There’s a certain kind of famous woman that writes a certain kind of a book that women you know will read, or think about reading, or tell their friends they’re definitely thinking about reading. Women like Caitlin Moran or Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman: smart, funny successful women, who write about being – or at least eventually becoming – a smart, funny successful woman, for a readership that hopes to be on the same trajectory. You may have read Moran’s newspaper columns, watched Fey’s TV show or seen Silverman’s stand-up, but do you want to read about them getting their first period at the roller disco, or about how they once walked all the way to school with their Minnie Mouse ra-ra skirt tucked into their tights?
No sir. No siree bob.
All of which is a great big, snotty, tear-stained shame. Because you can spend a lot of time trying to work out what women want (“Would she prefer this lace-up teddy in red or black satin?”), without really understanding the first thing about them (she would prefer it in cotton, and in the shape of a T-shirt). Not just how to get them into bed, or what to do when you get them there, but who they are in the first place and what their experience on this earth – which is happening right now, just like yours – is actually like.
Not That Kind of Girl, the new book by Lena Dunham, creator of the TV show Girls, writer of pithy pieces in The New Yorker, and US Vogue cover star, is a collection of essays about things that have happened to her in the 28 years of her life.
There’s a bit about sex – OK, a lot about sex – and there’s stuff about fluctuating self-esteem, and learning to accept and understand your body, and the perils of dieting. But there’s also stuff about stealing and consuming her parents’ dental surgery medication, about temporarily becoming a vegetarian because she was once winked at by a cow on a family holiday, about a topless bike ride she undertook as a pre-teen in the company of a confused male friend, about filming sex scenes with the squits.
You see, the main reason to read Not That Kind of Girl is that you actually might enjoy it. Not just because it can give you insights into the female psyche that you can use to your sexual advantage, but because Dunham has a knack for minute observations and wanton exaggerations about everyday experience and a breezy-yet-droll delivery that could easily be compared to David Sedaris or Jon Ronson, were it not demeaning to suggest she could only be explained through the medium of unthreateningly non-female writers. This book is funny. Not woman-funny. Not man-funny. Human-funny. And really, as we stumble through life trying to make sense of ourselves and each other, all with our metaphorical skirts tucked into our metaphorical tights, that’s all we could ask.
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham is out now 4thestate.co.uk