Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, published July 2015 by Fourth Estate.
Read: August 2015
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told,” writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her first book, Not That Kind of Girl. These are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20. Stories about travel, both successful and less so, and about having the kind of sex where you feel like keeping your sneakers on in case you have to run away during the act. Stories about proving yourself to a room of 50-year-old men in Hollywood and showing up to “an outlandishly high-fashion event with the crustiest red nose you ever saw”. Fearless, smart, and as heartbreakingly honest as ever, Not That Kind of Girl establishes Lena Dunham as more than a hugely talented director, actress and producer – it announces her as a fresh and vibrant new literary voice.
Where to begin… I’ve never seen Dunham’s TV show, Girls, I’ve never watched her in interview that I can recall, in fact I don’t really know much about her at all except that she is somehow ingrained in my consciousness due to modern popular culture. This year, I read and loved Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, and knew I’d have to get my hands on more feminist texts, in whatever shape or form they came in. As soon as I spotted this book, the title and blurb drew me in, and I had to buy it immediately. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that this is not my kind of book…
This was not at all what I was expecting, and for me it didn’t do the blurb justice. In fact, I’d say it broaches on false advertising. Disclaimer: Part of the reason I really didn’t enjoy this book is because I think I have a massive personality clash with Dunham. While I admire her honesty in this book, I don’t gel with her as a person at all. I can respect that she is obviously doing very well for herself, but I wouldn’t fancy spending an hour with her in the pub. She actually comes across as the type of personality that really gets on my nerves – egotistical, self-centred, immature, and occasionally downright “odd”. Maybe it’s just me, but if you feel the need to keep your shoes on during bad sex just so you can make a quick getaway, how about don’t have sex? The mind boggles.
The “lessons” in this book… There are a few one-liners that stuck with me (included in Quotables below), and they were the only thing that saved this from being a DNF. I didn’t feel that Dunham was imparting much wisdom or insight, and the aspects of the book that grated on me, took away from any positives I was experiencing. I know many women with interesting stories to tell, who could actually teach you a thing or two, and do it with a little more flair. This book was a self-glorifying memoir of an existential quarter life crisis that Dunham faced during her party years. I was bored, restless and disappointed, and I was genuinely amazed by how unrelatable I found Dunham to be. I was expecting to glean something from these non-fictional pages. If it were a work of fiction, I would call the main character an unreliable narrator. I spent the majority of this book trying to figure out what the over-arching point of the story-telling was, where was it going? After finishing the book, I’m as baffled now as I was when reading it.
The book begins:
“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter. That personal writing by women is no more than an exercise in vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up.”
I would love to know where the rest of that manuscript ended up, because the rest of the book? It couldn’t be it. Instead we are most definitely treated to an exercise in vanity – food diary insights (that never seem to have a point), a complete hash attempt at working in retail that made my blood boil, stories where Dunham clearly tries to evoke sympathy from the reader because she is such a “victim” (she needs some serious perspective!), and glorified recounts of emotionally void promiscuity that only reiterated why I personally don’t identify with it. Urgh, just no!
The book was heavy with over-privileged white middle class scenarios, and the entire thing felt self-indulgent. Just because someone tells you that you are a special little snowflake, it doesn’t mean that you have a story to share. Particularly when that story lacks direction, cohesion, and a point. I sincerely hope Dunham is not the “voice of our generation”, because I know she sure as hell doesn’t speak for me. Unless you’re a massive Dunham fan, and want to read this to get an insight, of sorts, into her personality. I’d say it’s safe to skip this one.
“When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve. This is so simple. But I tried so hard to make it complicated.”
“I have been envious of male characteristics, if not the men themselves. I’m jealous of the ease with which they seem to inhabit their professional pursuits: the lack of apologizing, of bending over backward to make sure the people around them are comfortable with what they’re trying to do. The fact that they are so often free of the people-pleasing instincts I have considered to be a curse of my female existence.”
“Barbie’s disfigured. It’s fine to play with her just as long as you keep that in mind.”
Have you read Not That Kind Of Girl? Did you find it to be disappointing? Or are you a big Dunham fan and want to debate the positive points? Let me know in the comments!