A packed house of nearly 500 eager readers laughed and gained insights from author Bonnie Garmus on her New York Times bestseller “Lessons in Chemistry,” as she was interviewed by long-time Coronado resident Jane Mitchell, a 28-time Emmy award-winning journalist, on February 24, at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.
Not to give too much away, in case you haven’t read the book, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 41 weeks and counting, the main character Elizabeth Zott was created by Garmus as a role model of someone she would like to be friends with. The quirky, loveable character and supporting cast, including a brilliant dog named 6:30, has resonated with the nearly 1.4 million readers who have purchased the book in 40 languages.
Garmus shared that the book deals with the issue of sexism in the 1950s and 1960s through Zott’s experiences with the all-male scientific research team. The one exception is Calvin Evans, whose eccentricities mesh with her own. An early example from Garmus’ childhood, she shared that at the age of nine her mother drove her to the Riverside Press-Enterprise to apply for a paper route job, and was promptly told that only boys were hired for the position, since they had better throwing arms. Garmus laughed as she reminisced that her dad had instilled competitiveness and taught her and her three sisters, two of whom were in the audience, to hit balls out of the park. She is also a competitive rower, which is also a passion of Zott’s in the book.
Research for the book was interesting, Garmus pointed out, because she couldn’t just google the formulas for the scientific parts of the book, but rather had to rely on era-appropriate science textbooks for accuracy. In “Lessons in Chemistry,” Zott navigates life as a single mother, as her neighbor Harriet becomes an integral part of their lives with teachable moments. In an unpredictable turn of events, Zott becomes the unlikely host of “Supper at Six,” where she is the opposite of the stereotype she is asked to portray, but audiences love the confidence-building she imparts. Interestingly, Garmus has never watched cooking shows, so she had to research that, along with the intricate homemaking coffee process with beakers and Bunsen burners that Zott creates in her home.
Knowing she wanted to be a writer, Garmus wrote her first book at age five, which her daughters still tease her about to this day. She penned her next book at 12. She got used to rejection letters as she submitted other novels for publication and is overjoyed to finally be a published author at age 64. She landed in the literary world with a career as a copy editor and creative director, working in the fields of technology, medicine, and education. The catalyst for writing “Lessons in Chemistry” came from a meeting she had where she gave a presentation and then a man took credit for her ideas. Afterwards, she promptly went to her desk and in a fit of constructive anger wrote the first chapter. She also wrote the last three sentences, which remained as the book’s ending. Zott is based on a minor character from one of her previous manuscripts.
Garmus took a writing course, recommended by her daughter, when she was three-quarters of the way done with the book. She laughs as she noted that she failed the course, but ended up connecting with Felicity Blunt, a well-known literary agent, who also happens to be married to actor and chef Stanley Tucci. “Lessons in Chemistry” will soon be brought to life as a series on Apple TV, on which she is a co-executive producer, noting that it is one of the easiest jobs, because she reads scripts, makes notes, and hopes they use them.
She grew up in Riverside, California, but moved to South America at age 13, and now lives in London with her husband and dog, 99, named for “Get Smart.” By the way, the dog in the book, named 6:30, was based on her family’s incredibly smart rescue dog named Friday, who would help her find her keys when she was looking for them (you’ll have to read the book to understand the name’s origin).
During the presentation, Garmus pointed out her childhood piano teacher in the audience, who had been an inspirational role model for her. I highly recommend this book and guarantee you will be entertained as Zott applies science to all aspects of her life, creating chaos along the way.
Interested in watching the full event? You can watch it on YouTube with thanks to Jane Mitchell for sharing it with The Coronado Times:
The Coronado Library hosts a variety of outstanding literary, art, and music opportunities. This event was co-presented with Warwick’s bookstore and was only one of seven stops on Garmus’ book tour. I also recently attended the interesting book event at the Coronado Library, with Emmy winning writer Edward Zuckerman, who started his career as a journalist, has written two non-fiction books, and then wrote for numerous television shows, including Miami Vice, Blue Bloods, and Law and Order, and has now written his first novel, “Wealth Management.”
Upcoming events include best-selling author of more than 20 novels Kristin Hannah, in conversation with Susan Elizabeth Phillips, about her new book “The Four Winds,”, on March 15 at 7 pm, at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.
For tickets and details on all upcoming events, check out coronado.librarycalendar.com/events/upcoming.