The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky

Jana Casale

Hilarious and heartbreaking, gorgeously precise, and disarmingly honest, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is a remarkable literary feat that speaks to urgent questions women face today.

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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.

Advance Galley Reviews

Although I started it many times, I could not engage with the characters and allow my entrance into this story. Didn’t get very far each time until I gave up. Just not for me but that’s why there are millions of books! Someone else may adore it.

Unfortunately this book was a little difficult to get in to which left me abandoning it to sit unfinished on my "to read" shelf.

Ats the book ended I was left feeling I'd eaten a sandwich made of the white, airy, soft, bread of childhood - with butter only, no meat. I wanted to like this book. I wanted to like the main character. After multiple attempts at slogging through the drawn out chronicle of Leda's self-centered youth, I reached the last half, where we breezed through several decades of her life from marriage to grandmother-hood to death. There were the occasional insights and turns of phrase that made me continue, but I kept expecting a build up and climax. Would Leda die a young, tragic death? Would her daughter? Or her husband? Nope, nope, and nope. Instead we got a long, detailed account of the choices of this woman, and her self-comparison to other women. I haven't read the author's bio, but I was left with the impression that the first half was so detailed because she'd personally experienced those years of living, and the last half was compressed because she didn't yet have her own life experiences during those decades on which to draw. I kept feeling that I was too old to enjoy the tedium of Leda's younger years, yet I love a good coming of age novel. Sadly though, this novel failed to capture me.

After several attempts to read this book, I just couldn't get into it.

I liked this book. Candid, honest, and revealing of some of the challenges women face. As a college student studying English myself, the first part of the novel felt especially real (and I think this is why I'm one of the few who didn't not like this book). One of my favorite lines is, "The fundamental condition of womanhood is loneliness"—oomph! That resonated with me. Overall, this was a good read.

I think that this book is exactly what the blurb says it will be—which is a wonderful thing to say about a book, because sometimes you read a blurb and you read the tiny excerpt and you get the book, and it’s not what you were led to believe it was going to be. Sometimes, that’s okay, and other times it’s incredibly frustrating. This book does indeed follow Leda—the main character—through life, starting when she’s in college all the way to her death. The epilogue is told from her daughter’s point of view, although to be more accurate, it’s in limited third person. I enjoyed the candidness of the novel; we get Leda’s occasionally illogical behaviors and her bouts with depression; we also get to talk about things that impact huge numbers of women at an individual level. Do not expect huge does of romance, or eroticism in this book—yes, people fall in love and have sex, but that isn’t the point of the book and it’s given a different kind of attention. As a whole, this novel reads quickly, but it can feel slow while you’re sitting with it. This book doesn’t hide how Leda—and other women, to a certain extent—worry a great deal about things that aren’t important, or make them happy. Leda is, at the beginning of the book, in college as some kind of English major, possibly leaning more in the direction of creative writing. Let me tell you, she is a much better English major than I ever was, because when I wasn’t reading for class, I was reading romance and fantasy novels. Leda reads literary novels, even during the summer. Leda also is incredibly polite to and concerned about inconveniencing people—especially men—when she really doesn’t have to be. For example, she spends an absurd amount of time worrying about taking up a lawn chair at a hotel’s swimming pool. She apologizes to a plant for getting on an elevator first. I apologize a great deal, so I empathize with the deep urge to apologize, and the feeling that one’s actions will inconvenience a stranger. At the same time, because it’s in a novel, and also because her boyfriend points out how ridiculous this kind of behavior is, I found myself cringing. This is the kind of candidness I appreciated about the novel. Maybe because a lot of literary novels I’ve read in the past tend to focus on men, this kind of writing feels new and evocative to me. This novel also manages to talk about issues that affect large numbers of women at a personal level. The biggest example is the pain and dearth of orgasms for women with regards to sex. A few months ago, several articles were making the rounds of my little Internet corner about how many women experience pain during sex, and how few women orgasm during sex, so that the idea of pleasurable sex is different for women and men. Which is sad. And if you’re worried about Leda, yes, she gets orgasms. But before that happens, she has a conversation with another young woman about how painful sex has been for them and how neither of them have ever orgasmed while having sex. They both thought they were “the only one” experiencing this. For Leda, the solution is finding someone “you love and feel comfortable enough with.” Leda also struggles with depression when she moves with her boyfriend to California after he gets a job with Google. She walks away from an MFA program and her parents and everything that was familiar to her. I’ve witnessed other women go through similar situations, and it felt vindicating to have that kind of experience validated on the page. It doesn’t make those kinds of feelings better or more manageable, but it’s heartening to have them put into a book. Like I said earlier, this book follows Leda all the way to the end of her life, and the epilogue takes up from her daughter’s point of view. Interestingly enough, the voice/tone felt exactly the same, even though it was being told from another character’s point of view. That was the one very frustrating thing that stuck out at me after putting down the book, which sounds very technical. Some of Leda’s choices very much placed her as a woman from the upper middle class, particularly a white woman. That is okay, because this book is following a woman through her life—not judging her as she lives her life. I believe that the last line of the book sums it up best. It was “… beautiful, irreverent, oppressively real.”

