Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling
23rd Oct 2015
If you’ve read any books by high profile, American actors/comedians/writers in the past few years, then you’ll know what to expect from Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? Honesty, self-deprecation, killer quips, childhood tales and (if you’re not from the Land of the Free) cultural references you might not understand. There’s usually a smattering of advice chucked in for good measure. Kaling’s includes, ‘…confidence is like respect; you have to earn it’ and, ‘work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.’ You tell ’em MK!
If you’re unacquainted with Kaling’s work, she’s the creator, and star, of the opinion-dividing sitcom The Mindy Project. And she was in, wrote and directed episodes of the US version of The Office.
Why Not Me? is the follow up to her 2011 debut, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? It’s the latest instalment of her quest for contentment, and takes the form of a chatty and upbeat collection of essays. (Although essay is a lofty title for her offerings, some of which are just a few pages long, and focus on: what you should take to her dinner party, things that keep her awake at night and her love of sex scenes). The themes loosely binding her meandering musings together are: transitions, belonging and being brave enough to ignore naysayers and be yourself.
Kaling’s attracted attention not only because she’s talented and funny, but also because she’s not white, not a size zero and doesn’t appear to hate herself. Unsurprisingly she chooses to address body image, ridiculous beauty ideals, and the lengths that Hollywood ladies go to to achieve them, through the medium of humour.
You feel indignant on her behalf when she describes how a judgemental male journalist felt free to allude to her weight by commenting on her choice to put jam on her toast.Her spot on observations include, ‘one of the great things about women’s magazines is that they accept that drinking water and sitting quietly will make your breasts huge and lips plump up to the size of two bratwursts,’ and ‘piles of thick, cascading, My Little Pony-style hair signifies youth, so if you don’t have that, you are basically announcing that you are old and dying.’ You feel indignant on her behalf when she describes how a judgemental male journalist felt free to allude to her weight by commenting on her choice to put jam on her toast.
There are the obligatory peeks into her really-quite-glamorous life, and famous people-filled anecdotes (Kaling’s been to the White House and met Barack Obama, and is pals with Lena Dunham). But she’s not afraid to cast herself in an unflattering light. One of the final chapters is an apology to a young woman who summoned the courage to ask her a question about confidence, only to receive an uninspiring response. And nestling among the frippery, are suggestions about how to be mentored by stealth, and poignant reflections on how friendships evolve as you get older.
It’d be easy to dismiss Why Not Me? as a load of navel-gazing claptrap, but its author’s upfront about her intentions. Kaling says in the preface, ‘if my childhood, teens and twenties were about wanting people to like me, now I want people to know me. So, this is a start.’ Her second book isn’t supposed to be a weighty, cohesive whole, or great literature. Just an amusing snapshot of who, and where, she is just now.