At Least A Kind of A Girl

Mattie and Leandra talk Lena Dunham


On Mon, Oct 6, 2014 at 3:56 PM, Mattie Kahn wrote:

As I can now imagine Lena Dunham herself might agree, I do not expect cultural commodities — books, least of all — to live up to their expectations. We can’t all be Elena Ferrante or David Fincher. These things tend to disappoint. Which is fine, or whatever, I guess. It means that I was prepared not to hate Not that Kind of Girl, but to be underwhelmed by it.

Turns out I wasn’t.

I am surprised to report that I thought the book was moving and resonant and important.

So, I’ve revealed myself. I loved it. Did you? If so, favorite essay? Least favorite essay? Cringe-iest moment? Most honest? Did you, too, laugh out loud at the “18 Unlikely Things I’ve Said Flirtatiously”? Did you bristle at her decision to paint her relationship with Jack Antonoff in only the broadest strokes? Because I did. It felt precious — at least to me. Finally, do you also really want to hang out with her parents? Because I do. They sound wise.

On Mon, Oct 13, 2014 at 5:16 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

You know what, specifically re: writing about her relationship with Jack? I think when you feel feelings that can’t be articulated, and try to articulate them because you’re a writer, there is a 0% chance that you won’t fall short. David Sedaris taught this to me with the matter-of-fact and deadpan portrayal of his mother’s death in several of his short essays. You just can’t write about the emotions that matter most while they matter most to you. That said, it was precious but only because it was platitudinal and that made me feel like there is a lot of love between them.

Overall, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. What’s interesting is that I felt like I would connect most resolutely with the work section but found that I was much more fascinated by and interested in the earlier stories — the one about her Internet boyfriend, Igor, who died? Did he ever even actually exist? And I think I know why, too. All these moments so clearly led to Lena Dunham becoming Lena Dunham so it was charming to see it unfold so honestly.

Something I’m still kind of fuzzy on, haven’t quite shook off and would love to hear from you on: the part about her being raped?

By the way, did you see the Daily Beast rip her a new asshole? I found that kind of uncalled for. This book is exactly what it should be. Entertaining, smart and an effusively welcome respite from the banalities that are living our own lives.

On Oct 13, 2014, at 7:42 PM, Mattie Kahn wrote:

It’s true. The more I think about the more I think it’s sort of unfair of me to demand that she lay it all out there because I want to know more. She doesn’t owe me an explanation of her relationship. I think I just bristled at her hint that there was so much that she wouldn’t share, which felt manipulative.

By comparison, the rest of the book seemed so completely and utterly honest. In fact, most of it read so “true-ly” that I was tempted (more than once) to just shut the thing and pretend the series of humiliations she endured had never ever happened ever (ever).

Re: Lena Dunham becoming Lena Dunham: There is nothing so pure and good and important as a woman telling her story in public. I think she actually says something to this effect, and it is so true. No person emerges into the world fully formed. Girls (Girls?) least of all.

I actually think that point ties in with at least how I personally understood the rape that she at first downplays and then later chronicles in painstaking detail.

(For those not in the know, Dunham makes light of an aggressive sexual episode in an early chapter in the book. Later, she relives it in more forthright prose. It turns out that it’s not a punchline at all. It’s rape.)

One of the most poignant scenes in the book to me is in the second telling of that episode. Dunham admits that she tries to pitch a version of the encounter as a storyline:

“Murray shakes his head. ‘I just don’t see rape being funny in any situation.’

‘Yeah,’ Bruce agrees. ‘It’s a tough one.’

‘But that’s the thing,’ I say. ‘No one knows if it’s a rape. It’s, like, a confusing situation that…’ I trail off.

‘But I’m sorry that happened to you,’ Jenni says. ‘I hate that.'”

It captures the reality that so many of us know too well — even in situations less dramatic and horrible and scarring than rape is: it’s easy for us to recognize and condemn the agony that the people we love experience. It is so much harder for us to accept and see our own suffering as it is. It reminded me how ungenerous we can be with ourselves.

