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The Idiot
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Amy (asawatzky) | 1617 comments so let's talk about it....


Holly (moonshiner) | 43 comments I devoured this. It has its flaws, but there was something a little bit magical about it to me. I had a typical yet intense coming-of-age in college myself, so the book sat like a curiously pleasant stone in my stomach.


Ruthiella | 330 comments I loved this book so much. I want Batuman to write three more novels each detailing Selin's sophomore through senior year. I will read them and buy the boxed set.

I get that other readers would find this book boring and/or unfunny but it hit me just perfectly. I laughed out loud all the while reading it.

It is weird because I I just left a couple of comments about other contenders about how plot is important to me as a reader and this book is pretty plot-less and I loved it anyway.


message 4: by Terri (new)

Terri (zoomcity) I refused to consider this book bc I hate the cover. “I got a rock.” I’m shallow like that.


message 5: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy (asawatzky) | 1617 comments Ruthiella wrote: "I loved this book so much. I want Batuman to write three more novels each detailing Selin's sophomore through senior year. I will read them and buy the boxed set.

I get that other readers would fi..."


I really enjoyed the writing, and laughed or nodded at some of the observations Selin made but it started feeling a little like a really really long episode of Girls. I suspect I would have preferred this in shorter form. I also suspect I'm just being petty because I was picturing Selin as a Nordic, privileged, New Englander which is what her narration perfectly imitated and the excellent writing alongside too-much self-absorption strongly reminded me of last year's Sweetbitter. I'm going to give it another shot now that I know her world broadens a bit come summertime.


message 6: by Lljones (new)

Lljones | 172 comments Terri wrote: "I refused to consider this book bc I hate the cover. “I got a rock.” I’m shallow like that."

Strangely, the book was chosen "Best Cover" on more than one list, including LitHub's.


message 7: by Ruthiella (last edited Jan 04, 2018 02:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruthiella | 330 comments Amy wrote: ...the excellent writing alongside too-much self-absorption strongly reminded me of last year's Sweetbitter. I'm going to give it another shot now that I know her world broadens a bit come summertime"

Interesting the comparison to Sweetbitter! Both books also have unrequited love interests. And self-absorption up the yin-yang. However, I am just as preoccupied with Selin and her interior life as she is and I love its minute detail. I liked Sweetbitter but I found the main character an empty vessel.


message 8: by Terri (new)

Terri (zoomcity) Lljones, I saw that it made Buzz Feed’s list, but I didn’t know about LitHub’s. All I can say is…they’re wrong. 🤓


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 444 comments The comparisons to Sweetbitter are interesting - I loved The Idiot, for reasons similar to Holly's, but I only made it through a chapter of Sweetbitter before abandoning it.

Roxane Gay's review of The Idiot is great. She really nails Ivan.


Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Ugh, I hated this book. Nothing, *nothing* happened and the main characters were supposed to be highly educated, but we're dumb as posts. 432 pages of mind-numbing boredom.


message 11: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy (asawatzky) | 1617 comments I agree with everything Roxane says... but I couldn’t sit with Selin - she made me itchy in my own skin despite having the same distance as Gay from being that obnoxious nineteen year-old.


Kristina (kristina3880) | 34 comments There was parts that I loved and then there were times I felt that it just lagged. It was a meh book to me. I did love the correspondence between Selin and Ivan. I did love the dry sense of humor throughout the book. It may just have been too long and needed condensed.


Margot (goodreadscommerelybookish) | 11 comments Ruthiella wrote: "I loved this book so much. I want Batuman to write three more novels each detailing Selin's sophomore through senior year. I will read them and buy the boxed set.

I get that other readers would fi..."


I agree wholeheartedly! I loved this book, even though I can understand the criticisms (especially the lagging) but Selin charmed me from start to finish. I'm reading Dostoyevsky's Idiot right now and it's interesting to compare the two. Bring on the box set!


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 541 comments Ruthiella wrote: "I loved this book so much. I want Batuman to write three more novels each detailing Selin's sophomore through senior year. I will read them and buy the boxed set.
."

