Bonnie Garmus, a New York Times bestselling author of Lessons in Chemistry, captivated the audience at the Performing Arts Center at Coronado High School on Friday, with her quick witted humor and insight into her debut novel.
Her Feb. 24, appearance in Coronado, co-presented by the Coronado Public Library and Warwick’s bookstore, was one of only two locations on the West Coast where Garmus will be visiting in-person.
Garmus is a copy editor and creative director who has worked in the fields of medicine, technology and education. She does open water swimming and rowing, was born in California and currently lives in London.
Sitting in a red armchair on stage across from Jane Mitchell, 28-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist and Coronado local, Garmus discussed Lessons in Chemistry with the audience.
Lessons in Chemistry has been on the New York Times Bestselling list for 41 weeks, has been translated into 40 languages and almost 1.4 million copies have been sold in the U.S. alone.
Behind the book
Mitchell began the discussion by diving into Garmus’s childhood.
Garmus grew up in Riverside, and she always knew she wanted to be a writer.
In fact, she said she wrote her first book when she was five years old, and then again at 12.
Growing up in the late 1960s, Garmus said she felt limitations as a woman. She was denied a position on a paper route because “boys have stronger arms.”
At the event, Garmus pinpointed the moment she decided to write a novel about a woman chemist rising up in a male-dominated world.
Working in technology, Garmus’s male superior took credit for her own concepts at a meeting.
“So I left the meeting, and I went back to my desk, and I wrote the first chapter of Lessons in Chemistry,” Garmus said. “And that’s called constructive anger.”
About Lessons in Chemistry
The endearing Elizabeth Zott, the heroine of the novel, is all things rational, direct and logical, said Garmus.
The novel follows Elizabeth as a single mother and chemist in 1960s America. She is resilient and she refuses to put up with nonsense while finding herself the star of a cooking show.
Garmus said in reality, she was writing her role model in Elizabeth Zott.
“I knew exactly who she was and what she was going to say,” said Garmus. “When I wrote that first chapter that day, I also wrote the last three sentences of the book.”
And those three sentences remained intact throughout the whole editing process.
Long journey to publishing
The journey to getting her novel published was a long one.
Garmus said she got three-quarters of the way through the book and then stopped writing.
Her daughter sent her a link to a course for writers who needed to make it to the end of their novel.
“I did not write to the end,” Garmus said. “I failed the course.”
However, at the end of the three-month long course, well-known literary agent Felicity Blunt picked up her novel because she loved it so much.
Garmus’s first novel, Lessons in Chemistry, was published when she was 64.
High demand moves event
Due to the high demand, the event was moved to the Performing Arts Center to accommodate a larger capacity. The event was sold out with a waitlist and about 500 people attended, said Shaun Briley, director of the Coronado Public Library.
The audience came prepared with questions to follow up the discussion with Garmus and Mitchell.
During the question and answer time, Garmus shared fun bits of information: She is currently a co-executive producer of the new Apple TV+ series based on the book.
Two of her sisters and her childhood piano teacher were in the audience that night, and for the last 50 pages of the book on Audible, the woman reading was in labor.
Garmus personally signed audience members’ copies after the event.