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book and was pleasantly surprised. Leda seems needy and superficial at first and grows in depth as the story goes on. The book is really about a search for meaning and fulfillment. I think a lot of moms out there can relate to this. It is a struggle balancing self, kids, and marriage. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read!

It's a little difficult to sort out what this book is about. It's about a woman. It claims to be about womanhood and loneliness and how womanhood is loneliness, rather overtly at the end. It's about failures to connect with others and promises never kept. Its focus is uneven -- with minute detail in Leda's early 20s, and then skipping over decades at a time later in the book, like the second half of her life doesn't matter and let's just get this over with... or maybe as if everything was already inevitably set because of the decisions she made in her 20s? In the end, I'm not sure it's about anything. But yes, maybe it's sort of about loneliness. Or just sadness, in so many ways. I'm not sure there's enough to hang a story on here. Is Leda successful? happy? self-reflective? a tragic martyr? someone whose idea of success changes over time? worth writing a story about? Stylistically, time in the story was quite uneven and disorienting. In the first chapter, Leda buys a book that the title tells you she will never read. Later, in her romantic encounters with her boyfriend, she leaves a place and suggests that they come back there someday. But the narrator immediately tells us that she never will. And then back to the moment at hand. From minute detail, zooming out to her entire life, then immediately back to mind-numbing detail -- it gave me a bit of whiplash. This was heavy in the first half of the book, almost as if drama was sprinkled rather clumsily over the story as an afterthought. And then in the second half of the book, the zoom outs stick -- yes we really did just skip 20 years, and we're here now. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

I loved this book. 5 stars. I initially had a rough time getting into it, but I’m so thankful I kept with it. This novel tells of a woman’s life. Just a normal wife, mom, writer and all her dreams and aspirations. I saw so much of myself and my life in her. It took me a long time to finish because I savored each page. Definitely recommended.

I read four chapters and gave up. It was literally putting me to sleep. The description sure didn't tell you all it was is a girl in her 20's inner thoughts spilling out on the pages with no real plot. Thanks First to Read for my advance copy.

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky detailed the life of Leda. The story starts in her younger years when she is in college till the day she took her last breath. Leda's life was a snapshot of a life less fulfilled with pivotal able, vulnerable moments. The most vulnerable moments would include her aspirations of becoming a writer to her weight issues; the uncomfortableness of a one night stand to the underwear/ shaving debacle all women go through; from losing yourself in a relationship to eventually finding your worth; from enjoying married life and raising kids to suffering from a miscarriage and finding the hope to live. Theses are some of the most vulnerable and honest moments described in the book. I am not going to lie when I say I was caught up in the title. Throughout my reading I was wondering when she was going to plunge into Noam Chomsky. I was hoping when she finally got a chance to read the book it would have a note tucked away between the pages that would sum up a precious memento we could take away from what we read so far. But the message was more meaningful than a book that was never read. It celebrated the life of an ordinary woman in today's world and the lifetimes of battles we go through.

