If I was a woman I would want to be someone like Lena Dunham, or at least that’s how I’d like to imagine things. I can manage being a man as long as there are people like Dunham writing books like “Not That Kind of Girl,” something I’d describe as my imaginary sex change self-help how-to guide to living. It’s a perfect book for someone like me who thinks everyone is out to get him while simultaneously plotting revenge and sweeping acts of selflessness destined to immortalize me in the history of humanity. It’s a perfect book for someone like me who has never felt comfortable in my own body, unsure of any sense of sexuality, ravaged by ambition, lacking in any sort of purpose. In any sense, it’s a perfect book for my generation, lost in the internet, found in the solace of faux togetherness.
Pretentiousness aside, Dunham’s honest prose is unafraid to tackle issues from virginity to rape to growing up to dying. She writes with ease, yet she writes as though she really has experienced her topics, not like she’s some sort of expert because she read Hemingway as a child, or she thinks she understands Sylvia Plath better than anyone else. Dunham’s writing is full of pain, and she finds it difficult to open up and be honest, but insists that she will anyways, and ultimately finds her way of discussing things with us much like a child would – open and direct, but aware of how difficult it is to do so, struggling to find the words to be understood. She shies away from taking too direct of an approach, often changing the topic, seemingly at random, when it gets too messy, but always focusing back in on what she wanted to say, determined to say it, to get it out there. As if talking would help, not just her, but us as well, and though she knows this and she must speak out, she can hardly force herself to relive the experiences.
This makes for a startlingly honest insight into Dunham’s life. Not only do we get to share her experiences, but we get to see a side of her that we didn’t realize wasn’t fictional. Dunham’s HBO show, “Girls” takes on a whole new light after reading this book. You realize that everything you thought was real turned out to be fabricated for the drama of the show, but all the things you thought couldn’t possibly have happened in real life did exactly that. Her biggest surprise in this book is not that she has some new moment of embarrassing hilarity to share with us, but that she is more relevant than we realized. It’s been three years since “Girls” premiered, has it? How many times have we heard reviews raving about how Dunham is “the voice of her generation?” Too many times that we’ve stopped taking it seriously. She really is the voice of her generation, but she never thinks of herself as such, and why should she? Why should anyone? It is this kind of pontification that this book is rife with, making it not only a pleasurable read, but a deeply insightful and unsuspectedly empathetic at that.
Dunham’s book will undoubtably resonate in particular with writers who feel they should have travelled more, or they’re too boring, too trite, too passé to be writers. Her explorative side comes out more often than not and the reader is left to compare their lives with hers, but she never makes that feel like a bad thing. Dunham never talks down to her readers, never thinks she’s better than them. If she were having this conversation with me right now I’m sure she’d be apologizing, shaking her head, insisting that no, that’s not what she ever meant to imply, and then immediately distracting the conversation by talking about how much she hates not living life to the fullest but also she doesn’t want to leave her bed. See, that’s how easy it is to talk to her, in my head anyways, after reading this book. This is not just for writers and artists, however, and the casual reader ought to be able to benefit from this book just as well, recognizing themselves a little bit, understanding a little bit more about the world they feel they’ve never really been able to fully live in. If human connection is the currency of the millennials, then this book is a goldmine.
I always feel like I’m not living as much as I could, like I’m missing out somehow, like there’s a secret party somewhere that nobody told me about and I’m sitting at home on my bed for no good reason, wasting away. I’ve never really thought that other people feel that way too, but from reading “Not That Kind of Girl” I can understand that perhaps this fear is all too common, and that as artists it is perhaps our most shared curse. Whoever you are, read this book. It’s the best thing you’ll read all year. Well probably. Maybe.