club chats, and more reading group questions to get your discussions going.

  • “One thing I’ve learned, Calvin: people will always yearn for a simple solution to their complicated problems. It’s a lot easier to have faith in something you can’t see, can’t touch, can’t explain, and can’t change, rather than to have faith in something you actually can”. Do you agree with Elizabeth’s statement? How does it relate to the themes of the novel?

  • “They both lay silently, both wading in the misery of their pasts”. Discuss the effects Calvin and Elizabeth’s pasts might have had on their lives, and why they were drawn to each other.

  • Discuss Elizabeth’s statement that, “Cooking is a serious science. In fact, it’s chemistry”. Discuss in relation to contemporary cooks and chefs, and in relation to gender.

  • “Life wasn’t a hypothesis one could test and retest without consequence — something always crashed eventually”. What’s the significance of Calvin’s statement? It is true?

  • “That’s the problem. No one knows me”. Unpack the significance of this sentence in relation to Elizabeth’s life and the novel’s wider context.

  • “Six-Thirty wasn’t human, but he seemed to possess a humanity that far surpassed what she’d found in most people”.  Discuss the role played by Elizabeth and Calvin’s dog, Six-Thirty. What did his character contribute to your experience of the novel?

  • Were you shocked with Calvin’s storyline? Did it come as a total surprise? What did you think of the way the author related this part of the novel, and the immediate aftermath of how Elizabeth is treated?

  • “Idiots make it into every company. They tend to interview well”. Discuss in relation to Elizabeth’s character, her employer, and your own workplace experiences.

  • ‘“A woman telling me what pregnancy is. Who do you think you are?” [Elizabeth] seemed surprised by the question. “A woman”’. Discuss this exchange in relation to the writer’s style, and your own experiences.

  • Consider Harriet Sloane’s character in relation to the novel’s feminist themes. 

  • What did you think of the novel’s ending? Was it satisfying? Were you surprised by the revelations of the final chapters?

  • “Courage is the root of change” is one of the pieces of advice Elizabeth offers her viewers. What did you take from reading Lessons in Chemistry? Did you learn anything from the novel or Elizabeth? Would you recommend it?

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