YES I love this idea. And get rid of the giant travel narratives and just write what she does best, the interpersonal awkward stuff.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 541 comments I also must add to this thread, although I've said it other places, this is fantastic in audio. I feel like her tone comes across better when you hear it in her voice. Less pretention, more awkward. :)

For me it just came so close to some of my own experiences, particularly the first half of the novel, that I felt an immediate kinship. I can understand that this will not be every reader's experience. But if you started college at the dawn of the internet (when it became more pervasive) and highly experienced in thinking and learning but woefully underexperienced in adult relationships - well. This is that.


Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments If it makes it past the play-in round, I'll go back and finish this. But the things everyone who loves it loves most (Selin's character, the humor, the discursiveness) were as far as I can tell fully present in the fall section, and it wasn't enough to make me want to read far into the winter section. Or the rest of it.

Maybe the audio would help me.


Heather (hlynhart) | 298 comments I had started and DNF'ed it in 2017, thinking to myself at the time that I would be willing to go back and finish it if it shortlisted. And, for some reason, it really did suck me in, but it took a long while to do so. At some point I just became really fond of Selin, and her awkwardness in traversing her first sort-of romantic relationship was quite charming and relatable to me, so by the time I finished I gave it 4-stars. I also read it right after Stephen Florida, so possibly it looked rosier by comparison.


message 18: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin Glover (erinxglover) | 101 comments To me, this was a book about a teen would could only communicate via e-mail. At times, I just wanted to smack Selin and scream, “Say something!” We never learn who Selin is, probably because she doesn’t know who she is. We know she’s remarkable-looking and has big feet, speaks Turkish, and must be really smart to get into Harvard. Throughout the book, she obsesses about Ivan. She’s horribly insecure, constantly ascribing negative intentions to Ivan’s comments. She belittles herself. She does things she doesn’t want to do. When she can’t think of anything to say, she says nothing at all. If she weren’t a freshman in college, it would be easy to dislike her. But it’s hard to forget how challenging the first year of college was, even though it was many years ago. Instead, I was just frustrated. Ivan wants an e-mail relationship. Pretty much Ivan gets whatever he wants because Selin never stands up for herself. IMO, it was hard to figure out the big story question.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 541 comments That was totally my freshman experience, ha!


message 20: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin Glover (erinxglover) | 101 comments OMG! Too funny.


message 21: by Ruthiella (last edited Jan 18, 2018 09:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruthiella | 330 comments I really feel I know Jenny Selin after reading the book, but I don’t think there is a story to the Idiot. This is just a chapter of Selin’s life: her first year at university and her first attempt at an adult relationship. I also didn’t really think that that Ivan was a cad or anything. I led her on some, but I think he is also genuinely interested in her . He is gives Selin a lot of hints but she doesn’t pick up on them. I feel like I know her well enough. She likes languages; she is interested in communicating but doesn’t always know how to go about it. She is intellectually curious. She wants to do good in the world but isn’t quite sure how to make that happen.


Brandon L | 10 comments Started this last night and really liking the detached, but curious voice. I work at a college, so I am a bit of a sucker for campus novels (let us not speak about Lucky Jim however). It’s Harvard though, so that has extra baggage that I’m curious if Batuman will engage further. The little snippets and chunks make this super easy to digest and remind me of a less manic “Speedboat” by Renata Adler.


Katie | 127 comments I second how great this audio was. I really enjoyed this book but I also really related to the character. When someone above yelled about nothing happening I couldn't help but think so many things happened. I mean when things include mostly being a well to do, smart student with no major concerns. Everything is wanting some jerky older guy, being completely incapable of asserting yourself, failing and beating yourself up. I was a little later in the e-mail/internet college spectrum having been a freshman in 2000 but it definitely is close enough to get it. I loved listening to the writing. It worked for me. I'm reading Stephen Florida now and I have to say college books are apparently a thing I really like!


