Monday, October 20, 2014

book review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

The basics: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" is part memoir, part thematic collection of essays, part humor, part advice, and part self-help vignettes.

My thoughts: I'll start with the disclosure: I'm a huge fan of Lena Dunham. Although I know of no actual relation to her Dunhams, I still try to claim her (and I'm only a Dunham by marriage.) So it was with huge excitement that I started Not That Kind of Girl the moment I picked it up from the library. It's no secret Lena Dunham can write dialogue, but how would it transfer to prose? She can build a scene beautifully in prose too:
"On Saturdays my friends and I load into somebody's old Volvo and head to a thrift store, where we buy tchotchkes that reek of other people's lives and clothes that we believe will enhance our own. We all want to look like characters on the sitcoms of our youth, the teenagers we admired when we were still kids."
And she can still write a hilarious one-liner: "This relationship culminated in the worst trip to Los Angeles ever seen outside of a David Lynch film." There are a lot of great moments in Not That Kind of Girl, but I'm still somewhat confused by Dunham's intentions with it as a complete book. At several points she refers to the pieces as essays, and I wouldn't have labeled them as essays, but I can sort of see that. I'm more inclined to call the varied pieces in this collection vignettes. There are essays, short and long pieces, humorous pieces, serious pieces, and pieces that tell stories rather than reflect on them. The collection is arranged thematically in five parts, which made it feel somewhat disjointed. Dunham mines her childhood frequently, but it doesn't feel like memoir because it's not organized chronologically.

Dunham is intentionally poking fun at her age with the book's subtitle: "a young woman tells you what she's "learned."" Yet as amusing as I find the subtitle, I'm not convinced it reflects the book itself. There are nuggets of advice, but I didn't find this book nearly as reflective as I hoped. Dunham is a great storyteller, but I longed for more than amusing stories from this book.

Favorite passage:  "Another frequently asked question is how I am “brave” enough to reveal my body on-screen. The subtext here is definitely how I am brave enough to reveal my imperfect body, since I doubt Blake Lively would be subject to the same line of inquiry...My answer is: it’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you. I’d be brave to skydive. To visit a leper colony. To argue a case in the United States Supreme Court or to go to a CrossFit gym. Performing in sex scenes that I direct, exposing a flash of my weird puffy nipple, those things don’t fall into my zone of terror."

The verdict: Not That Kind of Girl is smart and funny, but it's also somewhat uneven because it tries to be so many different things. There are moments of brilliance, tales that made me cry, and sentences that had me guffawing, but there were also portions that made me wish I was re-watching Girls from the beginning instead of reading.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 290 pages
Publication date: September 30, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Not That Kind of Girl from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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  1. I'm thinking of listening to the audio of this, I'm not a big follower of her but I like her. Does that make sense? Thanks.

  2. I like her but, honestly, I didn't care for Girls so I figured I might not like her book. And I don't think I believe that she's completely comfortable with those scenes... I don't know... LOL

  3. I had hoped there would be more "advice" in this book too, as the subtitle lead me to expect; I wished she had written more about being a young woman in Hollywood and the challenges she's faced. But mostly I really enjoyed this book! So smart and funny.


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