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Good on Paper

3.01  ·  Rating details ·  606 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Is a new life possible? Because Shira Greene’s life hasn’t quite turned out as planned. She’s a single mom living with her daughter and her gay friend, Ahmad. Her PhD on Dante’s Vita Nuova hasn’t gotten her a job, and her career as a translator hasn’t exactly taken off either.

But then she gets a call from a Nobel Prize-winning Italian poet who insists she’s the only one wh
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 26th 2016 by Melville House
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3.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  606 ratings  ·  137 reviews

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You can either read the blurb (not included here), or 's summary of the book:
Shira Greene is working as an office temp and living with her daughter, Andi, and Ahmad, her best friend, when she gets a life-changing telegram: Romei, the mysterious winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wants her to translate his latest, a work of poetry and prose based on Dante’s La Vita Nuova (literally “new life”), the same work that Shira was translating when she abandoned her Ph.D. A
(2.5) I’m going to chalk this one up to blurb inflation. The writing is lively and the plot well crafted, with quirky postmodern touches, but the novel as a whole did not live up to my absurdly high expectations: it’s really nothing like A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and the main character isn’t even a freelance writer. (Perhaps that last bit was my mistake.)

It’s 1999 and Shira Greene is a failed translator from the Italian, now working as a temp in New York City and raising her daughter Andi with th
Jessica Woodbury
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
This is a novel of contrasts. On the one hand, the plot is awfully neurotic, it can almost feel like chick lit. (The title certainly made me expect that kind of book.) Shira, faced with the prospect of single motherhood, moves in with her gay best friend to join her in co-parenting. Years of this arrangement and she's one of those people who only exists in fiction: a Manhattanite who holds no regular job, works as a temp, and sometimes publishes a story in a small literary journal.

On the other
Book Riot Community
As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. In a previous life, I was a Spanish and French tutor, and spent a lot of time thinking about relationships between languages. I’ve also dabbled in translation and still dream of translating books. So a book whose main character is a literary translator was always going to be a winner for me. I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did in the first third or so, though, and I certainly didn’t foresee where the plot was going. Kudos to Rach ...more
Apr 29, 2016 marked it as i-gave-up
I tried and failed to get engaged in this one. Maybe one too many literary references in the first 50 pages
Suze Lavender
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shira is working as a temp, but while she has excellent translating and literary skills she goes from job to job and is now stuffing envelopes. She loves her daughter Andi very much. They're living with Ahmad, who's Shira's gay friend. He isn't Andi's real father, but he's her dad in any other way. They're a family. When Shira gets a request to translate a manuscript for the famous poet Romei she decides to take the job. It's difficult and Shira doesn't know if the work can really be translated. ...more
Laura Jean
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, library
I loved this book. I found it quite clever. The story within a story as well as the things I learned about the art of translation as Shira described Romei's work were fascinating. The comparisons and contrasts between Dante's and Romei's New Life were so enlightening. And the story of love and hurt...fear and trust was beautiful and satisfying
Morgan Schulman
If you're into academia, it might be more of a four for you. As someone a bit burnt out on that sphere, I'd say it was as 2.5 plus an extra half star for taking me back to pre-Bloomberg New York.
Sonnet Fitzgerald
Jan 10, 2017 rated it liked it
As someone who used to do actual translation of medieval Spanish texts and who now regularly ghostwrites for ESL authors, I had a vested interest in this book. But the intensity of the descriptions of translation are overdone, even for me. This book is stuffed full of academic literary critique, by 20 pages in I was skimming through those long-winded sections. And literary critique is what I love and do for a living!

Far too clever by half.

There are some good points, chief among them the wonderfu
Chris Roberts
Oct 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
This roiling wreck of a work is so contrived you, not me,

can picture the author on her laptop: veins swollen into rivers bulging

on her forehead, typing in the fetal position and looking at the screen

with one, sweat encrusted eye...then...rolling off her chair and

screaming out - I must have NYC, yes NYC all the non-stop time -

and one wants to shake this pathetic, bare ebb of a woman, tell her forcefully - To write urban is to be urbane, to holler - You know

nothing of streets and human swine
Feb 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
I would have enjoyed the book more if the plot was anything like the blurb on the jacket. I was expecting a novel about a women's journey to reconcile her past secrets with her present aspirations. The only problem is the protagonist doesn't have any aspirations beyond being beloved by all with little to no work involved. Shira lives rent and expenses free in her male friend’s apartment while he cares for her child. This allows her the free time to go get coffee which is described many times in ...more
Robert Wechsler
I gave Good on Paper half a novel to win me over with its combination of talk about literature and literary translation (it helped that a friend of mine recently translated the most important work in the novel, Dante’s Vita nuova) and the story of an underachieving woman with a chance to get things together at last. The two problems for me were (1) the narrator’s overwhelming cleverness and (2) the problem inherent in extended literary fiction these days: the insistence on taking the form of a m ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Three and one half stars.
Very interesting book about a translator. This is the second book I've read recently where the protagonist translates books or text for authors.
This story is twisted and takes you down a few rabbit holes as it slowly untangles the web of connections between, Shira- her present and her complex relationships.
The theme of forgiveness, love and sacrifice are woven in her earlier translation of Dante and the present translation of an epic poem by a mysterious poet who seem
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Robert Blumenthal
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was hard for me to become completely absorbed, for it was a bit cryptic and scattered for a while. In fact, there is a moment well into the story where there is a "big reveal" of which I was not sure what it was. Later it became quite clear to me that what I had suspected it was it actually was. However, the book is clever and quite funny with wonderful characters.

