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Book Notes | ‘Lessons in Chemistry’

September 15, 2023, at 2pm

Our book group broke a record: all 14 members enjoyed reading this month’s selection, Lessons in Chemistry, a story set in the late 1950s and 1960s. We liked the characters, especially the intrepid chemist Elizabeth Zott who stayed strong in spite of attempts to quash (and steal) her pioneering work and fought unwanted sexual advances. 

When she landed work at the Hastings Research Institute, she and Nobel Prize winner Calvin Evans fell in love and lived together for two years. Mad, their daughter, was born after Calvin's quirky, accidental death. 

Fired from Hastings, Elizabeth developed a lab in her kitchen. When offered a chance to host a TV show, "Supper at Six, " she did it her own way—teaching women chemistry as she cooked and raising her viewers' sense of self-worth. The show became wildly popular. 

Some elements of the book felt implausible, but, as one member commented, "It's like opera, you just go with it." Our group liked Elizabeth's precocious daughter Mad, their thoughtful dog Six-Thirty, who learned hundreds of words, and the men who cared for Elizabeth. 

One book club member said the novel reminds us of where we were; another said we must tell our stories to the next generation. We shared some real-life examples, remembering when women were excluded from the University of Minnesota Marching Band and the U's Campus Club. Other restrictions on women raised in our discussion included a married woman not being able to attend nursing school in 1957; a wife not able to buy a car without a signature from her husband or father. 

One member was part of the Shyamala Rajender sexual discrimination case against the University of Minnesota 50 years ago and reminded us how that landmark lawsuit affected departments throughout the University. 

I'd say Lessons in Chemistry is a “must read” book. 

— Judy Helgen, UMRA Book Club I




Book Club I in September

Fri, Sep 15 2023, 2pm

Event to be held via Zoom.

Judy Helgen will lead the discussion of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus when the UMRA Book Club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, September 15.

Email Pat Tollefson for more information, including suggestions for starting a new book club. 

Go to Book Notes to read summaries of the book club members' discussions.

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