Michelle | 155 comments I'm sorry. I know how much some of you loved this book. I just couldn't do it. This is a dnf for me. I guess I'll try to come back to it if it wins the play-in round. As for now I think my energies are better focused reading The Animators, Exit West and my Goodreads friend, Lark Benobi's The Book of Dog.


Brandon L | 10 comments Finished The Idiot this morning. I liked the book overall. I think there’s something unique about a failure-to-launch relationship, because we get to see all the ways in which this fails: the way Selin and Ivan talk around one another, the way Selin doesn’t know how to communicate her desire, the way Ivan can’t give her space to do so.

This is a great college novel, more true than Stephen Florida to a certain kind of college experience. There’s the late night philosophical conversations, discovering the centrality of alcohol to college socializing, and navigating friendships and acquaintances. Selin is searching for meaning in all sorts of ways, and seems on the cusp so many times, and learns little lessons, but never gets to any big conclusion. I think that’s a unique experience to read about, and we’re keep reading because the voice of Selin is engaging, and funny.


message 26: by Gaby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gaby | 29 comments This book was a huge disappointment for me. It was impossible to get emotionally attached to any of the characters and the plot was one long yawn. I really wished she would have accepted a few of those adult beverages she was offered. She might have come off more interesting.


message 27: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 298 comments I started this book earlier this week and it is just not my cup of tea, so putting it aside.

Maybe because I really want Stephen Florida to win the play-in round.


message 28: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1040 comments Michelle, where is the GR Like button so I can applaud your choice?!?


Michelle | 155 comments Jan wrote: "Michelle, where is the GR Like button so I can applaud your choice?!?"

LOL Jan! I usually don't drop books like that. I feel obligated to finish them and usually guilt myself into sticking in for the long haul. But that's irresponsible at this point. The semester's starting and I have 10 books to review.


Gwendolyn | 159 comments Just finished this one. I really enjoyed certain parts of this novel, but other parts drove me crazy. Some parts were very boring and seemed pointless and not even funny. In fact, the whole second half of the novel loses momentum, in my opinion, but the humor in the first half almost makes up for it. This book has a very particular type of humor that really worked for me. Especially in the first half of the novel, there were several places where I laughed so much there were tears in my eyes. Overall, I wouldn't really recommend this book because it's too long and slow in the second half, but the humor shines.


message 31: by Drew (new) - rated it 3 stars

Drew (drewlynn) | 416 comments I just finished this book today. It's another of those "I'm not in the target audience" books although some of those I still enjoy. Anything involving Ivan was a total bore. Yes, I've had those types of relationships when I was younger but it's just painful to read about them now. But I did enjoy the humor and found the entire section set in Hungary (even when Ivan was involved) delightful. Culture clash! Too much hospitality! Misunderstandings! Hilarity ensures. (Disclaimer: I am a former student of Russian and have worked with many Eastern European emigres and I've seen these kind of things firsthand even on my own turf.)

I haven't read Batuman's first book The Possessed but a friend DNF'd it, saying it was funny but there was nothing new. That's pretty much how I felt about this one. I did give it an extra star for the humor.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I loved this so much that I'm finding it difficult to review, because I just want to quote large chunks of text and say 'See?!'. I'm not certain I've ever read a book that so perfectly matches my sense of humour. I loved how Selin is confused by things everyone else takes for granted, and how as the book goes on her confusion hardens into a sort of subtle, quiet resistance to the culturally mandated femininity she's expected to perform. She is young enough that she can't see her own personality; she doesn't realise that her inability to have opinions or reactions to the things people demand of her is actually core to who she is, but by the end of the book she is more settled into her actual self. But really, what makes me love the book is that I love who Selin is, and to a certain degree I identify with her; I, too, find it "amazing to eat anything without having to listen, nod, smile, or do anything with my eyebrows." I too am constantly surprised by how people expect me to have a certain set of priorities, or to have strong opinions about things which absolutely do not matter to me -- but unlike Selin I am several decades older and know that there's nothing wrong with me, so I am better at hiding my surprise and providing socially acceptable responses and doing things with my eyebrows even when really I would rather not.


