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An ambitious debut, at once timely and timeless, that captures the complexity and joys of modern womanhood. This novel is gem like—in its precision, its many facets, and its containing multitudes. Following in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Rona Jaffe, Maggie Shipstead, and Sheila Heti, Jana Casale writes with bold assurance about the female experience.
We first meet Leda in a coffee shop on an average afternoon, notable only for the fact that it’s the single occasion in her life when she will eat two scones in one day. And for the cute boy reading American Power and the New Mandarins. Leda hopes that, by engaging him, their banter will lead to romance. Their fleeting, awkward exchange stalls before flirtation blooms. But Leda’s left with one imperative thought: she decides she wants to read Noam Chomsky. So she promptly buys a book and never—ever—reads it.
As the days, years, and decades of the rest of her life unfold, we see all of the things Leda does instead, from eating leftover spaghetti in her college apartment, to fumbling through the first days home with her newborn daughter, to attempting (and nearly failing) to garden in her old age. In a collage of these small moments, we see the work—both visible and invisible—of a woman trying to carve out a life of meaning. Over the course of her experiences Leda comes to the universal revelation that the best-laid-plans are not always the path to utter fulfillment and contentment, and in reality there might be no such thing. Lively and disarmingly honest, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is a remarkable literary feat—bracingly funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and truly feminist in its insistence that the story it tells is an essential one.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.15(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.78(d)|
About the Author
JANA CASALE has a BFA in fiction from Emerson College and an MSt in creative writing from Oxford. Originally from Lexington, Massachusetts, she currently resides in Boston with her husband. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Deciding to Read Noam Chomsky
“I’d like to read noam chomsky,” Leda said. At this point in her life she had a stack of books she kept by the bed and a splinter in her right hand. She should have thought more closely about cleaning out her microwave. She had class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Each week she’d sit in the window seat at the back of her school’s library and study. On this day she had cried listening to “All You Need Is Love” as she took the subway to school. She didn’t want people to know she was crying, so she took great care to blink away as many tears as she could, but she did so hope that there was nothing you could do that couldn’t be done. She ate a partially crushed scone as she studied that afternoon. Later she’d have another scone before bed. This was the only time in her life she consumed multiple scones in one day. As she ate she thought about the boy who lived in the apartment across the street and the word Umbria. The scone was blueberry, and after she finished it she folded up the wax paper and put it in her left coat pocket.
Excerpted from "The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky"
Copyright © 2019 Jana Casale.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS...
1. Following Leda from her formative years in college through to her death allows for a macro perspective on her life, and yet we (and she) find the greatest meaning in small moments, “the little pieces of her life that fit together seamlessly and without touching” (239). Which moments in the novel stood out to you as most formative? Consider both those that are traditional life landmarks (marriage, having a baby, etc.) and those that are more unique to her.
2. What role do books and writing serve in Leda’s life, and how do they meet different needs over time? In light of this question, what do you think the title means? Do you think never having read the Noam Chomsky book she buys is a failure of sorts? Or does it say something else about her character?
3. When Leda makes her first forays into romantic life and long-term friendships, the Internet and social media are increasingly prevalent in her peers’ communication and sense of connection. How does she succumb to and resist the pressures of online dating (the “antithesis” to fertility, she says ), and other impersonal connections with her girlfriends and boyfriends? Does her experience seem true to life in today’s age? How does it compare to women’s concerns about relationships five, ten, twenty, or fifty years ago?
4. Which of Leda’s female friends provides her with the most support and insight? Consider even her most fleeting and troublesome interactions, such as those with Rochelle and the moms in her neighborhood. What is it about the friendships that endure, and where do some people fall short of being truly supportive?
5. How do the women in the novel stand up to and/or fall prey to the expectations of men when it comes to how they see their bodies, sex, romantic fulfillment, career advancement and independence, parenting, etc.? When does Leda, despite her assured personality, find herself wanting to please men more than herself, and what are the repercussions for her sense of self-worth?
