“I am twenty years old and I hate myself.” Well, that’s one way to start a book. Such self-deprecating humor is the hallmark of Lena Dunham’s biography, Not That Kind of Girl. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not. Most often, though, it makes me want to scream at her to wake up and take a look at the world around her.
Dunham, the creator, producer and star of the hit HBO series, Girls, has oft remarked that she’s nothing like her television alter ego, Hannah Horvath, who happens to be incredibly self-absorbed and, well, straight-up spoiled. Let’s get this straight, here and now: I’ve never been a Hannah fan, but I’ve been devoted to Dunham and her quirky sense of humor for years. After experiencing 262 pages of Dunham’s big braggy mouth, though, I’m not so sure. The line between actor and character has entirely blurred into one privileged blob in my mind.
That’s not to say my reading experience was god-awful in its entirety. In fact, the journey began in a surprisingly hopeful fashion, as I giggled aloud at Dunham’s hilarious chapter titles: “’Diet’ Is a Four-Letter Word: How to Remain 10 Lbs. Overweight Eating Only Health Food,” and “I Didn’t Fuck Them, but They Yelled at Me,” to name just a few. And there were some undeniably brave, emotional moments within the pages as well, such as Dunham’s coming to terms with her rape and her total honesty about her myriad mental disorders. It should also be noted that, though other books within this category – by Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and the rest of that badass chick crew – have strewn more satisfying content-wise, none of them has been nearly as well-written as Dunham’s very first attempt at memoir-writing. Sprinkled throughout are such gorgeous, enlightening lines as, “I have written sentences about how the first time we made love it felt like dropping my keys on the table after a long trip, and about wearing his sneakers as we ran across the park toward my house, which would someday be our house.”
All right, we’ve covered the few noble aspects of Dunham’s book, things we can probably count on one hand. So, what’s the rest of it like? Here’s the play-by-play: Dunham grows up in an extremely hip, wealthy area of Manhattan, and complains about it. She has two creative, loving parents and a best friend of a sister, who she bitches about and even alludes to sexually abusing (seriously). One moment she’s groaning over a lack of sex, the next she’s nervous about contracting AIDS. Word after word, page after page, she’s got something to nag the world about: college friends. Going to summer camp. Getting paid $100 a shift to do virtually nothing. There’s no other word to describe her tendency to bitch and moan except ridiculous. Worst of all, she withholds the juiciest, perhaps most talent-ridden of her writing – about boyfriend Jack Antonoff – from the reader, readily admitting, “Surveying those words I realized they are mine. He is mine to protect.”
Still, buy this book. Buy it to cut out the beautiful illustrations by Joana Avillez, featuring the likes of éclairs, martinis and Dunham’s scrappy dog, Lamby. Then, give the rest to your kid sister to read. Maybe she’ll learn to be a better writer, or perhaps she’ll gain some insight on navigating life and love and binge eating. Because Dunham’s clearly only ready to divulge the kinds of stories involving a snarky, pre-teen attitude, and at 22, that just won’t cut it for me.