Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not That Kind of Girl

 If you watch HBO’s Girls, you see Lena Dunham naked approximately 5,000 times. If you read Not That Kind of Girl*, you see Lena Dunham emotionally naked roughly the same amount. I initially opened the book and thought wow…an open book! I was not astounded by my ability to literally open up the pages (although I had just painted my nails, so that's kind of impressive); I was amazed with the candidness it contained. Lena concedes that she does not possess a wealth of wisdom, yet maintains that she might still have something to offer. She tells readers, “If I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile” (Dunham, xvii). She comedically shares her insecurities so that we might feel less insecure ourselves. That way she can beat anyone to the punch when it comes to making fun of herself!

Even if you do not enjoy her quirky mannerisms or value her sense of humor, you can appreciate this woman’s incredible accomplishments. After all, she started writing/directing/acting in an award-winning television show at age 25! I can’t decide if that makes me feel inspired or if it makes me feel like complete shit. Oftentimes when I find myself watching sports (like one of those cool girls, ya know) I’ll experience an unwelcome epiphany. In between my douchey, unsubtle attempts at knowledge-dropping (“they’ve made a lot of points in the paint tonight”, “that was an incredible pick-six”, “didn’t ____ used to play for ___”, etc.) I’ll think about the players’ absurd degree of talent at such a young age and become disillusioned. But athletic skill is one thing; creative skill is entirely another. A famous football player might have a streak of bad games, but Lena is completely and totally exposing her artistic prowess, allowing the world to judge her creativity—a talent that is much more abstract and arguably more daunting to display. Furthermore, her impetus to write has an existential undertone that I obviously eat right up. She explains to a fellow writer, ‘“In our work, we create a better or clearer universe…or at least one that makes more sense. A place we’d want to live, or can at least understand’” (Dunham, 135). You sense that producing this book is therapeutic for her and you feel blessed for having been ushered into that process beside her. #Blessed.

Her quest for self-actualization is certainly not drama-free. She is theatrical throughout even the most pedantic moments of daily life, which provides her plenty of material to publicly disclose. The memoir book is divided into five chapters, each containing a conglomeration of lists and autobiographical essays. The first section, “Love & Sex” discusses her desperate attempts at losing her virginity, her awkward flirtatious intimations, and her unfortunate penchant for jerks. “Body” details her difficulties dieting (ex: “How to Remain 10 Lbs. Overweight Eating Only Healthy Food”) and her reasoning behind willingly performing her own sex scenes on Girls—“I do it because my boss tells me to. And my boss is me” (Dunham, 105). “Friendship” follows her relationship with her sister and the reasons why she loves New York-- “I like your city… I just like mine better” (Dunham, 157). “Work” relays the sexism she experiences in Hollywood and reminds readers that you can have legitimate aspirations without being ambitious all the freaking time (Can I get an Amen?). Lastly, “Big Picture” meditates on death and therapy and features one of my favorite chapters concerning her hypochondriatic tendencies. There have been complaints from some critics that the book’s structure hops around in an overly-haphazard way. I disagree; each chapter is entertaining in and of itself and I do not think the book was intended to be read as a chronological narrative.

To be honest, I can’t always relate to Lena. We have different (though not clashing) views on love, sex, body image, etc. But Lena makes you relate to her. She fondly forces you to see life through her exuberant eyes and it is difficult to not be transformed by her frankness. Her book—and her show for that matter—make me feel empowered. They suggest that you and I can fulfill our dreams by just being ourselves and staying true to said self. Granted, unlike her, I don’t come from a family of successful artists with hella connections. My dad owns a couple of Hallmarks so I think I could potentially pull a Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer and get into the greeting card biz. I also think it is very cool that she has the clout to openly reveal embarrassing stories about people in her life. For God’s sake, she chronicles her past sexual encounters in graphic detail and she currently has a serious boyfriend—the lead singer of the band fun, in fact. He is probably like “what the hell is this?” while everyone else is like “oh, that’s just classic Lena, for ya!” She can get away with so much because she’s funny and bright. I hope that someday I can mortify my loved ones via a similarly public platform. That being said, beware of transgressing me in any way. I will morph into the Taylor Swift of writing and talk all kinds of shit about you.  

In summary, Lena Dunham is on point with her intelligent, snarky swagger and her memoir rightfully earns 4 out of 5 camel humps. As with most comedic books, I do not give out a full 5 humps because it is not a “must-read”--though it is very engaging nonetheless. It is not always lol-funny but it is such a joy to read in that it relieves the burden of complicated life issues without denying their significance. At one point, I was reading it on the bus from DC to NY and I genuinely wanted the ride to be longer so that I could read more. That is a true testament to her ability to entertain because my desire was ridiculous. Buses are awful and I was sitting next to a smelly male who sifted uncomfortably in his seat all too frequently and monopolized the shared arm rest. Lena is a lively soul with a good-natured humor that is comically self-deprecating without completely undermining her pride. It would be a mistake to not read this book and miss out on her wit. And because I'm apparently very into memes these days, I will leave you with this:

*Dunham, Lena. Not That Kind of Girl. New York: Random House, 2014. Print.


  1. Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for the Little Ball of Hate!
    I think the 2 of you should start doing book reviews!
    It would probably turn into your own book or certainly a New York Play!
    Miss you!

  2. I told her she would love it! I'm about to start a book that she recommended to me-- "The Rum Diary". I hope to see you soon :)