Ok. On another note. I wonder whether I’ll reread Not that Kind of Girl. For reference, I crack open Bossypants, like, once a year. But I can’t yet imagine whether there are essays in this book that I’ll want to return to again and again. Do you think you will? Or is it Not that Kind of Book? (Heh heh. Don’t hate me.)

On Oct 14, 2014, at 5:38 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

So many puns. I think this might just come back to that initial point I’d made about writing feelings while you’re feeling them. What’s even harder is writing feelings while you can’t help but acknowledge all of the people who are going to be reading them. Does that make sense? Re: coming back to this book, I think definitely there are moments — very creative ones — that I’m going to want to read and reread over time. The lists specifically, and her series of e-mails she wishes she had sent to Mr. Blank and Blankie McBlankstein.

Overall, though, what were some of your deductions? Sweeping lessons learned, etc?

On Oct 14, 2014, at 8:24 PM, Mattie Kahn wrote:

It’s funny that you liked the Mr. Blank part! I had no idea what to make of that. Compared to the other asides (“18 Unlikely Things I’ve Said Flirtatiously”), it wasn’t my favorite but also because I didn’t know what to do with it.

I wonder if it resonated more for you because you are a professional already and can relate to wanting to air your grievances in public but are not able to.

AnyHOO! I thought that the book as a whole really validated her. Because she does so much on television and in magazines and with other people, it’s sort of easier to say that she’s more icon than real talent. I felt like the book changes that. Her talent is so obvious here. She does have such a resonant voice.

I’ve been trying really hard not to make the “voice of a generation” connection, but why fight it? She is one.

And also: I hope she keeps writing. I don’t know that I want to reread but I do know that I want more.

On Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 8:54 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

It seems really validating, right? For a piece of lit to meet the expectations you’d put in place for it. I found the book funny and not cheesy and therefore cool (weird descriptive adjective but one I will use nonetheless). It also made me feel like this is what my book should have looked like. This reminded me that Girls is not a television show just anyone could have made. I feel like there’s been a lot of conversation around Dunham’s art and how seemingly simple it is. How any “millennial” with a vague understanding of her position in the larger cultural picture could do it (remember those Microsoft commercials? “I’m _______ and I invented Microsoft”), but the book reminded me that her genus of genius is embedded precisely in her ability to make you FEEL like it’s so simple a caveman (or you) could do it — which is motivating in its own right — but realistically speaking, it’s actually the brainchild of huge creativity that is almost extinct.

Question: did you expect anything or hope to get anything that you didn’t get from the book? I sort of liked that Girls was an aside which only provided further illustration for her stories, but I could see how some people may have wanted more re: television fame.

On Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 10:15 AM, Mattie Kahn wrote:

It WAS cool, wasn’t it? Which is very unexpected given that she is so adamant about not being cool. It had the kind of polish and deliberateness (you know how much I love deliberateness) that always makes written work feel cool. Anyway, I agree.

I think I managed to go into reading it without expectations. Or at least, none that I was really aware of. I thought she handled talking about her “day job” pretty brilliantly, actually. One of my favorite memoirists of all time is Ruth Reichl, who wrote Tender at the Bone and was once the New York Times food critic and the editor in chief at Gourmet. I once heard her say that she only writes about things once she’s “done” with them, because that way she can be honest about her experiences. It’s too soon to know what Girls is going to become or how it’s going to factor into what I think we can agree is going to be a very long and interesting and “cool” career. It’s too early to tell.

You know, the more I think about it the more I feel like I need to take back my earlier criticism of how she wrote about her relationship with Jack. How can I expect her to have anything to say about something that she’s so in right now? Maybe in a few books we’ll get some more details.

But here’s the real question: Does the book make you more or less excited for the fourth season of Girls? Now that I’ve had a taste of what Dunham can do in prose, I sort of just want her to do more of that. Thoughts?

On Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 11:52 AM, Leandra Medine wrote:

Supplementary word to describe your first graph and my wanting to call it cool: effortlessness. She is effortless because she is unapologetically and proudly herself. Re: her relationship, I think the supposition is that this could be “it” for her and so if that’s the case, she’ll always be in it. She just might develop the ability to honestly and shrewdly comment on the different phases of the relationship from other vantage points.

