This is another book that I picked up a while ago and then put down and had to convince myself to read. My best friend knew I’d like it and lent it to me on New Year’s Eve. I started it on the train home from her flat the next day… and then life happened, and other books happened, and I picked it up again last week.
Not That Kind of Girl (A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”) by Lena Dunham
From the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls comes a hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays that establishes Lena Dunham as one of the most original young talents writing today.
In Not that Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and, most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.
Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not that Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can 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 will have been worthwhile.”
I am the kind of feminist who will absolutely adore other feminists, famous feminists, famous successful feminists who can show me how it’s done. I love them. And so Lena Dunham was a woman whose book I was bound to be reading eventually. I watched the first season of Girls and enjoyed it in a round-about way, but it also bugged me. It sort of pointed out to me that these successful feminists, the ones I adore, can be actually quite problematic. Lena Dunham’s feminism isn’t always something I can get behind, her take on female empowerment and showcasing what is like to be a woman it’s something I likely will not agree with whenever she pops up on my radar. There’s no “all or nothing” with feminism, and I think what I want to point out before really delving into a review of this book is that Lena Dunham is not perfect, but (thankfully) none of us are.
I’m not going to get into a big debate about her feminism, my feminism, Caitlin Moran’s feminism, and how nobody’s views are the same despite the same umbrella term linking us. That’s a blog post for another day, I think. What I can get behind, however, is a woman telling her story, telling many stories about herself, making the conversation about herself as a woman, and talking about her experiences. No matter how weird or alien they are to me or you, no matter how they’re not particularly representative of every woman. When a woman’s writing a memoir, an autobiography, a collection of personal essays, you can’t turn around and say “yeah but what about me?” or “what about people who have a different background to you?” Because while all of our voices are valid and deserve a platform – this is her book about herself.
When she writes a book about other women or women in general feel free to raise your hand, and raise your voice. When she has a show on HBO called Girls that is full of middle-to-upper-class white women and no diversity at all then yeah, call her out on that shit. Right now? If you’re picking up this book, it’s time to listen, and your criticisms can be based on other things. If you don’t want to read about Lena Dunham’s super white, privileged life, do not read this book – it will make you angry and you kind of only have yourself to blame – you know what is coming. For the most part, I think feminism is about other women and not necessarily talking about yourself but letting others speak. However at this point, I’m ready to let Lena Dunham speak if it means that other women are going to follow her lead and talk about themselves, and talk about how much they dislike Lena Dunham, and how she’s wrong, and how the world treats them as women, as women of colour, as trans women, as lesbian women, as bi-sexual women, and women who identify in any way, as women no matter what. For now though, I have made the choice to pick up Not That Kind of Girl and as that was my choice, I’m going to review it as I would any other book.
So now that that is out of the way… how did I feel about Not That Kind of Girl? I felt pretty good about it, actually. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much, but I did. Lena Dunham’s world is so far from mine: she grew up, and continues to be, extremely privileged (albeit she had her own difficulties which are illuminating to read about). I have my own privileges that I am appreciative of, but reading this book was a bit of a reminder of all the things I do not have. Though reading about them didn’t really make me miss them, or feel resentful, it was sort of just an eye-opener to a different kind of existence that (to me) seems quite fictional until it’s written down in a non-fiction book.
There’s little I can write about this book in regards to plot, it literally is just a collection of essays about Lena’s life, her struggles with mental health, her time at university and her family. There are enjoyable short chapters that are basically lists of things she’s learned, emails she has sent, emails she would like to send, everything she eats over a period of time. She has a very brazen and straight-forward writing style that doesn’t leave you questioning whether this really happened the way she says it did, which is ridiculous because there’s no way that it’s all true – she has a confidence that her writing clearly depicts events accurately and it rubs off when you’re reading it. Of course there’s going to be a bias there, and of course she’s an unreliable narrator, but from the way she writes, you really can’t tell.
Lena Dunham is weird, and her memories are weird, and she’s a woman. And with this book she’s, at least a little bit, breaking down the barriers of how perfect girls and women are supposed to be. Because we’re all weird. We all have weird experiences that most of us are scared to write down in a private journal let alone in a book that’s going to sell thousands of copies worldwide. She’s a public figure and she just laid out all of her weirdness for us to pick through and criticise and write about without actually knowing her as a person, just knowing the bits of her she’s willing to share, which seems to be all of it, though I imagine it is not. She says that sharing herself is not brave because it does not scare her. Nonetheless, I found it quite inspiring.
I think this is the kind of book you can speed through really easily, or have it sitting around and dive in and out to enjoy a little bit at a time. That kind of reading experience may suit those who aren’t going to find it easy with Lena Dunham’s voice in your head a few hours at a time. I read the first couple of chapters sporadically so that I didn’t wear myself out on her, but then read the rest all in one go and didn’t enjoy it any less.
Sure, her feminism is one-sided. Sure, I do find the whole ‘feel sorry for me and my problems’ thing coming from a very privileged person very boring and over-done and completely irrelevant. But if you expect anything else from this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, and why are you even thinking about reading it? Just to annoy yourself? Don’t waste your time if you’ll know you’ll hate it, just so that you can give it a one star review on Goodreads! Read something you’ll like instead. Come on. As far as expectations, and context go, this book was more than I imagined it would be, and for this reason I’m giving it a respectable four stars.
My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 3.9/5. Goodreads average: 3.36/5.
Pages: 365 (Hardcover)
Publishers: Fourth Estate
Publication Date: 30th September 2014
Follow the author on Twitter: @LenaDunham