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The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
Cover of The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
A novel
Borrow Borrow
Kirkus Reviews, "11 Debuts You Need to Pay Attention To"
HelloGiggles, "Books you don't want to miss"
Bustle, "Books you need to know"
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.
Kirkus Reviews, "11 Debuts You Need to Pay Attention To"
HelloGiggles, "Books you don't want to miss"
Bustle, "Books you need to know"
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Chapter 1

    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.

    The only reasons she'd remember for wanting to read Chomsky were all the varied intellectual ones that took precedence in her mind: an article she'd read, a speech she'd heard, a professor's suggestion. She didn't think of that day or that boy in the coffee shop, but the influence was no less significant, as faint and feckless as it was, a startling, disintegrating moment between herself and this stranger bursting and scattering like any and all moments of her life. She gave little more attention to it at the time than to the scone or to herself crying over a song she loved.

    The coffee shop itself was near her apartment and one she frequented often. "This café is so small, but its aesthetic is exceptional,"was the way it had been described by a middle-aged woman in trendy clothes who once stood next to her in line. The woman bought a large coffee and some type of vegan muffin. Leda thought the muffin looked tasty and bought the same one and then took a bite and realized it was vegan. From then on when she thought of the café she thought of it as so small with an exceptional aesthetic and terrible vegan muffins. Not long after, they'd started selling vegan donuts that were considerably better, but Leda would never find herself trying them. If she had, it's unlikely she would have amended her perception ofthe place. It was already burned into her by the ephemeral moment beside that woman in line.

    That day, though, she ordered a hot chocolate and sat at a table in the corner. What she loved most about sitting at the coffee shop was not the coffee or the shop but the brief, listless feeling it gave her of having her life together. She could sit beside the richness and warmth and see herself as something so divinely competent. This is what it is to be an independent person, and she'd take a sip. This is what it is to be a cosmopolitan person, and she'd take a sip. So easily could she lose herself in the sense. It was haunting and complicated and undeniably silly. Outside she watched as a woman picked up dog poop in a plastic bag. At least I know that I don't really have my life together. At least I know that I don't know, she thought. She sat for a while longer before noticing the boy to her right. He was smartly dressed, with flood pants and thick-rimmed glasses. His hands were large, and he was reading American Power and the New Mandarins. She leaned forward in her seat and ran her fingers through her hair. Most days she held a very strong belief that her hair looked terrible except...

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 San Francisco with her husband. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 5, 2018
    Casale’s elegant, sharply drawn debut follows Leda, a girl whose myriad goals—to read Noam Chomsky, to be “linear,” to find love, to be a writer, to plant a garden—chafe against inevitable compromise and “oppressively real” life. In short story–like episodes, Casale explores the signal moments of Leda’s life: a bad one-night stand; giving up grad school in Boston to move to California with her boyfriend, John; marrying and having a baby girl, Annabelle; seeing her daughter’s first school play. Casale’s clear-eyed examination of a woman’s life is done with abundant humor—a swimsuit mishap in a department store fitting room is a laugh-out-loud gem—and aching melancholy: “Life could be so unreal and so vivid all at once you’d think it was a dream,” Casale writes of an inconsolable Leda after the death of her mother. “She would search for her mom forever everywhere she would go.” As a youngster, Leda believes the “first innate truth of her womanhood” is that one must “never be fat.” The last innate truth, she finds, is that “womanhood is loneliness.” In between, readers will be captivated by Leda’s life. Agent: Amelia Atlas, ICM Partners.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2018

    When we first meet Leda, she's a self-absorbed college student obsessed with being linear (that is, skinny), who writes thinly veiled reenactments of her life for her creative writing class. This opening passage is relentlessly self-absorbed with a fetishized concentration on the inner life and feelings of an insecure young woman. Casale tries to maintain this inward focus throughout but with less success. Leda's life is divided neatly into sections; the tumultuous teen years are followed by the perfect boyfriend years that lead to the sacrifice-for-love years (after college, Leda gives up her spot in an MFA program to move across the country with her boyfriend John and is miserable). Next are the happy-family years after Leda and John get married and return to Boston and Leda's attention shifts to her daughter. Eventually, Leda gets a part-time job and drifts into old age. VERDICT The later versions of Leda lack the intensity of the obsessed teen years, and the novel depends too heavily on readers relating to Leda. Moreover, the story's structure offers a particular Western idea of women's life span that may ring false for some audiences, though others will find it familiar and approachable.--Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. Lib., MD

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2018
    The interior life of a millennial Everywoman as she matures over the decades.Prepare to fall in love with Leda, the wickedly relatable protagonist of Casale's funny, insightful, and deeply adorable debut. When we first meet her, she's a college student studying writing in Boston, dealing with her annoying friendships with women, her unsatisfying encounters with men, and the loneliness and self-doubt at the heart of it all. As she moves through life, we see all her experiences from both the outside and the inside. For example, in a coffee shop exchange with her friend Elle about their future plans, Elle announces that, as far as she's concerned, it's time for the fantasy of becoming a writer to end. She just wants to set "realistic goals," she says. "Leda recognized the familiar wave of cruelty and cattiness that lingered in the comment, a rich but common display of the unabashed hatred and simultaneous press for superiority any woman could feel for another woman at any given moment." Soon after this meeting with her ultraslender friend, Leda decides to join a gym. "As she walked past all the men and their weights, she looked back at the women running and biking and stepping. Keep running ladies, she thought. You'll never get away." Much later in life she's in a dressing room, miserably trying on bathing suits. She has told the obnoxious salesgirl several times that her name is Leda, but the woman insists on calling her Lisa, shouting, " 'Lisa, how are the sizes working for you?' 'Fine.' I'll kill you, Karen. I'll kill you right now, so help me god." We follow Leda as she drifts away from her commitment to writing and toward her first serious relationship, relocating quite unhappily for her partner's career. One of the most moving and original parts of the book is when Leda becomes a mother and we can see how much her attitudes toward herself and other people have matured by the way she raises her own child. In fact, the depictions of Leda's connections to both her mother and her daughter are filled with love and warmth. This is so rare in contemporary fiction, it's almost hard to believe. But just as importantly, will she ever get around to reading Noam Chomsky?So much fun, so smart, and ultimately profound and beautiful.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Joanna Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age and My Salinger Year "Jana Casale's brilliant, singular, gripping debut affected me more than any novel I've read this year. Rich with social commentary, fueled by ferocious intelligence, and laced with spot on humor, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky perfectly captures the mores of this mixed up moment in time, while also exploring universal truths about what it means to be a woman in the world. I loved it."
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Jana Casale
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