6. Discuss mother-daughter relationships in the book. How do certain themes, especially with regard to how mothers influence their daughters’ visions of themselves, carry over from one generation to the next, and how do the women all adapt to changing times? Compare Leda’s conversation with Annabelle about the Barbie with her memory of her ballet class performance (when she gets the dinosaur puppet that she specifically didn’t want). How do we see mother-daughter dynamics operating in each moment?
7. How does Leda feel about aging at different times in her life? Note the differences, too, in how she and John age, and whether this reveals nuances of their particular characters or characteristics of women and men in general.
8. Leda often says or suggests that she knows what she wants, and even claims when she gets engaged that “it felt like adult life, in the way she had envisioned when she was very young” (176). Does she really know what she wants, in the end, and do you think life turns out as she truly expected it to?
9. How did you feel about Leda’s ability to peruse her writing ambitions? Recall how she tells Annabelle about her passions and what happens in the community writing group, when she resurrects her orca story. Does Leda seem satisfied with her decisions about writing?
10. Describe how the passage of time is rendered in the novel. Do certain periods seem to move more quickly or slowly than others? Why do you think that is? What effect did that have on your engagement with Leda’s major life milestones?
11. Where is Leda most at home, if anywhere? How does her close-knit circle of friends and family fit with your vision of modern life? In this respect, how would the book be different if it were set in another time period?
12. Were there moments in Leda’s life that you related to more or less than others? How can these specific examples of one person’s experiences be extrapolated into bigger truths about our human condition, or, as she puts it, the “innate truth of womanhood” (343)?
13. Do you have a “Noam Chomsky” in your library—a book that you mean to read but never do? What is its significance in your life, and why do you think you haven’t read it yet?
ABOUT THIS GUIDE...
The questions, discussion topics, and other material that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation of The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky, a searingly intimate chronicle of a modern woman’s life as she navigates love, work, motherhood, and her creative ambitions, told in a voice that’s imbued with the often hilarious absurdity of life even in the face of heartbreak and loss.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Couldn't stop reading this one. It really pulls you through all the honest highs and lows of an entire life, and yet still somehow manages to be irreverent, funny and fun along the way. I also can't believe this didn't get more attention for how special the book's angle is. The writer writes with such a strong female perspective, but examines the life of a women who is also supposed to be "modern" but ends up living a life more "traditional." There's something so heartfelt and subtle in her take on something so complicated as that. It's essential stuff.
To be completely honest, I struggled with this novel at the beginning. I almost gave up on it but after about the 20% mark, I started to enjoy it. Leda was going through a rough time and she just needed someone to understand her. Leda spoke a lot in the novel about how she always wanted to be linear, which I implied, she meant she wanted to be slim, attractive or desirable. Leda is basically lonely, she needs someone, anyone. She dreams about boys, daydreaming about having relationships with them. Leda head was full of conversations that she would have with friends, these friends were her imaginary friends because in real life, Leda didn’t have any friends. Leda needed to do something with her life to find someone to connect with. When she signed up for an art appreciation class, she met John. This is when the speed of the novel picks up and gets interesting. John was a bit odd himself, so they were perfect for one another. John is offered a job in California and he wants Leda to go with him. Reluctant at first, Leda leaves everyone and everything behind and follow John. I liked how John allows Leda to stay at home yet Leda decides this is too boring, even as she tries to continue her career as a writer. Leda tries a variety of activities in the novel from joining a Meetup group, to returning to her grade school research topic, to getting a job at a coffee shop. It seems that Leda is always searching to find herself and match it with happiness and contentment. John in the meantime is working and enjoying his relationship with Leda. He is content with his life. Years pass quickly and Leda realizes that John hasn’t made any effort to put a ring on her finger which angers her. Ready to walk away, John finally commits to Leda but Leda still not content. I begin to wonder; will she ever be? The beginning of the novel was confusing but I liked the novel as I liked Leda search for herself. She was one of those individuals who wanted it all, yet what was it that she was searching for? I wished that Leda had set some goals so at least she would have felt like she accomplished some things along her life. I do feel that Leda felt that she did happy with parts of her life, especially with Annabelle. I enjoyed this story. I received this novel from NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. in exchange for an honest review.
