Worth A Read: Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham

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The BUZZ: Collection of essays by the award-winning writer, director and star of HBO’s Girls

The GIST: Just like her TV series, Lena Dunham’s book is gritty and disturbing. I’m a fan, and find her controversial work fascinating. It borders on offensive as she has no boundaries around what might be in good taste or bad. She covers it all, surprisingly, since she is only twenty-eight years old. Feminism, mental illness, body image, sex, friendship, family, work are all addressed in her unflinching accounts of her sometimes traumatic personal experiences.  In Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/Angrier/Braver, she had me laughing out loud. In the essay about her precocious younger sister, Grace, coming out to her at seventeen, I wept over the tenderness of her response. I liked all the pieces, but the one about why she looks forward to being eighty years old was a brilliant review of the gender gap in Hollywood and her rage against it. Dunham holds nothing back, creating an intriguing narrative that hops back and forth over the fence of shame. On one side she has none, and on the other side it’s deeper than she can bear.

The WRITING: Bold and unsettling, consistently hilarious. This is not a comfortable read for any parent or person who loves a twenty-something woman. The unhealthy culture they are slogging through is nothing like the one I came of age in twenty years ago. Dunham is smart, yet many of her behaviors are so careless and thoughtless I was left wondering how she has survived to write about them. She had a lot of self-destructive tendencies, but seems to have outgrown them. Still, I admire her endearing way of owning all of it with honesty and humility. Someone else telling these stories might make the reader feel like they were hanging out with a drama queen, but Dunham is exceptional in her ability to let us in without requiring or needing us to accept her. Her confidence is such that she describes all her insecurities, neuroses and worries (the list is long) without defining herself by them. She bravely exposes contradicting qualities of sentimentality, solicitude, self-absorption, and existential loneliness. Skilled beyond her years with word and scene, she confesses it all in a way that allows us to connect with her experience, even if it’s far from our own. We recognize the gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do, in a moment, a day, a year, a relationship.

BUY or BORROW? Borrow. I’m worn out after reading this, just as I usually am after watching Girls. But wiser and grateful for new insights. I’ll read her next book, and watch the next season.

“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.”

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