I don’t know exactly when or how this happened, but sometime in 2014 I started actively searching out memoirs and collections of personal essays, specifically from celebrities. Actually, it would be a lie to say I don’t know when it started – it all began with Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Following that, I moved on to Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and most recently, Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please. Next up I’m looking forward to Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants.
Now I’m in this weird half-slump where I don’t want to read any books except for celebrity memoirs. I think it’s because I watch these people on TV and I get their references, and by reading their books I feel like I’m being pulled into their secret little Hollywood circles. When Amy Poehler mentioned Aubrey Plaza in her book I was genuinely excited. When Mindy Kaling talked about the set of The Office I felt like she got me. It’s terrible – I’m no longer getting excited by fictional characters and made-up worlds, but famous people devoting a sentence or two to something or someone I’m obsessed with.
However, I don’t think this is all bad. I would argue that these books have taught me a lot. Some of them good things, some of them bad.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me taught me that Mindy Kaling is very real and also very lazy, no matter how many glamorous party pictures she Instagrams. Proof:
“There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.”
I can confirm that this is, in fact, true. I got up before 5:00 AM one time to watch the sunrise and yes, it was beautiful, but waking up that early makes me feel sick and cold and I was grumpy the rest of the day. Watching the sunrise is great if it’s spontaneous and you’re walking back from some fabulous all night party in an up-and-coming neighbourhood of NYC, but forcing yourself to wake up at an ungodly hour to watch a big ball of fire move around in the sky is just not worth it. Mindy Kaling knows that. Mindy Kaling is also hilarious in a is she trying to be funny or is she serious right now kind of way. Another title she considered for her book was, “There Has Ceased to Be a Difference Between My Awake Clothes and My Asleep Clothes”. If that doesn’t resonate with you on a deeply personal level then I am sorry, but we have nothing in common.
Mindy is also similar to the characters she plays on TV, especially Kelly Kapoor, not because she’s dumb or obsessed with herself, but because she speaks about other celebrities like she has never met any of them and is just another teenage girl writing fanfiction. She offers up some hilarious celebrity commentary, such as:
“All women love Colin Firth: Mr. Darcy, Mark Darcy, George VI—at this point he could play the Craigslist Killer and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, the Craigslist Killer has the most boyish smile!”
And, most importantly, Mindy understands one very true fact of life:
“Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.”
Okay, so moving on to the next memoir, which happens to be a much more controversial one. Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl has received praise and also some very serious criticism, including accusations that she sexually abused her younger sister. To be honest, when I read the passage in question (which I won’t post here but is very easy to find if you are in tune with Google) it didn’t strike me as Dunham doing something wrong. It was a bit weird, but my mind never considered that it was actual abuse. After trying my best to understand both sides, I’m still not sure what to think. It’s a messy issue that has a lot of very opinionated people arguing for what they think is right. The fact that Dunham’s sister came out and said she thinks the whole thing is ridiculous makes me more inclined to say some of the accusations are going a bit overboard – but I still won’t say anything with 100% certainty.
I’ve found that in general my opinion of Lena Dunham is shifting. At one point I adored her. I still think her show offers some insightful and funny observations on the modern day young adult, and I can’t help but think this is so relatable in a weird, I never thought I would relate to this kind of way when I’m watching Girls. Yet I also recognize that Girls paints a picture of a very privileged group of people and lacks any sort of racial diversity. Not only that, but both Hannah Horvath (Lena’s character) and Lena Dunham herself are very self-absorbed individuals.
Reading Not That Kind of Girl taught me that someone can be a very good writer, and have some interesting stories to tell, while still being completely self-involved and lacking the ability to look outside themselves and observe the world around them. It took me a while after reading Dunham’s book to realize these things, because immediately after finishing the book, before reading any other online commentary, I felt like Lena Dunham was full of wisdom and funny advice. Now I see that her essays weren’t just personal essays, they were It’s All About Me essays. The part in her book where she takes up numerous pages to list her food diary? That was pretty self-absorbed.
This is not to say that I no longer like Lena Dunham. I think she still makes some very good points in her book, like my favourite quote from it:
“I can never be who I was. I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding, and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport. She did her best with her eyeliner. She learned a new word she wants to try out on you. She is ambling along. She is looking for it.”
Lena Dunham has good qualities. She also has bad ones. Reading her book and watching her show made me see her good qualities, but looking back on them and thinking about them critically, illuminated her bad ones. I no longer idolize Lena Dunham, but I am glad I read her book, if only to learn a bit about her past and also be able to form my own opinion on the surrounding controversy.
Okay, so lastly. Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please. I just finished this one a couple days ago so it’s all still very fresh in my mind, and I can say quite simply that this is my favourite celebrity memoir I’ve read so far. I had my moment of falling in love with Amy, just like Mindy said I would. In this book Amy tells stories about herself, ranging from her life as a child in suburbia to her time on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation. While these essays were technically about herself, Poehler did what Dunham did not – she offered actual wisdom (some from herself, some from the Dalai Lama), she gave praise to others, and she graciously thanked those that have gotten her to where she is today.
I knew that I liked Amy Poehler, and I knew that she was funny, but her book shows a totally different side of her. From Yes, Please I learned that being kind is important but that doesn’t mean you have to be a push-over. I learned that it is never too late to apologize as long as you do it sincerely and humbly. I learned that you get to choose what your currency is in life, and laughter can completely change your perspective on a situation.
Amy writes very simply and without flash, but that doesn’t mean her book lacks wit or humour. It is actually full of hidden gems such as:
“Dancing is the great equalizer. It gets people out of their heads and into their bodies. I think if you can dance and be free and not embarrassed you can rule the world.”
“That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.”
My favourite part of Yes, Please is when Amy talks about each of her cast-mates on Parks and Recreation. It made me feel much closer to a show that I love. Reading this book also got me interested in Saturday Night Live, and I’ve started to discover some of the funniest skits and digital shorts (but that’s a post for another day).
So, yeah. Celebrity memoirs are the new black. I know there are only three on this list, but I guarantee you by the end of the year there will be quite a few more. I guess my point is that I never saw myself as someone who would read (and enjoy) books like these, but I’ve learned that this is one of my favourite genres. I enjoy celebrity memoirs and I am not ashamed. If you’ve made it to the end of this post, then congrats. So tell me – have you read any of these? Do you have any other recommendations for me? What’s your favourite SNL skit? And are you friends with Amy Poehler? Because if you are it would rock if you could send her this link. Thanks!