Touching, funny, and entertaining. I’d be easy to compare Casale to a lot of great writers, but one of the best things about her writing in how new it feels. It’s nice to see a serious novel that isn’t dry or bleak, but instead actually entertaining. She pulls from pop-culture for part of her tone that keeps it readable. Like the sitcom, "Seinfeld," Casale fills the spaces up with the “nothing”-ness of day to day living and the humor in it, but she also elevates it, by surrounding it all with lifelong yearning and mixing in poetry with heartfelt confession. The confessional side is a bit like "Girls" or "Sex in the City." We can laugh along till the humanity kicks in. It’s fun—or at least it’s fun when it’s not heartbreaking, inspiring or, in my favorite parts, touching and just plain beautiful. None of the book’s entertainment value takes away from the gravity of it all. The story of accidentally buying an overpriced trash can at Target fits in with a story of sexual assault on the beach. A story of a rainy walk to a drug store and feeling the need to be desired overlaps with a story of helping a pigeon with a broken wing. I think almost everyone can relate to Leda in a real way. She’s not only someone holding herself up against an ideal of the modern women, or just a kind of perpetually aspiring artist, but she’s also a person who clings to her dreams that never fully materialize. These stories weave in all the weird juxtapositions that life throws at us, and they seem to fit in perfectly with that idea of that Noam Chomsky book collecting dust on Leda’s shelf. They are bittersweet, biting yet tender and through it all somehow so hopeful.
Rating: 1 Star (DNF @ 12%) I know this book is about a woman that never reads Noam Chomsky, but does that mean she has to be so ambivalent toward other books? Did that mean I had to be so bored to tears by a book inspired by an author that I was almost instantly put off by it? I suppose it doesn't, but that's what happened with this title. To be fair, I probably should have researched Chomsky a bit before picking up a book with his name on the cover; hindsight and all that. From the first page there was a sense of entitlement or elitism that was equal parts confusing, boring, and off putting. It felt like the author was putting on airs to make their writing sound like it was better than they thought it was and in doing so made it sound utterly pretentious. There was also this feeling I got that the author was patronizing and distasteful about the whole storytelling endeavor. Leda was entirely unsympathetic. I thought that perhaps it was just the early parts of her personality, but the more I read the more I realized the author had just written her to be this unlikeable person. Maybe, maybe, she was working toward making Leda a better person, but the tone of the book was so horrible that I didn't care about seeing this possible bright future. There was nothing about Leda that made me want to know her, to see her get better. There's definitely a constant fat shaming going on, though Leda uses the word "linear" in place of "fat". She also makes some comments that gave me the impression that she, at the very least, had this idea that fat people have no place on Earth. "As she turned the corner it all fell away, the donuts, the linearity, the boy and his faultlessness; she caught a glimpse of her jumbled reflection in the window by the elevator, and it was awful. She was disgusting. She was fat." She was also incredibly judgmental of others, tearing them down in what I would have thought was an effort to make herself feel better except she never did, so I'm not sure what the point was. I can't decide if Leda was being set up by the author to, at some point, become sympathetic because of her body image issues. Even if she was, I'm not sure I'd care because of her terrible attitude toward other people and their bodies. Her own is one thing, but dragging others down, saying they're fatter, lonier, etc., was too much. The author also inserted sentences that revealed the future, such as saying when something was happening for the last time; that said, it's shown that Leda never heals from this compulsion ("This compulsion to be linear began at age twelve and would persist until her death.") and that, in all likelihood, the fat shaming would be present through the rest of the narrative. It was sad to hear Leda succumbed to this toxic viewpoint, even worse when the author told us at 1% of the way in that she never learns to love herself whatever her size. Oddly enough, the book seems able to sum itself up in one quote: "“I really don’t get the ending,” the girl across from her said. “Are we supposed to feel sorry for the main character? Because I really don’t. And it’s boring. Why do I care?”" No characters to care about, a storyline that was flatter than a paved highway and about as tasteful, this book is not one I'd ever recommend.