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

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