Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Release date: September 5th, 2014
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: HarperCollins
Age group: Adult
Pages: 288 (ebook)
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

For readers of Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, and David Sedaris, this hilarious, poignant, and extremely frank collection of personal essays confirms Lena Dunham - the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO's Girls - as one of the brightest and most original writers working today. Lena Dunham is many, many things. Creator, actor, producer and writer of the award-winning cult television show Girls, the first thing you have to know about Lena is that she's unafraid to say exactly what she thinks. She's also provocative, very funny, original, dead-pan, disturbing, neurotic, simultaneously deep and shallow, and often way, way out there. This book is a collection of her experiences, stories that have, as she describes them, "little baby morals": about dieting, about dressing, about friendship and existential crises. These are stories that most twenty something year old girls will be able to relate to: about the guys she's let sleep in her bed who didn't really want to fuck her, about getting her butt touched at an internship and having to prove herself in a meeting full of 50-year-old men. It's all about trying to work out what to wear, what to say and how to be, every single day. "And if I could 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 was worthwhile. I'm already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or thinking that it was your fault when some guy suddenly got weird and defensive talking about your cool interests and job. No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a happily married woman or the owner of a successful support hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, sending hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle."

I have never really considered myself a fan of Lena Dunham. I remember when I first came across HBO's Girls, I got really interested about this young woman who writes and directs her own show that is being compared to Sex and the City. After watching the first episode, I quickly realized that Girls really isn't much like Sex and the City. It lacks the glamour and the glossiness of Sex and the City and it oozes with honesty, but at the same time I could not avoid thinking that the show is kind of pretentious in some sense - the characters, especially Lena Dunham's Hannah - are so cliche, annoying and fake that I first had a difficult time connecting with the show in any way. I haven't watched all of the episodes that have aired, but I definitely am interested to do so, even though the show never came my favorite in any sense.

I was kind of spectical about reading Not That Kind of Girl for several different reasons. First of all, the title really annoys me. What kind of girl Lena Dunham does not identify herself as? What kind of girl does she think she is? Another reason I was wary about this book is centered around the problematic characteristics of Dunham and some of the statement she has given about feminism and race in particular. But despite all of these problems, I decided to give it ago, just to see what all the discussions relating to the book are about (especially those relating to the story about her little sister Grace and the claims of sexual abuse). 

This book was a lot like I expected it to be. It was at parts funny, at parts touching and at parts so honest that it made me wince. Though there were segments here I really enjoyed, I could not stop feeling like there was this really pretentious undercurrent present throughout the book. Constantly I kept asking myself "can she really be like this?" She writes about her problems with fears that are constantly present in her life, about her sexual experiences and her relationship with her family, in addition to stories about her professional life in a way that at parts made me feel like she is not really telling the truth but rather trying to make up a story that's as amusing and weird as possible to fit to her public persona. Yes, these things might me true, but as she says at one point, she is not trustworthy as a narrator. One can only make her own interpretations and go with those.

Dunham, for sure, is a very talented writer. Her voice is honest, descriptive and the right amount of hilarious. She's morbid at one page, extremely optimistic at the next. Her stories are amusing and entertaining, but unfortunately I felt like they did not say much, which is a shame because this book that she made a lot of money of could have been a great way for her to actually say something... something a bit more relevant than her stories about her first blowjobs and camping experiences. No doubt all those stories have a deeper meaning, but for someone who does not want to read her words like scripture, that meaning might be hidden way too deep. 

I could not stop comparing this book with Amy Poehler's Yes Please, one of the best books I read in 2014. I have to admit that I am definitely biased when it comes to Amy Poehler, because I think everything she says or does is pure gold. But one who has read both books, Poehler's Yes Please and Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, must note the differences. Whereas Poehler's book is inspirational and easy to identify with, Dunham's book feels contantly alienating - Poehler really tries to make a connection with her readers, whereas Dunham's stories are so tied up to her privileged background and upbringing that it feels extremely difficult to connect with her in any deeper level. Whereas Poehler manages to be funny without being bitchy or vulgar, I feel like Dunham occasionally has to go to the "dark side" to make her point. Don't get me wrong - I do not mind vulgar humor and I definitely do not wince while reading about vaginas and flacid penises, I feel like these did not really do anything to Dunham's book.... They really had no purpose.

In no way is Not That Kind of Girl a bad book. It is well written and paced and the stories Dunham tells are interesting and weird. But it is also a bit alienating and personally I just could not get rid of the feeling that it was kind of fake, which made it a less enjoyable experience for me than for example Poehler, Fey or Kaling's similar books. 


  1. Great review. I'm actually quite a big fan of Lena Dunham, and love watching Girls but appreciate all the points you've discussed here. I definitely get where you are coming from when you found her book alienating, though I have yet to read it (gave my copy to a friend), I feel the same way when watching Girls. At the end of the day I still enjoy watching it for it's humour and realism. I'm a big fan of Amy Poehler too! Can't bring myself to watch the last season of Parks and Rec yet but am very excited to read her book.

    1. I really need to catch up with Girls, but at the moment I feel like there are so many shows I need to catch up with the Girls has kind of just been left to the backburner. I've seen the first season in its entirety and I did find it funny, but like I said, also kind of alienating, like this book as well. But yeah, I definitely appreciate the realism of the show and humor that sometimes feels a bit too much. :D

      I am really scared what will happen when Parks and Rec finishes because that show has been so important for me... Only a couple of more months and it will be all over. Hopefully Amy Poehler starts another TV project because I am so used to seeing her weekly and I have started to rely on the fact that she'll make me laugh once a week with the wonderful cast of the show.

      Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate it :)

    2. I hope she does as well! She was a recurring minor character in Arrested Development about four episodes, not sure if you watched it? It was nice seeing her on screen with her then husband Will Arnett. I think it's good that the rest of the cast like Chris Pratt are really getting themselves out there as well, such talented actors! Hope you had a great weekend (:

    3. I love Arrested Development - it is so absurd and insanely funny! I am going to miss Ron Swanson like crazy - he is so incredibly entertaining character and Nick Offerman plays him so well. A film starring Tina Fey and Amy will be released some point in 2015 - can't wait to see that. Tina Fey's new show starring Ellie Kemper comes to Netflix in February or March, I think, so that's pretty exciting too.

      I had a very peaceful weekend! I hope you had a good weekend too :)

    4. Will have to check out more of Tina Fey's stuff!

    5. 30 Rock is great if you like Arrested Development because it is also kind of absurd/weird. :D


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