Lena Dunham’s new book--Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"--is exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s 265 pages of wit, vulnerability, graphic sexual detail, humor and lines so honest and articulate that they that had me mentally shouting, “She is my kindred spirit!”
Despite the fact that my life is, in many ways, entirely opposite to that of Lena Dunham’s, reading her words made me feel acknowledged and understood.
Lena’s candor—in life, in her HBO show Girls and in this book—is what makes her work and her person so relatable and irresistible. She discusses sexual exploits, rape, vaginal concerns, heartbreak, love, body image, fears of death and battles with OCD, among countless other wrenching and fascinating confessions. Each topic she covers, whether it’s the moment she learned her sister was gay or an explanation of her unshakable affection for New York City, is recounted with her trademark charm and authenticity.
Unlike in Girls, whose plot line often defaults to humor to move out of an uncomfortable or painful situation, Not That Kind of Girl embraces each nuanced bit of confusion and sadness its author feels. Lena is careful not to rush through a particular concept or moment simply because it lacks levity—instead, her prose strikes a lovely balance between sometimes gruesome, but always necessary detail and the type of stark simplicity that signifies profundity and truth, that compels a reader to pause and absorb whatever it is he or she has read.
What most impresses me about the book is not the stellar writing, but Lena’s attitude toward both her past experiences and the all-consuming thoughts of death and illness that often run rampant through her mind. This isn’t a transformation story or a step-by-step guide to the ideal life—it is one woman’s poignant, daring and well-crafted reconstruction of each challenge, victory and moment of isolation she’s endured.
Lena writes with intelligence, poise and just enough objectivity to suggest she’s gained a valuable lesson from whatever experience she shares. She never implies that she no longer struggles or that she has finally figured out how to facilitate the inevitable sexual, social and emotional hurdles of young adulthood. She doesn’t declare herself an expert in any field, nor does she profess her utter happiness and exhilaration with all aspects of her life.
She still has concerns about her physical appearance, doubts about whether she will be fertile, difficult decisions and sexism to face in the entertainment industry. But Lena is highly perceptive and always self-aware, traits that allow her to write with enough emotional maturity and authority that her words feel like precious gifts of wisdom crafted specifically for her readers.
On each page and in each line of this book, Lena is unapologetically (okay, maybe one or two little apologies) and brutally herself—something I think we should all aspire to be.
Here are 17 of my favorite parts from the book:
1. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you. But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”
2. “Throughout the day I often ask myself, Could I fall asleep right now? and the answer is always a resounding yes.”
3. “He was nervous and, in a nod to gender equality, neither of us came. Afterward we lay there and talked, and I could tell he was a good person, whatever that even means.”
4. “Joaquin was almost ten years older than me, born in Philadelphia, and possessed a swagger that seemed unearned, considering he was wearing a FUCKING FEDORA.”
5. “But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.”
6. “I awoke the next morning, just like I did every morning, and proceeded to do all my normal things: I called my mother, drank three cups of orange juice, ate half a block of the sharp cheddar that had been sitting out since the night before, and listened to girl-with-guitar music.”
7. “When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve. This is so simple. But I tried so hard to make it complicated.”
8. “How permanent virginity feels, and then how inconsequential.”
9. “And now I come to him, whole and ready to be known differently. Life is long, people change, I would never be foolish enough to think otherwise. But no matter what, nothing can ever be as it was. Everything has changed in a way that sounds trite and borderline offensive when recounted over coffee.”
10. “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter. That personal writing by women is no more than an exercise in vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up.”
11. “There is a theory not often discusses—perhaps because I’m the inventor of that theory—that if your father is incredibly kind, you will seek an opposite relationship as an act of rebellion.”
12. “I saw him standing there, yellow cardigan and hunched shoulders, and thought: Look, there is my friend. The next months were a lesson in opening up, letting go, being kind and brave.”
13. “Oberlin being a liberal haven where opposition was king, the coolest clique at school was a group of rugby-playing, neon-wearing lesbians.”
14. “It’s not that I didn’t have plans. Oh, I had plans. Just none that these small minds could understand.”
15. “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.”
16. “ ‘You will find,’ she says, ‘that there’s a certain grace to having your heart broken.’ I will use this line many times in the years to come, giving it as a gift to anyone who needs it.”
17. “You’ve learned a new rule and it’s simple: don’t put yourself in situations you’d like to run away from. But when you run, run back to yourself, like that bunny in Runaway Bunny runs to its mother, but you are the mother and you’ll see that later and be very, very proud.”
Have you read her book? If so, what did you think? If not, did this motivate you to get a copy?