Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A few months ago I was reading through my April issue of Bon Appetit magazine when I stumbled upon a personal essay called “It Was Quite Possibly the Worst First Date Ever. Then I Ordered the Scallops.” It was one of the funniest things I had read in quite a while. I read it aloud – in its entirety – to my husband that night. 

At the end of the essay was a tag that really got my attention: Bonnie Garmus is the author of the novel Lessons in Chemistry, in bookstores now and soon to be a limited series on Apple TV+. I immediately added her book to my TBR list on Goodreads and Amazon (waiting for a Kindle deal or a gift card from a student). I also jumped in the queue on Libby, figuring I’d read it in the first place I could get to it. Yes, all this off of one essay about a “bad date” and a plate of scallops.

My good intentions of waiting to read this on my library card failed me, however, and when I stopped in for a haircut at my favorite shopping center, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the Barnes & Noble next door where I promptly laid down full price for the hardback. Yes, off of one essay. 

I vowed not to start reading it until my school year was over, as a treat of sorts, to celebrate the summer off. A week later, school was out and while packing for a trip to California to visit our younger daughter, I managed to refrain from packing the hardback, looking longingly at it on my nightstand as we left at the crack of dawn for our flight. 

A few days into the trip, hallelujah, an alert from Libby that I was up next on the waitlist for the ebook version! Feeling just a bit guilty about taking a copy of the ebook out of circulation when I already had purchased the hardback, I downloaded it and began reading it immediately. It only took a few lines to remind me of this author’s witty writing style and why I so loved that essay. I mean, there’s a reason this book is being adapted by Apple TV for a series starring Brie Larson!

Even with a hectic five days visiting my daughter and taking full advantage of the California weather and the largely unused pool at our hotel, I finished the book on the last day of our trip–bittersweet, I must say, because I loved this book and I hated for it to end. In fact, it is my favorite book out of all my summer reading! My obsessive googling provided me with this shocking bit of news: IT’S HER FIRST EVER NOVEL! Debut novels are not usually this good or optioned by a major streaming service or represented by the one and only wife of Stanley Tucci, literary agent Felicity Blunt, which I learned in the author’s acknowledgments.

Since this is supposed to be a book review and not a love letter from a new fan, let me say that the writing is crisp and the story moves along at a good clip. One of the things I loved most about this book is that it models one of my favorite lines: There is a lid for every pot. There is someone out there perfect for you, if only you are open to the possibility, if you are willing to compromise, if you can look past external factors and judge a person by his or her character. Unfortunately, it also models another saying I’m very familiar with: Bad things happen to good people. No spoilers here, however, you’ll have to read this book to understand this. 

The storyline is equal parts funny and poignant. The main characters are so well developed I had an entire cast list of actors that I thought would be perfect for the roles. I’m sure Brie Larson is a wonderful actress but I have pictured Emily Deschanel as Elizabeth Zott and I think Jim Parsons could easily pull off Calvin Evans. Yes, I know I am slightly typecasting both of these actors based upon their most famous roles to date, but hey, that’s what I pictured in my head while I was reading. So, I am a forever fan of Bonnie Garmus, and I will wait patiently for her next book, and the one after that, and the one after that. I highly recommend that you tuck into Lessons in Chemistry before the Apple series premiers. Check out her scallops essay while you are at it!

Should I Put an Egg on It?

I am a very adventurous eater. I will taste just about anything, and my lemon curd tartlist of things I hate is very, very small. Lychee nuts and eggs. Yes, eggs. I don’t eat eggs unless they are beaten up in a cake batter or the whites have been whipped into a meringue sitting on top of egg yolks that have been beaten into a rich and creamy lemon curd, baked into a beautiful pastry shell.

lycheeMy first taste of a lychee nut was in 2002 in a restaurant Waterloo, Belgium, where we ordered chocolate fondue for a family dessert. The pot of gorgeous, glossy, dark chocolate sat atop a platter of just about anything you can imagine for dipping: cookies, pretzels, banana slices, pineapple chunks, marshmallows, strawberries, and then something I had never seen before. A quick word with the waiter confirmed it was a lychee. I tried it. I didn’t like it. It tasted like soap to me, perfumed soap.

scrambled eggsI’m told that I was fed scrambled eggs as a baby and spit them out immediately. My mother even tried arranging the scrambled eggs in a smiley face pattern on the plate to entice me into eating them, to no avail. Eventually she gave up and never offered me eggs any other way: boiled, fried, poached. I just opted out of eggs altogether with no further experimentation.

This was no big surprise because in truth, my mother didn’t eat eggs either. She worried that she had somehow influenced her first born into not liking them either. My first cousin, Penny, also doesn’t eat eggs. That makes three of us, so it seems to be genetic. Except that my father and my two brothers could have happily lived off of eggs. My dad liked them any kind of way, and for a while we had one of those old-fashioned egg poaching pots with a metal insert that held the little poaching cups suspended over the boiling water. He also loved a fried egg with his grits.

no eggAt all family get-togethers, my mother was in charge of the potato salad. She made really great potato salad and everyone in town knew it. She frequently made ten pounds of potato salad for receptions after funerals at our church. Of course, when she made the potato salad for our family, it was always divided into two bowls, one with hard-boiled eggs and one without, just for Penny, my mom, and me. Boy, do I miss her. My brother John Roy made potato salad for the reception after my dad’s funeral in May of 2015, and because of Penny and me, he left the eggs out. It was delicious, and with one bite I nearly started crying. Already melancholic over the loss of my dad, tasting my brother’s potato salad brought me right back to my mother. I have tried numerous times, but I don’t think I will ever get it just like hers, or in fact, just like his.

omeletMy husband loves eggs. When we go out for breakfast or brunch, he almost always orders an omelet. In theory, this sounds delicious to me. Cheese, onions, peppers, sausage, all sautéed together. But then add scrambled eggs to that and it is just not appealing to me. I feel the same way about frittata and quiche, although I do have a quiche recipe that I will eat. The secret is that the ratio of cheese to eggs is way out of proportion in my favor. I got the recipe from a co-worker’s wife decades ago. Let me know if you want me to share it with you.

magazine coverEggs are huge right now. Magazine covers, podcasts, Food Network cooking shows, eggs are everywhere. Bon Appétit’s April cover declares, “Put an Egg on It”. They followed up on April 12th with a podcast devoted solely to eggs. I listened intently. Poached eggs are still big apparently, but fried eggs are surprisingly huge, too. The podcast’s discussion on the fried egg centered on the use of olive oil as the fat, with “crispy edges”, and I must say that does sound appetizing. There was also a great deal of discussion about the “jammy egg” which apparently is a soft-boiled egg that can be peeled and sliced in half as opposed to eaten directly out of the shell. (That’s a six and a half-minute egg, in case you are wondering.) jammy eggJammy eggs are really popular right now plopped down in the center of a bowl of steaming ramen. I love ramen, but I’m not sure I want to mess that up with a runny yolk dripping all over my noodles.

So, the question is: Should I put an egg on it? Should I give eggspoached egg
another try? I mean, it’s been a really long time since I was a toddler spitting out scrambled eggs. Where would I start? I feel like Julia Roberts in that scene from The Runaway Bride. Oh, well, the jury is still out. In the meantime, I’ll have the potato salad and the ramen, hold the egg.