Monday, April 8, 2019

Ask an Author: The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky’s Jana Casale [Contributor: Megan Mann]

With her debut novel, Jana Casale tells a story that is more identifiable than most literature. Instead of relying on literary tropes to tell a story about a woman as she navigates life, Casale instead looks to the realities a woman goes through. It's a relatable read and it's a book that, unlike Noam Chomsky, you won't just purchase and never read.

So what does Jana Casale think of her book? Keep reading to find out!

Congratulations! Your debut, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky, is now in paperback! How does it feel?

It feels many different things, but overall I feel incredibly grateful and very humbled by all the amazing things that have happened to my little book. 

What was the catalyst for this story?

I was in class at Emerson College and a student was giving a presentation on Noam Chomsky. The professor asked her, “Have you read any of his work?” and she said, “No, but I’d like to when I have more time.” And I thought, "That’s never going to happen." Nothing against that young woman or course, it just seemed like one of those things in life you hope to do but never get to.

I found myself identifying with a lot of this book (especially when Leda’s mother said, “Dreams first, boys second”). Were you hoping that female readers would identify with Leda in one way or another?

I felt that there was a real gap in literature in terms of representing much of the female experience, and I really wanted to write something that was as vulnerable and honest as possible. I think when you do that you run the risk of alienating people because you’re usually talking about very specific, very personal things. But without being that open and raw about your own experiences, I think you are unable to really give your reader something to fully connect with. It’s thrilling when I hear that women do see themselves and can relate to my character because that was really my hope with this novel. I wanted women to feel a little less lonely when reading it.

Including Rochelle’s rape story may be too much to handle for some readers. But for many women, this situation occurs far more than it should. Was that what made you want to include it?

I really appreciate this question because this chapter to me is such an important one in the novel. I didn’t think it was right to write a book about womanhood and the female experience and to not talk about rape. Rochelle as a character was a way for me to be frank about the violence women face and the way that violence is just part of so many women’s lives. To some degree Leda acts as a mirror to the way society does and turns her back on Rochelle, which is why that final image of Rochelle at the end of the chapter is so important. It’s a complicated chapter, but I feel very proud of it. And even though it’s not essential to Leda’s narrative, I think it is incredibly essential to the narrative of the book thematically.

The difficulties of friendship segued into Leda’s spiral into depression about upending her entire life from Boston to San Francisco for John’s job. This left her entirely without aspects of her identity: friends, family, job, school. This is more common than ever now. Why choose for them to uproot their lives for him instead of her?

Part of what I wanted to do with this novel is talk about the ways in which women get so much self-worth from having men in their lives. In reality Leda is so happy with having John [that] she is willing to make that sacrifice for him and move to California. We see later on that having a great boyfriend in and of itself is not fulfilling enough for her, but the initial decision is based very much around that. And I would suspect the reason they don’t leave is because John does not feel the same sense of accomplishment by having a partner as Leda does and so is likely less motivated to make a big change just for her. To be fair it was also a smart financial decision for them and life, I think, just gets away from you very often when you make a big move like that, so that was part of it as well.

Something that I think is so important for you to bring up in this story is how social media has turned motherhood into a competition. It’s also creates this insidious world of mommy shaming. Do you think mothers reading this will scream “YES! THIS!” when reading your novel? 

I hope so! I find social media to be so depressing in my own life, and I think very often it feeds into the worst of ourselves and our relationships with other people. Women can be so hard on each other, and I hate the way all too often we use each other’s faults and failures to feel better about our own lives. The good thing about social media is that it’s very useful for writing. So many interesting and complicated human interactions happen through it, and because it’s all written, it really lends itself to the medium of prose. We’ve all seen those scenes in television and movies where they try to integrate texting or social media, and it really doesn’t work but it’s absolutely perfect for books.

I think we’ve all had the experience in the dressing room with the bathing suits. (Except for maybe Kendall Jenner.) Instead of creating a story that’s clear-cut, you created a story that’s realistic and messy. It makes it easy for the reader to identify at some point. What made you want to tell a straightforward story that didn’t rely on the themes we generally see in fiction?

The bathing suit scene is the one most frequently brought up to me which isn’t surprising because every woman (probably even Kendall Jenner!) has gone through something similar to that. Hating our bodies is so intrinsic to the female experience, but it’s almost never discussed. Honestly, so few protagonists you read about seem to struggle with many of the experiences women struggle with in their lives, and I think the reason is that many writers write in a way that is more derivative of art than of reality. I really wanted to write something that was not built on women that I’ve read about but built on women that I’ve known, and so I tried to be as messy as possible. And what’s messier than bathing suit shopping?

Okay, so here’s a few fun questions! If this were to become a Netflix series, who would you cast?

Believe it or not I never think about this kind of thing! I think I’d just want Leda to be played by someone with a sense of humor.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second novel which is about three different women who are in love with terrible men. It’s tentatively titled, How to Fall Out of Love Madly.

(Megan’s note: I’m here for it. Very excited for this already!)

What’s the best writing advice you received during this process?

To think about your career holistically and to only publish what you really want out in the world. 

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Mary Laura Philpott’s book of essays called I Miss You When I Blink. It’s coming out this spring and it’s amazing. So hilarious. So touching. I highly recommend!

(Megan’s note: This book is, in fact, incredible and I also think everyone should read it.)

And last, because I have to ask, what’s a book you bought and then never read?

Honestly, there are too many to name! I love books, which means I over buy in a big way. But I did read Noam Chomsky!

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is available now in paperback! And find Jana on Instagram!


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