Wednesday, December 31, 2014

#64 [2014/CBR6] "Not That Kind of Girl" by Lena Dunham

I realize that Lena Dunham and her HBO show Girls, can be somewhat polarizing, but I've always found her stories brutally honest and entertaining. I looked forward to reading her book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" (2014) and was happy to finally pick it up from the library. Dunham writes primarily about her life: generally isolated and out-of-sequence stories of growing up, school, college, boyfriends, sex, her mental health issues, and her show.

On the whole, I found this an interesting read. Dunham is a talented writer and her book is peppered with witty phrases, funny stories, and words of wisdom often learned the hard way. She can be incredibly sensitive and insightful.

"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."

"But that isn't how it works. 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...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."

Unfortunately, there were some aspects to Dunham's writing that made it harder for me to connect with her or understand her. Her life is told in snapshots pulled randomly from an unorganized drawer. I had a hard time keeping track of her life, or how one event may have influenced her later in life. I also felt that many of her stories were told in a way to show how unique or crazy her life is. Instead of explaining her actions and making them more universal or understandable, they're like totems representing how different she is.

I saw glimpses of a childhood and life that was very different from mine. She auditioned in front of Peggy Marshall as a child, she grew up with wealthy artist parents in New York City, trying out a number of different therapists along the way. Yet there was very little information about how her childhood affected her. I'm not sure if she even realizes what a different world she lives in. It would have been refreshing to see that she has a greater awareness of the world outside of wealthy NYC artists. I also would have been interested in learning more about  her mental issues: lack of sleeping, OCD, etc. She's not shy about mentioning them, but I think I would have felt I understood her better if she explained more.

Dunham also described the reality of doing sex scenes for Girls. I've heard a number of actors describe the awkwardness and reality of doing sex scenes for movies and television. They have never been as honest, forthright, and detailed as Dunham was while painting a picture of the, let's just say, grossness of the whole thing.

I was impressed with some parts of this book, and I will continue to enjoy Girls when it becomes available on DVD. However, I did not come away from this book feeling I knew or understood Dunham or where she's coming from.

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