It is about a young Jewish woman who was abandoned by her mother and somewhat neglected by her father. She has a child out
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Story within a story, with literary criticism woven into the fiction narrative. In a compelling way! What!?!

And translation, and abandonment issues, and poetry!

A tiny taste:
"I had already read all the pages Romei had sent me, I'd read them carefully more than once. It was time to "trot" the work, I'd retype the original, leaving five or six spaces between each line, then handwrite a quick 'literal' translation above each line, adding towers of alternative translations above problem words, which
Katherine Lika
I read Herta Müller's NYTimes By The Book interview this very morning and I found her thoughts on moving literature very pleasing:

The beauty of the sentences is the key. If in the very first pages I’m forced to read gratuitous phrases or banal metaphors, I won’t be able to get inside the story. Only if the sentences “sparkle” can I get hooked.

This is my attempt to shirk writing a real review for Good on Paper, a book that left me cold. It had many elements that usually attract me to books - b
Kelly Hager
This was a slow burn for me. It took a little while for me to get into it, but once I did, I fell so in love with these characters.

One note: these are not characters that you will particularly like. I cared about them and rooted for them, but these are still incredibly selfish people. Not bad, not at all, but people who aren't particularly good, either. (In short, they're basically just like most other people. They are deeply flawed and they don't seem to improve.)

This is a book for English majo
Superstition Review
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Good on Paper is a stimulating narrative full of witty banter and clever literary references. One of the shining qualities of this novel is the main character’s personality because her perspective makes this unique story all the more amusing. It is as the pages turn that I found myself slowly falling in love with the characters and especially Shira’s interactions with others. Cantor is able to portray the struggle of translating literature and the complexity of linguistics while also creating an ...more
Oct 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish
The book had this bit of a Crying of Lot 49 feel to it, with a touch of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, but a little less weird and with more heart. The characters are zany - yet not so much so as to be unbelievable. I liked a lot of the reflections about parenting, too.

However, I didn't really like the very stylized writing. It seemed a bit removed, the way quotation marks were omitted and the narrator kinda meandered around. All sorts of very devastating and exciting things are going on, an
Feb 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on, bookclub
I gave up on this book too! So many things I didn't like: the writing style, lack of quotes for conversations, and topic. I was thinking about aborting and decided to continue for another chapter or two. After one completely irritating sentence, I closed the book and said "back to the library!".
Jan 02, 2016 rated it did not like it
So. Fucking. Pretentious.
Sep 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
This is so bad, I give up
Renita D'Silva
Oct 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Quirky, witty, beautiful, clever. Loved it.
Mar 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Literary chick-lit (replace martinis and shopping with Dante and linguistics). Themes of motherhood and atonement. I absolutely loved it.
Jan 10, 2016 rated it did not like it
I couldn't even finish it. Forced myself into 17 chapters. First book ever that I haven't finished!
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Curiosity level: Enchanting realism!

"Real people don't talk like that, he whispered, then left the room." -p.86

Shira Greene's half-baked quality of a life suddenly takes an exciting turn when Nobel Prize Winning Italian poet, Romei, calls her up... asking her to translate his latest work. "Only YOU can do the translation," he insists.

Flattered, Shira launches into dreaming overdrive as she thinks about what the future now holds with Romei-thank-my-lucky-stars and agrees to starts as soon as she
Jun 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
The title of this book is, in retrospect, unfortunate. I picked up this short novel at a bookstore after reading the blurbs and synopsis on the back, expecting an easy-to-read, relationship-oriented text that also explores the trivialities of academia. Instead I was left with so many questions: Why is this book set in 1999 (though published in 2016), when the temporal setting plays pretty much no role in the narrative whatsoever? Why are there no quotation marks setting apart dialogue vs. intern ...more
Sharon Wishnow-Ritchey
Rachel Cantor has some serious writing credentials in the literature world. But this book was too smart and clever for my taste. Cantor writes about a translator and there is a story within a story. If you are not familiar with Dante, you'll lose, find, and lose the story arc as I did in several places.

Cantor manages an entire book without using a single quotation mark for dialogue. I would have loved to have sat in that editorial first meeting. Is she above conventional punctuation? I suppose
Joey Ramone
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'd recommend this to tall people and short people alike. Can people really change? How do we fall in love? The author's tone of voice is lighter than the books I usually read (i.e. there's no sudden spaceships or anything that's violent, thriller, adventure, action, horror, etc.) but the plot skips along with many surprises. It's told realistically from the POV of an honest, intelligent, funny, warm mother (I think they live in Brooklyn or Manhattan) who is a struggling translator (she is finan ...more
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I am the author of the novel GOOD ON PAPER (coming out from Melville House in January 2016), and the novel A HIGHLY UNLIKELY SCENARIO, OR A NEETSA PIZZA EMPLOYEE'S GUIDE TO SAVING THE WORLD (Melville House 2014).

I live in New York, city of my heart, in the writerly borough of Brooklyn, but have at various points made my home in most U.S. states between Virginia and Vermont. In addition to writing