“Lessons in Chemistry”

Bonnie Garmus

I’m a little tempted to include a chart of my progress in this book over time; talk about a hockey stick.

The first third of the book or so is just brutal. I remember seeing someone online say that they’d just read the book recently and found it a quick, light read, and thinking to myself what the hell book were you reading? Because the first part of the book is anything but light and quick. It’s a litany of all the micro- and macro-aggressions a woman faced in the 1950s, trying to be a chemist. 1 And there’s something of a Murphy’s Law feel to it, too, because not only is she dealing with the rampant sexism, but everything else that can go wrong, does.

I spent the first month of trying to read the book caught up in that. I could only make it through a chapter or two at a time, and then I needed a break; it was just so disheartening, so crushing.2

But roughly a third of the way through, it finally turns a corner, and that’s where I switched from plodding through out of a sense of obligation from highly it was recommended to me to “oh, shoot, I need to put the book down so I can get some sleep tonight.” The light appears at the end of the tunnel, the tragic backstory is established, and now we can get into her actually doing things the way she wants instead of being entirely overpowered.

And from then on out, the book is amazing. It’s full of little bits of comedy that are just perfectly executed; perspective shifts and timeline hops all over and only once was I even briefly confused by the combination. The world is still the same one that gave her the tragic backstory, but now it’s being changed for the better, and it’s a happier timeline than the one we’re in.3

So now, here I am, recommending this book as highly as it was recommended to me. It’s really tough at first, but the payoff is so very worth it. Give it a read.4

  1. Or rather, trying to do her work as a chemist while everyone around her tried to stop her—she absolutely is a chemist, just one facing far more obstacles than anyone else in the building.
  2. And these aren’t long chapters, either.
  3. I mean, I can’t guarantee that the 2023 of her world would be better than ours, but I can’t help but think that a world where the housewives of the 1950s had a robust education in chemistry and feminism courtesy of daytime TV would wind up in a better place than we are now. At very least we’d probably be a few decades ahead on the “stop consuming weird preservatives” thing.
  4. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

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