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 444 comments Bryn (Plus Others) wrote: "I loved this so much that I'm finding it difficult to review, because I just want to quote large chunks of text and say 'See?!'. I'm not certain I've ever read a book that so perfectly matches my s..."

Yep. This matches my experience reading this book.


message 34: by Bryn (Plus Others) (last edited Feb 12, 2018 05:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I finally got GR to actually save my review of it, after three or four failed attempts. Thank goodness I'd written it in notepad rather than just in the little window here.

Alison, I just read your review and the word 'agency' really stood out to me -- I saw that in the novel too, the refusal to go the directions other people wanted, a sort of quiet, passive resistance.


Kelly | 28 comments This book needed some serious editing, especially in the first half. The summer in Hungary was excellent, such a quiet comedy of errors, but the year before that dragged for me. I really liked Selim, and I want to see how she turned that out. I hope she stays quirky and independent and always questioning the world.

I'm approximately Selim's age, and the author really captured that era. It was kind of a magical time to be a college student in America. You could still be young and dumb without it being captured forever with cell phone cameras and posted on social media. Emails meant you could talk to anyone, anytime, instantly - but only if you rushed home between classes to frantically check on your massive desktop computer that cost $2,000. You still had to carefully plan meeting places and times, because you couldn't text and call once you left the dorm room. The internet was going to be nothing but wonderful, the world was going to be a safer and more peaceful place, America was going to be prosperous and the only thing we cared about in politics was what the intern was doing under the desk....


message 36: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments I'm liking this a lot. I was one of those kids for whom college life was too short. I wish it could have gone on forever. The swirl of books and ideas and hormones and old, musty buildings.

I'm not really seeing that Selin is an "idiot" except in the sense that we all were to one degree or another.


message 37: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments I am amazed at an eighteen year old starting college and being able to be swept up and being able to do deep thinking in the idea-language of so many different disciplines at once. When I started college, I don't remember being so engaged. Maybe I was, but I just don't remember.


Paige (paigeawesome) | 14 comments Loved this one. Haven't read the other two play-in candidates but I'm kind of hoping this one makes it in.

For those who said they wanted more Selin--I read this review (quite good) of the book which hinted that it would be part of a series; I wondered if it could be true and found some confirmation from The Guardian: "One of the two novels Batuman is working on is a Selin sequel, which will be similarly autobiographical, and also about books (Breton, Kierkegaard, Huysmans)."


message 39: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments A 4.5 from me.

As funny as this book has a reputation for being (and it is, in a droll off-kilter way), at its heart, it's a love story. Many have written about it a story of unrequited love, but I believe Selin's love for Ivan is very much reciprocated, although both of them seem to self-sabotage their communication at every turn. The irony is that Selin, who studies language and linguistics, is lost when it comes to progressing her relationship with Ivan in a meaningful way. Ivan, a mathematics student, can be given more slack.

I've read there's a sequel in the works, and I can't believe the story of Selin and Ivan is finished. I hope they meet again and pick up where they left off.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I am delighted by how well this book is doing in the tournament thus far, but I am very frustrated by people who dismiss it because Selin 'isn't a strong female character'. I understand being annoyed by her passivity, or wishing she would behave differently, but to dismiss her as weak and thus unworthy of being written about -- grrr. (And I have not reread the thread here before writing this, so if anyone above said this, I am not yelling at you, but at people on the ToB website.)


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 444 comments Bryn (Plus Others) wrote: "I am delighted by how well this book is doing in the tournament thus far, but I am very frustrated by people who dismiss it because Selin 'isn't a strong female character'. I understand being annoy..."

I think she's a marvelous character. Batuman really captures that point in time where we're smart in some areas and utterly without a clue in others.

But I adored this book, so I'm not the person to point out how Selin should have been different.


Peebee | 68 comments Bryn (Plus Others)....I'm sure I'm one of the people you're referring to. I had a very visceral reaction to Selin, in the sense that if I had to spend time with her for an extended period (even the several hours it took me to read the book), I would have to leave the room. I found her passive and passive-aggressive, and her declared love for Ivan inexplicable.