Very interesting question re: Girls. No, it didn’t excite me, but I also think that might be a good and deliberate thing. There is something to be said for how she can divorce one author from the other (though I know she has first class help as a television show writer) and even potentially offer the illusion that the writer of this non fiction work is different from the one who pens Girls. I think I’m impressed by it because it reminds me a bit of David Foster Wallace, who can approach both New England lobster (“Consider the Lobster”) and porn conventions in Vegas (“Big Red Son”) with the same critical eye, conviction and gusto but conversely, too, as though he is two different individuals with separate skill sets, ready to make like a fly and gently crawl up and down indigenous walls.

To wrap this, let’s talk chapter highs and lows.

High: “My Worst E-mail Ever with Footnotes” — because this is a shining example of her self deprecation used for good as opposed to evil, portrays her sense of humor when it is at its best and shows that she is a master of taking the quotidian things and making them interesting. This is tied with the chapter on death and dying, but that’s less critical and much more subjective because this is an issue I struggle with regularly, too.

Low: “This Is Supposed to Be Fun?” (Chapter about education) — namely because I skipped through it and came back to it twice.

On Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 5:34 PM, Mattie Kahn wrote:

High: “Therapy & Me,” which I only read a little bit of when it was excerpted in the New Yorker because even the first few paragraphs were so good that I wanted to save the rest of it for when I had the whole book in my hands. She writes in such an elegant way about female friendship. She exactly captures the way I feel about my friends and the ends of the earth to which I would travel for them.

Honorable mention: “Acknowledgments,” because is there anything more voyeuristic and fun and tantalizing than imagining her correspondence and relationships with this crew of people?

Low: “What’s in my Bag,” which was the only portion of the book that to me felt like it was trying too hard. Nora Ephron’s meditation on finding the perfect bag is one of the great essays about accessories of all time. This seemed (eek!) badly or maybe only loosely imitative of it.

This was fun. What are we going to read/dissect/exult in next?

On Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 5:34 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

Doesn’t Snookie have a book coming out soon?

Illustrations from Not That Kind of Girl by Joana Avillez

Get more Pop Culture ?
  • ee_by_cc

    Leandra – you are so right on about writing about the emotions/feelings that are the most personal. I recently did a post on my 1st anniversary, and I found it awkward to try and reduce my love for my husband to words. It’s so much bigger than that.

    • Kelsey

      Completely agree. When you’ve been hurt or loved or elated or mortified- your highest and lowest- all the words you choose fall short. But how strangely comforting it is to have those emotions. Feeling feelings makes us who we are, and being human, and a human woman at that, makes emoting all that more complicated and special.

  • Kayla Tanenbaum

    This was super fun to read. My only issue with the book was the title. Lena Dunham is an authority figure. Even if she’s just like us, she’s learned a lot more because a) she’s experienced a lot more and b) she knows how to articulate it. She didn’t need to say “learned,” with quotation marks. Own it, girl.

    • Charlotte Fassler

      I totally agree. Using the quotation marks felt contradictory and confusing.

    • I had actually never thought about this. That’s so true. She may not be that kind of girl, but she’s no outsider when it comes to good writing, etc.

  • Cali

    Unholy matrimony, I swear to God. Leandra, I loved your point about the instant identification with her work but also the recognition that it was the result of a massive creative undertaking.

    High: ‘Platonic Bed Sharing’ with this quote – “Of course at the time I was doing it, I had none of this self-awareness about my own motives and considered platonic bed sharing my lot: not ugly enough to be repulsive and not beautiful enough to seal the deal.”

    Low: ‘Diet is a Four Letter Word’ – seemed too forced.

    • Kayla Tanenbaum

      I used to be all about platonic bed sharing because I thought having sex would make me a “slut.” That section really resonated with me, too.

  • Amelia Diamond

    you two made me want to read this. not because i feel left out even though i do but because you two made this sound gooood

  • Kelsey

    “Women telling stories in public”. What could be more important in an age when the word “feminism” has been turned on its head. When I started reading this post, “Bossy Pants”, “Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me”, even “Hard Choices” and surprisingly “Going Rogue”, popped into my head. Women finding their voice through experiences, and in turn, sharing them for the masses in the past was considered taboo and labeled irrelevant. Men, and specifically white, Christian, upper middle class, heterosexual men, have had the platform for quiteeee some time. It’s empowering that women, with a myriad of opinions and points of view, are claiming the spot light and encouraging an open dialog. Criticism is good. We do not live in a vacuum and uncomfortable stories (apologies for this….) bring a voice to a self obsessed generation who might need someone like Lena to speak. Understanding you are not alone and your perspective as a woman is valid?? Well done, Lena (and MR team!!!!!!)

