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Lena Dunham talks 'Not That Kind of Girl' at BEA: 'I can't believe it exists'

Lena Dunham at BEA
Lena Dunham at BEA
Brooke Wylie

Lena Dunham is no stranger to headlines. Not so very long ago she grabbed a whole slew of them when news broke that she had signed a seven figure book deal. The resulting book, Not That Kind of Girl, due out from Random House on September 30 is what brought Dunham to the final author breakfast of Book Expo America on May 31. She joined Alan Cummings, Martin Short and Colm Toibin to speak to the assembled audience about her book and read the introduction of said tome to the crowd of publishing professionals, librarians, booksellers and press.

After an introduction from Cummings, who was playing host, that included a reference to a picture the star recently posted to Instagram featuring her own dog-bitten butt, Dunham herself took the stage and immediately dropped a joke that poked fun at the image many dissenters would believe to be true of her.

What a great panel of guys, I feel so lucky. I’ve f**ked all of them...and I still feel empowered.

Without missing a beat she phased into an overview of her book and her motivations when writing it.

“I’m really, really happy to be here, what an honor. I’ve been looking forward to this all year. I’ve written a book, it’s called Not That Kind of Girl. It’s a series of essays, autobiographical essays. I like to say that it’s personal stories and cultural criticism, but my father pointed out that there is no cultural criticism except for me saying that I’m not that into Mad Men––I really like all of the characters, I just haven’t stayed caught up, and I have guilt about that.”

From there Dunham spoke a bit about her relationship with writing, and addressed why she felt now, rather than later, was the perfect moment to reflect on the present.

“Anyway...I’ve always written. Since I was young, it’s been my way of processing the world. It’s a really lucky, I’m not saying it’s a lucky skill, it’s a lucky desire. I love the freedom that it’s given me from my own pains and from my own peer group [laughs]. It means so much to me to be able to go into my room and to shut the door and have that experience with myself. So, that’s a real joy and a real privilege. It’s something I always wanted to do and something I thought I would do and I found myself in this incredibly lucky and strange situation of making my television show Girls and that took over my life.

I thought about typical twentysomething things and some not-so-typical twentysomething things and I realized that...I wanted to write this book now and reflect on this moment now, in my mid-twenties and in this very specific cultural moment. Through the book I got to talk about a lot of things I’ve learned. The effect of technology on people my age, the effect of misogyny on women who think that the feminist movement was something that was already handled by our mothers, the effect of the media on our bodies and my relationship to the unusual, complex and brave people in my life.

Having come into the public consciousness as a woman who spends her time working in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes, a wearer of many hats, Dunham also commented on the joys that working in a different medium wrought.

“Every minute of the process has been a joy. I have an incredible editor, Andy Ward. Making a movie there are so many people involved, so many people to please, one day my producing partner, Jenny, said to me ‘Everyday. I just feel like a vagina for questions.’ So, I think that I loved...that as a writer the relationship you get to have with yourself and then with your editor and then with your reader.”

A book lover herself, Dunham noted that some of the greatest happiness that has come from writing her first book is in imagining something she will likely never get to see, and nor will anyone else for that matter.

Nothing makes me happier than the idea of imagining someone taking this book into their room and reading it and reacting to it in their own way, by themselves To me reading is therapy, it’s an escape. It’s where I want to be all day when I’m feeling assaulted by the world, or overwhelmed by my job, where I want to be is in bed with a book. It’s always been my dream to write one [a book], I can’t believe it exists. There are so many words in there it doesn’t even really matter to me what is says.

Ahead of diving into her reading, Dunham took a moment’s pause to circle back to the subject of Mad Men, and then provided some context for the exceptional excerpt that she shared.

“So, I’m going to read to you––I feel really bad about the thing I said about Mad Men, I just couldn’t think of another tv show! I do respect that show, I just haven’t stayed caught up––I’m going to read the intro to the book, which kind of sets everything up.”

“The jumping off point for me writing the book was actually reading that old Gurley book, Having It All. Which was Helen Gurley Brown’s lifestyle book that let you know as a career woman how to eat right, f**k right, climb the career ladder, how to have a marriage that lasted, and even though there was something so preposterous about it, I felt like maybe that was a book that I needed and maybe that was a book I could write a very skewed version of. So this intro sets that up.”

The introduction to Not That Kind of Girl presents Dunham’s discovery of the aforementioned Helen Gurley Brown lifestyle book, but also reads like a glimpse into the author’s innermost thoughts––not unlike one of those conversations we all have with ourselves from time-to-time when sleep is elusive and we are left with nothing to do but introspect and hope to drop off.

Much of what Dunham read rather begs to be quoted, a raw, wry, achingly honest and comedic primer for the complete work to come, the introduction was a triumph, but in the interest of brevity, and more importantly, preserving the personal experience that Dunham spoke to, the final few sentences she shared will serve as example enough.

I am already imagining my future shame at thinking I have anything to offer you, but also my future glory at having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or thinking that it was your fault when the person you’re dating backs suddenly backs away because they are intimidated by the clarity of your personal mission here on Earth. No, I am not a psychologist, sexpert or dietician, I’m not a mother of three, or the pretty owner of a successful hosiery franchise; but I am a girl who’s keenly interested in having it all. What follows are my hopeful dispatches from the front lines of that struggle.

The character she created for her show Girls, Hannah Horvath, may not, as she thinks and hopes, get to be the voice of her generation, but this preview of Dunham’s forthcoming book proved yet again, that a strong case indeed could be made for the idea that Dunham is in fact the voice of her generation. What makes Dunham relatable for so many is that her thoughts are theirs, and moreover, she not only has the ability and the platform to share them, but the courage to be a voice for the many girls out there who haven’t yet found their own.

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