As you've said above, you very closely identify with Selin, but quite possibly for reasons (at least from the ones you've listed) which are not the reasons why I dislike her so much. But I'm pretty sure if we met in real life, we would be able to have a lovely conversation and get along just fine, and especially with you being several decades older (as am I) the missing sense of self that seems to be largely attributable to Selin's age wouldn't get in the way.

It will be very interesting tomorrow, because I identified much more closely and personally with Sharon Kisses of The Animators. So there may be some things that other members of the Commentariat dislike about her that are hurtful. Don't know how they will hit me personally, but we'll see.

I can't tell you not to feel what you feel, and I don't want to offer the non-apology "I'm sorry you felt that way." But I am much more harsh in my judgment of fictional characters than I am of anyone I've ever met and interacted with personally, and part of what I look forward to each year is the ability to dissect those fictional characters with others who actually have passionate feelings too (even if they disagree with mine). And I hope further discussions of Selin or others won't cause anyone too much trauma.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments Peebee,

I am very glad you posted, and glad to find that you are here on Goodreads as well as on the other site. I certainly understand why you thought I was referring to you, but I had more in mind the people who wrote one or two sentences (something like 'I hate this, Selin is so lame/stupid/weak') rather than you who took the time and effort to explain your thoughts and engaged with many other members of the community. It does not bother me at all that you prefer to read about powerful women, even though we disagree about Selin in particular, and I also dislike spending time in the head of a character I dislike. And I think I do not take it personally in the way that you mean when people dislike a character I identify with -- it is the characte they dislike, after all, which is not me.

What does bother me -- and what I did not see in your posts -- is the dismissing of Selin (or any woman in any novel) as 'weak' without any engagement in the question of what it is that qualifies a woman as strong, and where these ideas of strength & weakness come from. I think if I had said that I hated White Tears because Carter was such a weak man, people would have stared at me in confusion -- after all, his weakness (such as it was, and what does that even mean?) is a key factor in the book. I wanted to dig into all of this, not have numerous posters refusing to even engage because weak women make for stupid books that are not worth their time.

Of course, another large part of my irritation when I made that post aboveis that I was too busy on the day of that judgement (and every day since) to sit down and write all of this out, which might very well have sparked the discussion I was hoping for. And now I must post this, hoping it is not too much a mess, as I am writing it in time which more properly belongs to my daughter. :)


Peebee | 68 comments Thanks, Bryn (Plus Others). A couple of people were very specifically angry with me over my assessment of Selin (some of which eventually got deleted by the #mods), so I'm trying to be sensitive to it right now. I'm also really tired of that side of the bracket, which was filled with books I strongly disliked, while on this side, books I really enjoyed (like EW and The Animators) are knocking each other out. I often don't care so much who the zombie picks are, but this time around, I can't wait to see them.


message 45: by Bob (new)

Bob Lopez | 328 comments Man....longlisted for The Woman's Prize and now a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

...I'm still not going to read it.


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Bob wrote: "Man....longlisted for The Woman's Prize and now a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

...I'm still not going to read it."


I'm not either, Bob.


Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Bob wrote: "Man....longlisted for The Woman's Prize and now a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

...I'm still not going to read it."


I did read it and will never get those hours back. I'd claw my eyes out if it had won. 😡


message 48: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy (asawatzky) | 1617 comments I’m with you! But DO read the other finalist - “In the Distance” by Hernan Diaz


message 49: by Jesi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesi (jesinishibun) | 21 comments Meanwhile, I'm reading it for the second time and loving it even more this time around. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 541 comments Jesi wrote: "Meanwhile, I'm reading it for the second time and loving it even more this time around. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

Nice. I was feeling maybe I would pop back in with something positive to say myself.

I think of Elif every time I watch Saturday Night Live, because one of the female comics, Melissa Villaseñor, sounds so much like the author, who I remember fondly from the audiobook. (But this is a funny sketch about Melissa's voice so maybe that's not a great comparison?


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