I’ve long had, like many people, a complicated relationship with Lena Dunham: I love Girls, but whether or not I like its creator is another story. She writes an engaging show, yes, but my inclination as to whether I consider Dunham a once-in-a-generation genius or a self-congratulatory lout changes by the day.
Of course, my own personal opinion of Lena Dunham as a human being does not really matter, and, of course, the fact that I started out this review with the letter “I” is a good indicator that I am precisely the kind of girl for whom her new book Not That Kind of Girl is intended.
I am selfish— perhaps egregiously so, perhaps simply as a consequence of the generation I was born into. Dunham, who has been equally heralded and eviscerated as the mouthpiece for our generation (or, “a generation”) encapsulates this millennial selfishness in Not That Kind of Girl extraordinarily, unapologetically well. Because of this, the book is both engrossing and unsettling to read.
It is no secret that Dunham has made her trade on this uncomfortable relatability. Her squeamishly personal narratives invite self-comparison, not so much for her actions, but rather for the specific, resonating feelings that Dunham pinpoints. Because she can identify these emotions so well, Dunham, faces a lot of criticism (for being too fat, too liberal, too naked— take your pick) when she strays from whatever standards her audience holds her to.
Not That Kind of Girl does not attempt outright to resolve this criticism. Dunham continues her usual openness in the physical sense (if you like reading about peculiar places condoms can get stuck, this is the book for you), and also bares much of seems to be Dunham’s major flaw: over self-indulgence.
This is seen most clearly in one essay, “Little Leather Gloves (The Joy of Wasting Time),” which recounts a time working at an upscale children’s clothing shop called Peach & Babke in between graduating Oberlin and finding herself.
In this essay, Dunham seems to check every box for being an insufferable millennial—she is an incompetent, unsympathetic employee, regarding the job only as a pit stop to becoming famous. She arrives late, overcharges customers, leaves early to go to therapy. She quits when her boss chastises her for a costly, avoidable mistake.
And yet. The impetus for her time at Peach & Babke is one that will seem unnervingly familiar: “College was a wonderful gig, thousands of hours to tend yourself like a garden. But now I was back to zero. No grades. No semesters. No CliffsNotes in case of emergency. I was lost.”
Being cut loose from the in loco parentis of college, with or without a job, is enough to make anyone feel lost. Does Dunham’s willingness to own up to this make her more or less self-centered? We are all selfish, after all, but not many of us are too willing to discuss it in full by writing in a book about it, when we have already been excoriated often on a variety of different mediums. It raises the question of whether we get angry with Dunham because she describes her own particular selfishness, or a broader one many people feel.
Though it can be a bit confusing at times as to what the “point” of the book is, if there needs to be one, Not That Kind of Girl is worth a read for these moments of recognition. It is divided into five sections – love and sex, the body, friendship, work and the “big picture,” each one containing essays, lists and illustrations that more or less relate to these overarching topics.
For what it is worth, the book is also quite physically beautiful, with ink illustrations that dot each page, providing the pleasant, long-lost sensation of reading a (highly explicit) Beverly Cleary book.
In the end, it proves that you can enjoy art without necessarily enjoying the artist. You probably won’t like Lena Dunham much more after finishing her book and, for that, you will definitely like Not That Kind of Girl.
* I wrote this review before all the hoopla of Lena Dunham allegedly molesting her sister arose (which now, in true internet fashion, seems to have run its course over a matter of days).
I am not quite sure how to approach it– nothing in the now-infamous passage (in which Dunham describes “spread[ing] open” her sister’s vagina because it was “something [she] would do”) stood out to me as something particularly problematic. It was weird, certainly, but mostly just on par with the actions of the very, very strange kid that Dunham had described herself as being. And, of course, everyone did strange things when they were kids but would rather not discuss them, which supports my assertion that Dunham attracts ire because she is open with her vices that reflect many of our own.
However, discounting any potential abuse as nothing more than a childlike transgression just because I, personally, did not see anything wrong with it also has its flaws, which is why it is important that this discussion continues.