But ambition is a funny thing: it creeps in when you least expect it and keeps you moving, even when you think you want to stay put.”
– Lena Dunham
I did something disorienting but also satisfying on the reading front yesterday. My brother gave me Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl for Christmas, meaning I drove him to Barnes & Noble and he said “just pick something out, I’ll get it for you,” and that’s the book I chose. Anyway, knowing it was full of essays from a writer who I enjoy and kind of relate to in the really vague way you relate to a zoo animal or an inanimate object, I started the book yesterday after our present-opening had wrapped up. I was completely absorbed and ended up finishing the entire book yesterday. I was about 2 chapters into the Hemingway book I just started, no less.
This was disorienting for two reasons: the first being the act of reading one book while you’re in the middle of the other one, and the second being that I finished a book in one day. Both of these are satisfying to me as a reader though, in an uncomfortable way. I get a sense of pride knowing that I have the ability to keep two stories separate in my mind, no matter how different the books are. I also am proud of the fact that I have the ability to sit for an entire day and do almost nothing but read. I had a weird relationship with reading during college, and was honestly scared that I’d be burnt out on it during post-grad, especially if it wasn’t assigned. It’s a relief that it’s still one of my favorite things to do.
Okay, but Lena Dunham. I (obviously) loved her book. I knew I would, because I really like the show Girls, but something about her writing brought out a different side of her personality that isn’t necessarily expressed through her scripts in her show.
Her book taught me that she is more open than anyone I think I’ve ever encountered. To me, that’s an admirable quality, even when she writes about being open to the point of self-destruction. Reading her book made her more human to me; she’s selfish, contradictory, kind of obnoxious, and very self-conscious, and for someone to so openly embrace all of those things about themselves while also being all of those things is impressive and lovable. I hope that made sense.
Her writing is meaningful without trying too hard. Also, some of the stories and experiences she recounts in her essays are so hard to believe that I spent half the chapter wondering if she was making it all up. How can that many strange things happen to one person? But by the end of every chapter, I was no longer questioning whether it happened or not, but rather how amazing it was that it did happen, and how much sense it made that she was a certain way. I’m talking about her like she was in the room with me yesterday, reading it all aloud to me and then expanding on the stories in between essays, but that’s how her writing felt. It was so personal, which really did make me feel like I’ve met her, and we’ve gotten drinks together a few times.
My absolute favorite chapter came from her “Work” section, and (pardon the expletives) it was called “I Didn’t Fuck Them but They Yelled At Me.” It was one of the shorter ones in the book, but one of the most powerful, in my opinion. The mantra throughout was “I can’t wait to be eighty,” and she used it to discuss the tell-all she plans to release at that age when she will call out all of the men in Hollywood who she refers to as “sunshine-stealers.”
I don’t want to ruin the chapter, and I can’t even do it justice, but anyone who has ever felt undermined, condescended, or left out solely because they were a woman will feel more connected with the Lena Dunham who wrote this essay. Small, backhanded, diminutive, simpering compliments from men in Hollywood are quoted, and there’s this sense of suppressed, confident rage throughout the chapter that just felt like an awesome nod to women everywhere. It was an “I get it, it’s not as explicit but it’s there” acknowledgement of sexism, in this case tailored to Hollywood, but recognizable in all facets of life for women. It was powerful, and an essay that I’m sure I will come back to again and again.
True, there’s controversy surrounding Dunham, and there’s no doubt she’s a very privileged person, but this book (and the above chapter, especially) made me sure that she would be doing what she’s doing today with or without her rich parents. I’m probably biased, I’ve always loved her and felt what she had to say was important, if one-sided sometimes. But I know I would recommend this book to anyone.
So now, back to Hemingway and his bridge-exploding main character. Sidebar: I can’t wait for the new year, I have so many book-related resolutions planned. ◊