In Gilmore Girls, aka the best show ever written, bright-eyed Rory Gilmore is continually seen reading a wide array of books. Whether in preparation for Harvard or for her time at Yale, she is always improving herself via literature.

Juxtapose this with Patrick Lenton, who found himself re-reading The Wheel of Time for the seventeenth time, grimly hoping the ingrained misogyny might somehow disappear if he just believed hard enough. What happened to his days of challenging himself? What about that one time he read Moby Dick and felt good for eight years? Patrick decided to take a leaf out of Rory’s books and read Rory’s books.

This week’s Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge is covered by guest reviewer Bridget Lutherborrow.

18.) Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

For the months before I read it I had been calling this book ‘Ballsack’. I had really no idea what it was going to be like. Turns out Ballsack is about two teenage sons of doctors who are sent to the Chinese countryside for re-education under Mao. Two significant things happen to them during their re-education: they chance upon some contraband literature – Balzac – and they meet the daughter of a tailor: the little seamstress. You can smell the ‘power of stories’ vibe all over it.

At first glance, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress seems to be a story of friendship: our nameless protagonist and his best bud Luo getting up to all sorts of delightful hijinks. However, given the title of the book, it’s evident who this story is really about. Luo and our protagonist reckon they’ve changed the Little Seamstress by introducing her to all this fancy schmancy Western literature, but it turns out to be a bit of a Pygmalion situation. In the end the dudes are schooled, to an extent, in the independence of ladies. Not Beyonce-grade schooled, but schooled nonetheless.

There are shit tonnes of places I could start on a Gilmore Girls tangent here, but I want to focus on the episode ‘Help Wanted’ – the episode after Jess crashes Rory’s car. (The car Dean built for Rory’s birthday. With his hands. What’s more, Rory’s poor little brittle-boned wrist is fractured in the crash.)

In ‘Help Wanted’ we see Stars Hollow exclusively blame Jess for the crash. That punk ass kid has a whole lot to answer for.

Now, I have to admit, when it comes to the Dean/Jess debate, I’m on team Jess. He is just the kind of bookish asshole I’d share meaningful looks with. But what I love about this episode is that it illustrates how difficult it can be for teenage girls to have, and be seen having, autonomy in relationships. The townfolk think Rory has no control. They wanna throw stones at the boy in the leather jacket with the cute wonky mouth, because he made Rory get in the car and he made the car crash.

But, as Rory argues, it’s not all Jess’ doing. Even though Jess is constantly manipulating situations to get close to Rory, what’s more significant is Rory lets him. Rory is smart. She’s the smartest. They give her a big yellow sash and everything. Yet the people of Stars Hollow fail to account for the fact that Rory can make decisions in her relationships. She can even make the wrong ones. Which is definitely something Ballsack touches on. The Little Seamstress may have had something awakened in her by Luo and the protagonist as they pass on their sensual Western fictions, but her actions in the wake of their mutual discovery are hers. They didn’t create her any more than Jess forced Rory to make flirty eyes at him.

Curious to see the full reading list? You can view it here.

Bridget Lutherborrow is a fiction writer and PhD candidate who perhaps already has enough challenging things to read. Nevertheless, after rewatching seven seasons of caffeine fuelled mother-daughter drama with RGRC regular Patrick, she’s decided to chip in and review a few things.