Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

20588698Blurb:

“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.

Review:

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.

3 out of 5 stars

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Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

18170549Blurb:

An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at theNew Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

Review:

I guess one of the coolest things about growing up is that you suddenly have tons of important things to say and people actually listen to you. At age 22 I feel like I’m on the cusp. Of what, I don’t know. To where, I don’t know either. But it’s this fantastic feeling, indescribable really; if I tried, I’d say it’s how you feel after you’ve stepped off a diving board but before you hit the water. Light in the air, but heavy with gravity.

Marina Keegan died at age 22. Her feet never hit the water. But she left behind more than a dozen essays and stories that capture that cuspy young adult feeling better than anything I’ve read before. Throughout The Opposite of Loneliness I had the wonderful privilege to see many of my current hopes and joys and anxieties recounted by a peer because for the first time, my generation is old enough to represent itself. No longer must we suffer the apocalyptic announcements of 50-year-old writers condemning us Millenials for our flightiness and inattention. We are on the cusp, we own the cusp, and we have the right to describe it.

And that’s what Marina does. Reading her essays is like a conversation, but instead of talking at you or about you, she talks with you. There’s the title essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, that highlights her unique ability to live a 22-year-old’s life but reflect upon it with the wisdom of a much older person:

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time…What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.

Other standout essays include Stability in Motion, an ode to the modern teenager’s sanctuary—her first car and all the memories made in it, and Song for the Special, an honest admission of the crushing jealousies that haunt a generation of kids told that they were better than normal, destined for awards, success, and celebrity.

Her short stories are even better. The Emerald City is a modern epistolary, a one-sided email chain from a young architect who has fallen from his cusp and finds himself in Iraq, consciously callow and outside his element, which makes his surprising fate even more devastating. Reading Aloud is very mature; it reminded me of an Alice Munro story called Wenlock Edge that I read last year in her collection Too Much Happiness. The masterpiece, however, is the first story Cold Pastoral. Claire, a college student, must decide how much to care when a not-quite-but-almost-boyfriend unexpectedly dies. It asks questions that belong to our generation, like what are the consequences of fleeting, are we or aren’t we relationships? And how can we forge meaningful connections if life is a constant attempt to act casual? In its scant 24 pages I was alternately charmed and horrified by how shockingly honest it was.

In the title essay Marina asks if we have a word for the opposite of loneliness. I say yes, yes we do, and it’s writers like her, writers who express what everyone else around their age is thinking, that give us that feeling, the opposite of loneliness.

4 out of 5 stars