Yearbook pages are not something we give much thought to post-graduation, but over the course of senior year melodramatic dedications are edited over and over, to adjust to friends gained, enemies made, and the “no matter what happens you made my life wonderful, soul m8 4ever” boyfriend who will later turn out to be a drug addict who starts having sex with a friend’s divorced mother who has multiple kids. All our high-school years culminate on this page, one final pissing contest that’s so cringe-worthy embarrassing it’s a wonder most H.S. yearbooks don’t end up fodder for a camper’s flame.
Which is why, upon completing Lena Dunham’s “memoir-ish” (New York Times) book, Not That Kind of Girl, there was a painstakingly “nooooo” (me) moment when reading the 2.5 page acknowledgment section that includes a smiley face, caught this: “Jack Michael Antonoff. These words would never exist if not for your love and support. Thank you for making a life and home with me,” and this: “Taylor and all her songs.” Which is slightly more obnoxious than just saying, Taylor Swift.
It made the book feel more high school-ish and more girl-ish than it should have for a book publisher to have paid 3.7 million dollars for and which debuted at No. 2 on the Times’ hardcover nonfiction list.
There have been plenty of reviews chronicling the navel-gazing, the self-indulgence, and the failure at intersectionalism, as well as Lena’s inability to hover above her writing, outside of herself, and offer something unique.
The book fails at times, feeling like something rushed in between filming seasons of Girls and maintaining her ever-growing list of celeb friends, and left at the hands of an editor to sort through. Which is why the learned in “A young woman tells you what she’s ‘learned,’” is in quotes on the cover.
However it still feels important that as a “young woman” in Hollywood, and therefore a woman on the world’s stage, Lena has put certain thoughts to paper. Thoughts outside of sex and self that young twenty-somethings can benefit from reading. For instance, “It is 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,” may be the most self-aware moment in a book of faux gonzo journalism.
Here, briefly, she manages to step outside of her head for a moment to recognize that there are people in places that are not her. She then continues belaboring the men she’s fucked, the food she’s eaten, and the women and men who have made her feel less than. We’ve all been there, so we relate, but are also left with the lingering, “so what?” She chronicles her life’s moments in no particular order, with no intention other than getting it all out, which with this debut book, she’s given herself from the get-go. An out. If she puts it in quotes, it’s not real. It’s self-aware, without having to do the footwork that aware requires. Like the chapter, “Girl Crush,” where she chronicles her conversation with “Nellie” (British playwright Polly Stenham, who of course Lena loves because they look like they could be sisters):
In the cab to her house, we talk. About why we write, what its purpose is when, she says, “the world is full of so much shit we can’t fix.”
“And in our work, we create a better or clearer universe,” I tell her breathlessly. “Or at least one that makes more sense.”
“A place we’d want to live, or can at least understand.” She nods, satisfied. “You’re really smart.”
Here we cringe again. Not because Lena isn’t smart. She is in many instances a great writer, who surprises the reader with wit and charm and look-at-me-self-effacement (which might be her greatest skill), but because she, like a graduating senior still needs us to understand that she is smart, that she’s “learned” things that are worth passing on.
The title warns us. Lena Dunham is both “Not Kind Of” (in black lettering) and she is also “That Girl” (in pink lettering). She is Not Kind Of, because her writing is the real deal, and as she develops and learns about life without the quotations, she will be exceptional. At the moment she is also That Girl. The one who bugs you, but who is here to stay. That Girl who has made it, partly the result of nepotism and whiteism, despite what she implies in the chapter “Little White Gloves”— that a ten-episode web-series called Delusional Downtown Divas first presented at a small gallery in Soho, spontaneously led to hosting the Guggenheim’s First Annual Art Awards— and partly based on talent. That Girl who might look back on the book and wince herself, and have a similar feeling about the work as she does now about DDDivas: that while it is “silly and high on its own supply…it’s something. It’s a step forward.”
Still at many points— the lists and the journaling, in particular— Not That Kind of Girl feels like running in place: in the spotlight the public has put in her, and the pedestal she’s always hoisted herself on.
The “problem” with the book, as she says herself, is that she’s never thought it “brave” to expose herself— whether physically or emotionally. “It’s not brave,” she writes, “to do something that doesn’t scare you.”
A memoir needs to be brave to be interesting, and this is yearbook stuff— the page you spend a year editing because you think it’s terribly important, when in the end, it was everything and yet, it doesn’t matter at all.