The title got you, didn’t it? It’s ok, it got me, too. I fell for that title hard (I can't be the only reader out there who has unread tomes by Noam Chomsky collecting dust on her bookshelf). Which is why it pains me to admit that I didn’t like this book very much. The plot, the characters, even at times the writing, left me cold. I just couldn’t get on board with the meandering, superficial inner-workings of a twenty-something, with a story structure that read more like a teenage diary than a novel (a novel published by Knopf, no less). The more I followed Leda’s story, the less I liked her. Look, I know how difficult it is to write anything, let alone get a book published, so that in itself is an achievement. And if I’m honest, there were even a few moments sprinkled throughout when I felt I sort of understood Leda – her body image issues, her musings on house cleaning and red lipstick. But those moments were all too fleeting, and were eclipsed by more frequents episodes when her entitlement practically hit me in the face (from her inane arguments with her boyfriend to the hours she spent in front of the tv instead of working on her novel). I wanted to like Leda, I wanted to be engaged with this book, but I simply didn’t have the interest to keep reading. I checked out about half way through. Not recommended.

" 'Wow, she has problems.' 'I don't know --,' Leda flipped back to the sunflower and snapdragon page. 'I think she's just thinking too hard.' " Leda is constantly thinking too hard and I think I do too. This is a kind of stream of consciousness recording of one woman's life. It is a normal (though certainly privileged) life. Mostly good, some bad. A look at a life where not much happens, like my life and my mother's life and my friends' lives. I will admit that it took me a while to really get into it, but as I read on I found it charming. Like all books, people will have different opinions about it, but to me it rang true. Highly recommended. *****

I was not the biggest fan of this book. Over five chapters in and I was still so bored. The POV really threw me off, and that combined with the writing style was not my cup of tea. Alone, I really enjoyed the writing style and I can see why others might find this book very intriguing (I did when I first read the synopsis, too). However, I need a book with some sort of plot development within the first 3-5 chapters, and this book did not do that. I was honestly just so bored reading this that I found myself skimming through most of the pages. The book had potential because the story does sound interesting, I just think the execution was not the best. Unfortunately, I had to DNF the book after only getting through the first few chapters. It needed something more to it to urge the reading to continue reading. This aspect really lacked for me. Isn't that the whole point of a novel? To interest its reader? Overall, I was definitely not a fan of this book, but I can understand why others might enjoy it.

Documenting the life and experiences of a woman as she ages, Jana Casale's The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky shows the way we present ourselves and modify our goals to attain a level of achievable happiness. When first introduced, Leda is a headstrong college student determined to get what she knows she wants from life. While navigating choices to create her desired life, Leda enters a serious relationship, move across the country, and tries to write the novel she thought she always would; however, as Leda experiences more of the life she thinks she wants as she ages, she's forced to confront and reevaluate the things she desires and who she is in relation to those things. During Leda's evolution of the the years that pass, her concept of what makes her happy shifts along with her expectations with her life.  Having been intrigued by the summary of this novel's premise, the content of the story falls short of the promise: it plods along inconsistently, waxing poetic as very little takes place, making it difficult to become invested in and care about the subtle events of Leda's life. Tracking the minute details that comprise a human life in a manner that is captivating and introspective is a big ask, which this attempt fell short of accomplishing in a satisfying and meaningful manner. The relationships portrayed in the novel are generally rather unhealthy and the characters don't have many redeeming qualities or demonstrate deep development. Though there portions of the text that exhibit some nice language, the enjoyable ability to connect and empathize with both the characters and the narrative was greatly diminished by Leda's frustrating and selfish perspective.  Overall, I'd give it a 2 out of 5 stars.

Leda Is a self absorbed,shallow character who is linear. At first I thought this meant skinny, but the definition that fits the main character and the other characters in the story is that they are all moving in a straight line with blinders on, and cannot think outside of the box. I found the feel of this book to be bland and maybe that is the point. If you live your life like the characters in this story, it will be a linear / bland existence.

This book really did not pull me in. I agree with some of the other reviewers that "Girl..." is very over-used right now. 4 of the books on my current reading pile for this month have girl in the title. This book might appeal to younger, just out of college readers, but I just couldn't get into it.

Can publishers please move on from using Girl in titles? It's such a cliche. And this book is just awful. She's a whiny, self-absorbed girl who gives all modern day women a bad reputation.