    Now can someone teach me how to embed a Beyonce/feminism gif please?!

  • Ah, need to get my hands on that book. I loved reading this conversation. I was going to read a Teen Mom memoir next (obviously), but perhaps I’ll put Lena’s first. Speaking of bOooKs, Leandra, can you please write some more of them? THANKS.

  • Samantha

    Sitting at my desk without the book in front of me, so I’ll have to paraphrase — but the very last bit where she says something along the lines of, “Don’t put yourself in situations that you have to run from, and if you have to run, run to yourself.”

    I felt like I got a little bit stronger just reading that thought.

  • I haven’t gotten around this Lena’s book yet (I have about 3 recs I need to get through, from an e-pal, first), but when I do I will come back and add something more contextual.

    What I can say now is this. All of the women behind MR’s articles/essays are extremely intelligent and I find it very helpful to be a cyber bystander, just reading through these conversations. It not only helps me think about cultural topics in new ways, but it helps me think about how to effectively convey those thoughts through writing. Keep thinking out loud ladies, it’s so powerful.

  • Lulu

    I am half way through reading this book and i’m loving it! I adore her “no filter” style in everything she does! Cool, refreshing and endearing!

  • Shelby Soke

    I also expected to be underwhelmed by this book, but I was blown away. I’ve read a lot of books by ladies I love (Leandra’s – obviously, Mindy’s, Kelly Oxford’s, etc.), but there’s something very special about Lena’s. Despite living in different countries and having totally different upbringings, I felt that I related to her on a very deep level.

    I appreciated her honesty and humility. I re-watched Tiny Furniture after I finished the book and liked it even more. Although I probably don’t want my future daughter to make some of Lena’s mistakes, I’d encourage her to read this book to help her understand what it means to be a woman in this day and age.

  • I am getting this book tomorrow!

  • Lua Jane

    Not so long ago I cringed every time I read the name Lena Dunham, anywhere. She annoyed me. Mainly because I didnt like the show Girls. It just didnt speak to me. But the more I think, the more I really appreciate her willingness to speak about all the weaknesses and insecurities, and self analysis an intelligent female has to immanently go through in her twenties. I’m in my thirties now and all that seems a bit distant, but it’s real, it’s there, and it’s cool that someone manages to articulate that confusion into a form of art, and makes it appealing to a wider public.Thanks to the, dare I say “teaser” you offered here, I’m like super interested in the book. I want to see what voice of the generation has to offer in prose. I’m still perplexed about her as a person though. She manages to do rather glamorous, and totally girl empowered stuff, like landing the Vogue cover, create an iconic TV show ( I dont like it, but I suspect it iconic status in next 20 years, because I dont see the issues treated there ceasingto matter in future, so new generations of twenty somethings will grow up with it), writing and publishing a book that isn’t bad, and being alltogether a powerhouse at young age, without looking and sounding like powerhouse. I don’t know if I really admire it, or it annoys me.

  • Dara Beth

    I absolutely loved this book. Lena Dunham is a great writer and brings her unique sense of humor to her short stories.

  • I’ve been waiting around for some free time to go sit and Barnes & Nobles with a latte in my hand and this book in the other. I wanted to sip my latte while savoring all the hilarity and genius that I’m sure would be overflowing the pages of this freshly purchased book. But alas, I haven’t the free time. It’s cool tho, just purchased this baby online and next week ima be all up in that literary awesomeness.

  • Cant’t wait to read it – glad you truly enjoyed it, thank you for the honest reflection!

    Warm Regards,

  • Having not read the book and on your perspectives alone; I simply now want to read it.

    I agree with the somewhat courageous decision for women to share their stories like this and it takes a considerable talent to portray deeply rooted emotions in a way that someone else can understand.