Time for another book review! I finished Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl on Thursday and have had a couple of days to process it, so I’m ready to share my second review for my 2015 reading list series.
Going Into It | As much as I don’t want to spend this entire post discussing Lena-the-human, it’s hard to discuss Lena-the-writer without at least addressing that she is a very controversial character in current pop culture. I had reservations going into this book because I’m aware of her often problematic comments and thought processes. However, I ultimately decided that I wanted to read the book for myself, with a critical mind, but without too much prejudice.
I guess to give some background, I watched the first three seasons of Girls and enjoyed it enough, though I don’t have HBO and haven’t yet made any effort to watch the fourth season. I did really love her film Tiny Furniture and I have a tendency to like her writing in the form of New Yorker articles, etc.
The Book | I essentially read this book in two sittings. By that I mean that I picked the book up and then put it down for a month or more before picking it back up. After I started reading the second time, I was good about reading regularly, almost every night before bed. The reason I stopped was because the introduction is just too much and I was worried about what that meant for the rest of the book. We know from Girls that Lena is on the self-absorbed side, so having a whole book to write about herself could easily get out of control. After a self-serving introduction comes a section called Love & Sex, which I’m sure her editor encouraged because people love the ~wild and crazy~ shock factor of Lena talking about sex. I put the book down because this sounded exhausting. However, after picking the book back up, I was pretty pleasantly surprised.
One thing I realized while consuming Not That Kind of Girl is that Lena experiences life in hyperbole. To be really clear, I’m not saying she exaggerates her stories. What I’m saying is that she experiences things on a deeper and bigger level than the other people involved, and it makes her accounts of those experiences seem over-the-top. I trust Lena as a narrator because she describes what she felt, which she remembers really vividly.
Aside from being able to trust my narrator and finding her stories and perspective entertaining, I love her prose. I would happily read a 10,000 word Lena Dunham description of her visit to a dog park. Can you imagine the dynamic imagery of the beagles and spaniels? And the way their different poop smelled and the thought process she went through when a spotted bull terrier sniffed her butt? I love Lena as a storyteller because I love the way she brings me not only into the scene, but into her experience of the scene. She may come off as a rather special snowflake in life and in writing, but she does have a uniquely intriguing mind and I appreciate her way with words.
One of the sections of the book that sticks out to me the most is a trip she took in her late teens or early twenties to London with a frail artist she intimately admired. I thoroughly enjoyed Lena’s trip down memory road, complete with nostalgia blurring the corners, as she explored the kind of attraction you can have to another person who you connect with intellectually. I may not relate to her every narrative of sexual adventures or early-life therapy appointments, but I can find something to hold onto in the way she connects to people and experiences. I find value in that as a writer and a reader.
I want to talk a little about her description of her sexual assault. This is an extremely personal trauma that many, many writers have bravely put into words. Lena beautifully interlaces the story of her assault with stories of other sexual experiences and relationships. From a writing perspective as well as a human perspective, I think this was a smart and thoughtful choice because this particular incident occurred young in her sexual life and has affected every encounter since, in some way or another.
Lena uses the episode effect throughout the sections of her book, which I liked because we got just enough sense of each story and the characters in her life to understand where she was going with the following paragraph.
My Recommendation | While I decidedly enjoyed the book, I realize that it’s very much an acquired taste. Most people aren’t going to be able to get past her aforementioned hyperbolic explanations of things, nor her general mentality. There was a quote that I made sure to note for this particular part of the review. If the following sentence doesn’t totally turn you off, then you might like the book:
“I haven’t been to London since age fourteen, when I was angry my mother forced me to ride a Ferris wheel and even angrier because I liked it.”
So there you have it. Have you read Not That Kind of Girl? What did you think? If not, do you plan to read it after having read this review? In case you missed it, here’s my review of Yes Please.