“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told,” writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her first book, Not That Kind of Girl. These are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20. Stories about travel, both successful and less so, and about having the kind of sex where you feel like keeping your sneakers on in case you have to run away during the act. Stories about proving yourself to a room of 50-year-old men in Hollywood and showing up to “an outlandishly high-fashion event with the crustiest red nose you ever saw.” Fearless, smart, and as heartbreakingly honest as ever, Not That Kind of Girl establishes Lena Dunham as more than a hugely talented director, actress and producer-it announces her as a fresh and vibrant new literary voice.
For someone who has branded herself as “not that kind of girl” by titling her first book Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham is still a very specific kind of girl with a very specific kind of (girl) fan, just not that kind.
Lena Dunham is the kind of girl who can write a sentence that makes you guffaw, “That can’t possibly be true!” and yet you believe it. A sentence like this:
He called me terrible names when I broke up with him for a Puerto Rican named Joe with a tattoo that said mom in Comic Sans.
She’s the kind of girl who observes, reports, analyzes, and reanalyzes until a situation is both gravid and devoid of meaning.
She’s the kind of girl who’s self-indulgent, self-involved, yet self-aware, so you can’t fault her for it. The kind of girl with a lot of self, for better or worse.
And therein lies her ineffable charm. Lena is a self. A voice to be adored, hated, broadcasted, muted, screamed over, listened to raptly. A voice to be heard. It’s refreshing to hear someone so young believe and argue that she has something to say. This confidence in self thus leads to hordes of fans, other girls full of various selves they want to share but don’t exactly know where or how or even if they can, because it might be scary.
I just wish Lena had taken this platform that she has built and decorated and adorned with Emmys and haters galore by age 28 and said something more…relevant? It’s a haphazardly constructed book, assembled like a 3rd grader doing papier mâché for the first time: ideas glued together, but no idea quite full enough to stand alone, no idea quite properly connected to the one attached to it.
People who have big, bursting selves that they are eager to share with a world that is often not ready to receive them frequently become bloated on their own raucous tales. I am a listener. When I meet people, I say barely anything about myself and pepper my partner with questions. I am a listener, and I’m completely content living my life this way. But sometimes you meet people who take advantage of your proclivity for listening. Lena, I expect, is one such person. Sure, I agreed to read her book, which means I willingly consented to listening to the mundanities and brilliances of Lena Dunham for at least two hundred pages. But it was too much at times. I don’t want to hear about that one time at summer camp when you were 14 years old unless you were my 14-year-old cabin bunkmate during my 14-year-old summer at Camp Birch Trails and we’re reminiscing. And maybe not even then.
Midway through the book, tempted to skip another essay seemingly rehashing the same old topics that I stopped caring about one hundred pages ago, I asked myself: are there stories that simply don’t need to be told? As a lover of stories and storytelling, my knee-jerk response is to say no, loudly and declaratively. But I’m reconsidering. Not every story has some latent meaning, awaiting discovery and retrospective analysis decades later. Not every story deserves to be shouted from rooftops or graven on paper. Some stories are just things that happen. To us they’re important. We should keep them, love them, learn from them. And then we should pack them in boxes in the backs of our minds, mature and aware that they are simply some parts of our “selves” that we don’t need to share.