Shelf-Life

Books, reading & writing

Not what kind of girl?

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Proviso: Before reading the below post it is important that you know its author (i.e. me) harbours feelings of resentment, envy and jealousy towards any person in two (or more) of the following categories:

  1. Young people
  2. Successful people (where success is measured by external factors such as wealth)
  3. Successful people (where success is measured by internal factors such as self-confidence)
  4. People who can survive on the fruits of their own creativity
  5. People who have a clear sense of their life goals and have pursued these goals through hard work and dedication.

‘Not that kind of Girl’ by Lena Dunham – the 28 year old creator, producer and star of the HBO series Girls, winner of two Golden Globes and now bestselling author – is definitely not the kind of book I would choose for myself. I tend to avoid biographies. I’m not sure why. Most likely it is bitterness (no-one wants to write a book about me – harrumph). So I approached this one with some caution. However, I also approached with a sense of curiosity. The book is made up of a series of essays, diary extracts and anecdotes focusing on the author’s growth from awkward young girl to awkward teenage girl and on to awkward (but successful) woman. Having been none of those things myself, I was interested to see if this would give me new insight into the mysterious world of woman/girlhood.

So did it? In short, no.

In long, I feel like this book has been cast as something it is not (whether this was by me or generally I am not sure). The title, the author’s style and her focus, suggested a book with a distinct gender divide: here are some uniquely female experiences that have shaped my development as a person. And yet to me, the feelings of awkwardness, of being lost and unsure of yourself, of trying at once to prove yourself and at the same time worrying you will be exposed as some kind of fraud, are less related to gender and more to age. This is a book about being in your twenties and not knowing what to do with your life, or how you ended up where you are. Boy or girl doesn’t really matter. It is on this level that I related to it.

The one bug-bear I did have with it, which I can’t remember having with any other similar book (although note above my avoidance of biographies), is that a lot of the time I simply didn’t believe the author’s stories. Dunham herself admits at points that earlier stories may not have happened exactly as she said, and gives altered versions later. However, by introducing doubt into the truthfulness of the telling she undermined my confidence in her side of the story. To expose oneself on the page is a difficult and brave act – one that I certainly wouldn’t be prepared to do – but I can’t help feeling there is another book behind this one, one that contains the truth and I would have rather read that version than the one I did.

Next up is Margaret Atwood’s  Oryx and Crake.

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