DNF at 58%. I thought I would like this book, it being about an introspective, writerly bookish girl, who picks up a book with the idea that it might change her life--change the person she is--and then never actually reads the book. The book follows her life from that moment, mentioning in passing things that happen way in the future and going on to her death. The book, unread by her, then gets a passing mention as it moves on. My big problem was that nothing really happens, and the characters aren't terribly likable. I didn't much care what happened to her, and she just kept going on and on, complaining and not being a terribly good person in various ways. It felt like being trapped in a bad relationship, so the book had to be put down.

I tried my best to get into this book, but I could not make a connection. I did not like the characters and could not feel anything about them. I was given an advance copy of this book from First to Read in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is a look at the life of a young woman named Leda, from the time she sits down at a coffee shop during college to the day she dies. The title is what first drew me to this book. I've never read Noam Chomsky. I studied creative writing in college. But that's where the similarities stopped. Leda is obsessed with the most superficial things, and this doesn't change throughout the book. When she's younger, she's constantly thinking about whether she looks linear or not (I'm guessing this is her word for skinny, though that's not clearly explained). Later on, she's always thinking whether the women she meets are linear. Beyond that, she has the most superficial relationships. All of her friends and herself don't seem to like each other, but they go through the motions. This repeats itself with mom friends, work friends, and anyone else Leda spends more than five minutes talking to. In terms of romance, Leda also stays pretty superficial. The one time that had a chance to stand up for herself and her needs, she backs off at the sight of a diamond on her finger. The only redeeming quality Leda has is that she seems to have raised her daughter to not be as superficial as herself, but that only makes Annabelle revere her in a way that she doesn't entirely deserve. And just in case you're wondering--Noam Chomsky is never read. And since I've never read Chomsky's work, I'm not sure what, if anything, it has to do with Leda's story.

Lord save me from the self-indulgent self-importance of twenty-somethings... Seriously, I could NOT get into this one. From the opening pages I just wanted to smack Leda and tell her to grow up. I was so disappointed - the blurb intrigued me (what reader among us hasn't at one time or another tried to impress someone else with what we were reading - or at least carrying?!) and I wanted to like it, but just could not stomach her or the meandering life- and writing-style the book embodied...

I honestly did not like Leda as this book started. She was too needy, too whiny, too self absorbed. Once John entered her life and she gained a bit more security and self-confidence she was much more enjoyable. I was rooting for her when she stood up to him about getting married. It was the best moment in the book for me. I struggled when she seemed to forget about her husband once her child was born. It was a compelling perspective of a young women finding meaning in life. I obtained this book through Penguin's First to Read Program.

Books containing “Girl” in the title are the rage. Typically, they have highly engaging, perhaps not entirely trustworthy female lead characters in suspenseful and dangerous situations. Not quite the case here. Leda’s adventure is living a real life, full of hopes and dreams and ending as all humans must. If a novel is well-crafted, filled with insights, has a certain vivacity, and is carefully word-smithed, that’s all that is needed for a delightful, moving reading experience, and we have that in full measure here. A word of caution: The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is very good but gets off to an almost insufferable start. Leda is a college student majoring in writing. The pages are filled with self-aggrandizement and fiction workshop baggage. In fact, the first quarter or so of the book reads like a series of writing class assignments. At one point, Leda became so tiresome that I jumped to the end of the novel, just so I could confirm my annoyance. I have been burned by some advanced reading copies (not necessarily from this publisher), and life is precious. But lo! A miracle occurred: the Leda toward the end is not the Leda we met at the beginning, so a reading reboot was necessary to look at this story for real. Overall, it is funny, it is true, and it is beautiful. Her life’s down moments resonate but do not become defining, while the joyous moments are low key but run deep. The book gets better the further you go with it. The mature Leda is someone you would want to know and probably already do. Enjoy her journey.

To appreciate "The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky" by Jana Casale, I have two recommendations: first, let go of the expectation that this book has anything to do with reading or Noam Chomsky, and second, forget looking for much of a plot or development of any of the characters beyond the protagonist, Leda. Unfortunately, Leda is not a character who can carry the show on her own. She seems to want so much from relationships, but she doesn't work hard on them. Instead, she makes bad choices repeatedly, then plays the victim. However, her internal life is impressive. The insights spread throughout this book are surprising and profound, which shows how much potential this author has. I just wish they were more organized and not so random and rambling. Still, there will be many opportunities for book club discussion with this book, and several good quotable lines. Had other characters been developed more, along with consolidating some of the plot, this book would have been a very impressive debut. Perhaps the format could have been a series of letters or e-mails or journal entries, which would have covered for a lack of plot.

