Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl

If you haven't heard of Lena Dunham by now, you've had zero access to newspapers, books and the Internet over the past 3+ years. She's a writer, an essayist, the creator of the hit GIRLS television show, and an avid supporter of women's rights in terms of healthcare, career and . . . well, every other sphere.

Dunham also continues to receive an immense amount of criticism and backlash -- as a person and within her work. So it makes perfect sense that one of the initial, most memorable lines from Not That Kind of Girl is this:

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 for our stories to matter. that personal writing by women is no more than an exercise is vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up.
— Lena Dunham

I appreciate Dunham because she says and does what she thinks, no matter what. I cringe at some GIRLS episodes; I found several of the essays within Kind of Girl to be a little unnerving, brash and weird -- but the bottom line is, she's creating and producing and sharing her stories, and I choose to support women who do those things, even if I don't agree or understand.

So, first thing: girl wrote a memoir in her mid-twenties. Who does that? Dunham, apparently. Critics jumped all over one another to exclaim that her stories were "thin" and expound upon their shock at her audacity to write such a thing at such a young age. My take is that any woman Dunham's age who can secure a million-dollar book contract, and then write said book, is both under a ridiculous amount of pressure and also very lucky.

Dunham knows this. She recognizes her privilege, and acknowledges it whenever possible. But the book is less a memoir and more a collection of advice-based essays. Some are vague and light; some are heavy with sadness and anxiety. All of the stories sound like her, which means her voice is clear and palpable -- something many writers struggle with for yours. Her voice, and her experiences, will continue to evolve and change over the years, which is exciting, for her and for her fans.

I’s a special kind of privilege to be born into the body you wanted, to embrace the essence of your gender even as you recognize what you are up against. even as you seek to redefine it.
— Lena Dunham

Two stories will stand out to the reader: one regarding an experience of rape (though Dunham never quite calls it that) and one involving her sister. Much has been said about both stories, whether they're true or how true they might be and if Dunham should really be saying what she said, and what of the experiences of the other people in those stories, etc.

Yet Dunham already saw that kind of criticism coming, as shown by the above quote. She knows her stories will get misconstrued (not might, but will) in a magnified, extremely public and detailed way. She knows that she will keep writing anyway, because these stories are hers alone. 

There are two types of women in particular who inspire my envy. The first is an ebullient one, happily engaged from morning until night, able to enjoy things like group lunches, spontaneous vacations to Cartagena with gangs of girlfriends, and planning other people’s baby showers. The biggest existential questions don’t seem to plague her, and she can clean her stove without ever once thinking, What’s the point? It just gets dirty again anyway and then we die.
— Lena Dunham

My main criticism of Not The Kind of Girl is the lack of a cohesive ending; I felt surprise upon turning the last page. Mostly in a good way, in the sense that I wanted to keep reading. A few stories seem to amble along aimlessly, or jump around in staccato fashion, but then again, that's kind of how Dunham works. Reading it will make you laugh out loud, raise your eyebrows, and shake your head; chances are, Dunham's life will find some way to resonate with yours as a reader.