Friday, November 7, 2014

"Not That Kind of Girl," by Lena Dunham (Yes, That Lena Dunham)

Agewise, I am not the target audience for Lena Dunham’s television show, “Girls,” nor for her new book of very personal essays, “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’” (Random House, 2014). Yet I have occasionally watched and been intrigued by the show, and I have just finished reading the book. Dunham is known for being successful in her early twenties; she is also known for her willingness to be extremely self-revealing about her experiences and feelings, whether good, bad, or (often) embarrassing. She is still only in her late twenties, and some would call it presumptuous to write a quasi-memoir at such a young age, but her candidness and self-deprecation are disarming. On one level, the book is very personal, with topics including her dating life, sex life, work, creativity, health, body and body image, relationship with her parents, friendships, therapy, and much more. On another level, she is speaking for a certain subset of her generation, mostly privileged, urban young women who are educated, liberated, but still often confused, aimless, and lost. Some of the chapter headings provide an idea of the scope and focus of the book: “Take My Virginity.” “Girls and Jerks.” “Sex Scenes, Nude Scenes, and Publicly Sharing Your Body.” “Therapy & Me.” “Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/Angrier/Braver.” The book is very readable, and besides the essays themselves, includes a number of catchy lists on topics such as “15 Things I’ve Learned from my Mother,” “10 reasons I [Heart] NY,” and “13 Things I’ve Learned Are not Okay to Say to Friends.” There is plenty of humor and whimsicality, but also pain. Although there is the occasional cringe-worthy passage, mostly Dunham’s writing is both engaging and endearing. And although I began by saying that agewise, I am not the target audience, there are many aspects of young women’s experiences that sound familiar even to a woman quite some years past the teens and twenties. I am sure it will be of interest to some men as well. Those who love “Girls” will love this book. Those who dislike “Girls” will probably dislike this book as well. But I think there are also other readerships: those who have mixed feelings about the show, or have never heard of it but are interested in the topics Dunham addresses. Even those who are not big fans of “Girls” may well find much to like in this book.

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