Fans of Girls will rejoice that Lena Dunham’s recently published book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned,” offers readers the same self-deprecating humour, laugh-out-loud one liners, and stories almost too erratic to be true that made its author’s popular HBO show a megahit.
The book is marketed as a middle-ground between a memoir and a prescriptive book: Tidbits of advice for young women are laced in and out of essays in which she tells intimate stories that touch on themes of sex, feminism, and body image. By recounting her experiences, Dunham hopes to inspire her readers to learn from the mistakes she openly admits to have made. In her introduction, she states, “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.”
Dunham certainly does not posit herself as the ultimate insider—even though her credentials could have allowed her to take such an approach. Dunham has been nominated for eight Emmy awards and won two Golden Globes for Girls, and she is the first female to win the Director’s Guild of America Award for a comedy series. In other words: She has been doing something right. And yet, in her book she spends more time on personal topics than on her public achievements—emphasizing that she is consistently overweight, that she rarely says what is appropriate when it is appropriate to say, and that she admits to using therapy to ease her life-long bouts of chronic anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
At the same time, these factors are essential to the underlying thesis of her book, which is embedded in her statement, “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserved to be told, especially if that person is a woman.” Dunham, who has been castigated for her priviledged upbringing and her frequent on-screen nudity in spite of her un-idolized body, contends that her story deserves to be told no matter how unglamorous it may be. To Dunham, telling an imperfect story of an imperfect woman is inspiring and important.
Despite taking a light and humorous stance for the majority of the text, Dunham does tackle serious issues such as sexism in the entertainment industry. In her essay “I Didn’t Fuck Them but They Yelled At Me,” Dunham recalls encounters with men she calls “sunshine stealers”—men in the industry who are dismissive of powerful female artists, who say things like, “You’re prettier than you let yourself be” and, “I just want to protect you.” Dunham says that in order to prevent being seen as silly and non-threatening, she pushed herself to move past her discomfort with these men and stand tall against their jabs. It is in these moments that we see Dunham’s strong sense of self and her unbridled ambitions.
However, Not That Kind of Girl is not without flaws. Although the intimate stories serve as important means of inspiration, in some cases they feel over-extended and weakly supported. In one chapter titled “Body,” Dunham chronicles what she ate each day for five days, what she vows to cut back on, and what she feels guilty for consuming. Presumably this is to demonstrate that Dunham, whose public image is largely based on the fact that she does not care what people thinks about her body, used to suffer from a tumultuous relationship with food. Yet any lessons about her anorexic behaviour or advice for readers having similar experiences are buried beneath piles of rambling. Dunham’s insistence in writing down every thought she has about a certain topic before she moves past it makes the book seem, at points, more like a self-indulgent, frantically-written diary than something worthy of a $3.5 million book deal.
One of the most interesting parts of Dunham’s novel was, surprisingly, the things she did not include. She spends an entire chapter chronicling her childhood internet boyfriend, but does not address any response to her newfound fame, or the intense and widespread criticism she and her show have garnered, including charges of racism and navel-gazing.
Although Dunham refers to herself as someone who has trouble keeping her private life private, it is evident that what she makes public is carefully constructed and planned out. Approaching the memoir is similar to that of meeting a friend who will ramble on endlessly about their life, good or bad. For some, Not That Kind of Girl will feel long, drawn out, and pointless. But for those willing to sit down and experience life right along with Dunham, the book may just fly by.