Jana Casale’s debut novel “The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky” feels like reading the story behind a carefully curated Instagram feed. Between the entries about sitting in coffee shops, falling in love, moving to San Francisco, taking scenic road trips with her boyfriend, working on her novel and pretending to read Noam Chomsky to impress a boy she likes, Casale’s heroine Leda is insecure — obsessed with the concept of being “linear.” Leda was the type of girl who thought “salad for lunch was a distant notion she associated with mortgages and weddings,” orders clothing made out of tree pulp or vegan silk, “grown accustomed to drinking intolerable drinks at parties by holding her breath and taking small sips,” and builds her days around “tea and ice cream.” She was the type of girl who apologizes all the time and forces herself to do stuff she hates because that’s what everybody else does and thinks its also what’s expected from her. The type of girl who shaves the pubic hair from her vagina even though it hurts and makes her bleed and her boyfriend tells her to stop shaving down there. She’s the type of girl that you hate — who has her whole life put together and still feels insecure. She’s engaged by 25 and married by 26. She doesn’t have to go through the charade of mindlessly swiping on Tinder or OkCupid. She became a mother before she turned 30. And writes her first novel and gets it published*. (* I’m referring to Jana Casale rather than Casale’s heroine Leda in this instance.) But the main reason you hate Leda: because she reminds you of yourself and you hate yourself and your indecision and insecurity. You want Leda (and yourself) to be brave and fearless and above pettiness, but even as you’re reading about how Casale describes the cattiness of women who constantly try to one-up each other, you’re just as guilty of this and “never reading Noam Chomsky,” comparing yourself to a fictional character and her invisible Instagram feed. Full review:

They fill the offices in New York city publishing houses, twenty-somethings who majored in creative writing. They fill the acquisitions department with treacle that resonates with them, so sure that the rest of the reading world will also vibrate to the buzz of a twenty-something creative writing student facing so many taxing problems. Like if she's fat. If her submission to the prestigious literary rag will be accepted. If she should buy a bagel or a jelly doughnut. We've been here before, haven't we, with THE LIGHT WE LOST. And like that earlier incarnation, I have given up, but well before page 145. "What do we have but yet another young New Yorker examining the lint in her navel and imagining that it is fascinating for us all" I said back then, and it's still true in THE GIRL WHO NEVER READ NOAM CHOMSKY. The problems are the same small, petty, insignificant dross. This novel is the bleating of an elitist who has not experienced life. It makes for a boring tale. Again, the prose is lovely. And again, it's the fecking story. There isn't much there. To repeat: "Sure there are those who enjoy a soap opera, or those who are twenty-something elitists in New York who believe their problems have deep relevance to the world. I am not one of them. This is not a book for me. Sorry, Penguin Random House. You gave me the book for a review, but I can't finish it. I wouldn't inflict this on anyone I know because they like good books with substance. If you're wondering why book sales are down, well, you can start here." It still holds true for this particular presentation of elitist problems.

This is a great first effort -- I thought the way the author captured Leda's inner insecurities and also her relationships -- especially with her mother, husband, and daughter. I thought some of the scenes of her writing group feedback and internal monologues about her close family were excellent, as well as her approach to relationships, feeling in the way, etc. I think it might have been more appropriate for her to have never read something more empowering and feminist, like Our Bodies, Ourselves or Lean In, or if the scenes were more tied to Noam Chomsky's work -- like the irony that she had the solution to her unhappiness all along and just didn't read it. In that sense, the title is a bit of a gimmick/disservice to the book. I also liked that the book took advantage of the omniscience/past tense narration to point out things from other parts of her life in a zoomed-out perspective, like pointing out how she thought about a moment wasn't actually true or how she thought she would do something often but never did. In all, this is great insight on how some people approach the world with constant vigilance of how others might be judging them, while others, like her husband, don't -- and how even as they tried to teach their daughter to be impervious to that, she still felt the same pressures in high school, bad relationships, etc.


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