Not That Kind of Girl: My take on Lena Dunham's (controversial?) memoir

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'll admit, I've never seen an episode of Girls. 

But, much like I've never seen an episode of 30 Rock or The Mindy Project and still read and enjoyed Tina Fey's and Mindy Kaling's memoirs, I thought I'd give Lena Dunham's memoir a go! I'm more of a reader than a watcher, it seems.

 Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl: A young woman tells you what she's "learned" really was all the rage in the blogosphere (including this series of Ask Lena videos), with lots of hype preceding its October release. This coincided with my birthday (like TS 1989 did), so I was gifted it, along with Mindy's and BJ's books. (Thank you!)

I call this picture "The cleanest my nightstand has ever been." (thanks for the candle, Klaire!)
I read Mindy's first, then dove into this one. They are very very different! Lena breaks her series of essays into 5 sections: Love & Sex (67 pages), Body (42 pages), Friendship (32 pages), Work (39 pages), Big Picture (57 pages).

The page numbers are telling: much like an HBO show, there's a lot of sex in this book, and if you don't want to deal with that, then don't read it. Sex seems to sneak it's way into the other chapters as well. I thought it was fine she included it, obviously, it's her book, she clearly thinks it's an important part of her life. There's just....a lot. For example, she recounts the same college sex scene twice from two different perspectives, which is a little disconcerting because it was not a fun-to-read passage the first time around.

However, I understand not everyone's goal when writing is "make it fun to read." Her work certainly makes you think. Still, I was a little relieved when Section 1 concluded, as it was starting to feel a tad redundant. (She's a talented writer, just want to keep it real!)

The inside cover art is kaleidoscope-cool.
My favorite passages came from the Friendship and Big Picture sections.

From the Friendship Section:

"There are two types of women in particular who inspire my envy. The first is an ebullient one, happily engaged from morning until night, able to enjoy things like group lunches, spontaneous vacations to Cartagena with gangs of girlfriends, and planning other people's baby showers. The bigger existential questions don't seem to plague her, and she can clean her stove without ever once thinking, What's the point? It just gets dirty again anyway and then we die."

I couldn't agree more - to make it through a week (or a day?) without some morbid question passing through my mind - what would it be like!? To be able to accept things as "so so fun!" and not get caught up in all the ways it you know, actually, could have been better. She goes onto confirm these women are smart, not flighty or superficial, and she's jealous.

From the Big Picture Section, from a chapter entitled Is This Even Real? Thoughts on Death and Dying:

"I wish I could be one of those young people who seems totally unaware of the fact that her gleaming nubile body is, in fact, fallible. (Maybe you have to have a gleaming nubile body to feel that way. Beautiful self-delusion: Isn't that what being young is all about?....But I am not one of those young people. I've been obsessed with death since I was born."

I, personally, have not been obsessed with death since birth, but I have struggled with NOT being able to be as "carefree" as we're "supposed" to be in our youth. Lena's chapter is incredibly thought-provoking, it might be my favorite one in the whole book.

She also shares stories from her time in therapy (starting in childhood), sleep-away camp, lots of college tales, and growing up with her younger sister, Grace, who eventually came out of the closet. There is lots of controversy surrounding her relationship with her sister (just Google it if interested; it's NSFW.) Having read the whole book, I find the accusations (based on the book alone), way over-the-top. That is not the story Lena told in the book. It seems like people picking and choosing passages to try to weave a narrative that is, in fact, not there. That's just my opinion - perhaps there's tons of mounting evidence proving the accusation, I just don't think it's fair to accuse her based on a narrative seemingly woven by people with cruel intentions.

That being said, I was an English major in college, so I understand that everyone can read and interpret books in many different ways. We weren't able to check Emily Bronte's twitter feed to see what she REALLY meant by this Heathcliff dude, we just interpreted.

In all, I think almost all of Lena's essays are bursting with emotion, some are quite thought-provoking, some convey an very upper-class side of living that I had trouble relating to, the sex ones get redundant, the friendship ones were great (I wish there were more!), and I would have liked more details about her work and success with Girls as well. But, as I said, that's just my interpretation. To form your own, you'll have to read it for yourself!


  1. I just finished this last week. I enjoyed the read, but found that it was much darker than I anticipated. I went in thinking it would be a light hearted, LOL read but had to abandon that thinking midway through the first series. There were still some funny parts don't get me wrong, but just not the kind that make you pee your pants and cause embarrassment on any airplane you might be on that day. If you want that you should read "Lets Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson :)

  2. I agree Rach! I thought it would be more funny as well! I thought Tina Fey's had more LOL passages.

    I've never heard of that book - but just checked out her blog. Looks hilarious! Thanks for the recommendation!