19 March 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling

Apparently I am very late to the party on this one, because Mindy Kaling first came to my attention when I read this piece, which is fantastic, in the New Yorker. My boyfriend got me her book for Christmas, and it's been sort of calling to me every since, with its bright pink spine and promise of light-hearted amusements. Kaling is a very smart and funny woman, and the book is a breezy pleasure with moments of poignancy. It's chatty and meandering, with somewhat random chapters clumped together (the New Yorker piece actually appears as two separate chapters in the book. Reading it is like going out for lunch with a good friend who you don't see too often and spending a few hours gossiping and catching up. It's interesting in the way that hearing any smart person talking about their experience of the world is - you learn something about them, but also about the world. One of Kaling's recurring subthemes, for example, is her weight. She's open and honest about her fluctuating size and how shitty it makes her feel sometimes. She seems conscientious of the fact that her book will probably be read by a lot of teenage girls, and she doesn't want to give them the wrong idea (I love her for that). But while her observations may occasionally be somewhat pithy, overall it does make you think, not just about what it's like to be famous and of fluctuating size, but more broadly, how our culture constructs and reenforces its ideas of beauty. Another thing that is kind of great about Kaling is her somewhat prim, disapproving side. She is not advocating for some kind of adventurous project of self-realization. She fully acknowledges having a normal healthy sex drive but she also wonders why an evening of conversation seems like enough of a prerequisite to get in bed with a person. It's charming.

Reading the book reminded me that I'm still only halfway through listening to Tina Fey's book and made me want to revisit it. To be honest, cheesy as it sounds, one of the most rewarding things about both of these books was realizing that these fantastic, successful women are a lot like me in many ways. They were dorks in high school, they have insecurities, they wonder if they are too bossy or arrogant, etc. I guess that's what celebrity books are supposed to do? These are the first two I've read. Are they all this good at it?

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