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Review: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

mkalingIn Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

Dear Mindy,

I can call you Mindy, can’t I? I feel like we would be friends, especially since you read your first book to me during a very long car trip, and since that time I’m pretty sure that I’m only three degrees and an order of chicken McNuggets away from being your next best Canadian friend. With your second book, I feel that our conversation has become a little deeper, and you’re no longer holding out on us.

Okay, I know I shouldn’t be superficial, but let me start out by complimenting you on that cover. You look amazing, although I’m not sure why they made you pause behind that door because, seriously, everything was on pointe with that outfit. Truly. I think it was supposed to be a metaphor or something, about revealing more about yourself that you normally keep hidden, but whatever. I really wanted to see your shoes for that dress.

As for what’s inside the book… I found that you seemed a lot more comfortable than you did in your first book. You seemed a lot more self-assured as to your place (however you might define it) in the entertainment industry, mainly because you’ve figured out how to make your own place by now, instead of waiting for everyone to realize just how awesome you could be. It’s that confidence in your abilities that struck me first, and it’s something you come back to in various essays. I really liked your piece about your time at Dartmouth, when you realized that being a part of a sorority was a cool idea in theory, but that it really wasn’t what you were looking for out of life so you walked away. Having the opportunity to be part of something that has been romanticized as being the “best thing ever” about college, and realizing that you’d rather hang out with the theatre guys showed a lot of confidence in yourself, even back then. I know a lot of women who wouldn’t have taken the risk (more’s the pity).

I also felt that this book gave me a glimpse into your life. You’re pretty demanding of yourself, and I respect that. You work hard and you expect the people around you to do the same. Having said that, you obviously place tremendous value on loyalty – to your family, your friends and your co-workers. You hold a lot of respect for certain people in your work-life, and it’s really refreshing to see someone who has achieves as much as you explain just why she still thinks that working with Steve Carell is the best master class you could have (as an example). You’re brutally honest about striving hard to become better, even when many people would say that you are already the best in your field. I have a lot of respect for anyone who believes that they can continue to be better at what they do, without denigrating the accomplishments made so far.

Further evidence of our meant-to-be-BFF status lies in our mutual criteria for crushes: “Just bear a passing resemblance to a fictional romantic trope I like and I will love you forever.” While I may not have my own personal “Soup Snake”, I can appreciate that it  may be the best description for the unsettled status between two individuals who just aren’t quite anything else (yet or anymore).Take that, Facebook and “It’s Complicated”! In all seriousness, reading about the almost-on, textual relationship with Will hit close to home because who hasn’t been with someone who seems like he’s all in, until he’s not (except, you know, for the whole White House thing)?

There’s a consistent theme throughout the book that destroys the belief that everyone in Hollywood is beautiful and perfect all the time. You are almost brutally honest about what it takes to survive in your industry and in LA, and that it still bothers you sometimes, even though you like the person you have become.Your sarcasm helps to point out the absurdity of the whole process, and reminds us that behind the publicity machine there is a real persona who is working hard at their job. Unfortunately, the line between how a person looks and how they do their job, especially in Hollywood, seems to blur and disappear pretty quickly.

“…The conversation about me and my show is so frequently linked to the way I look that people who are deciding whether or not to watch my show much think subconsciously, ‘Oh, that’s that show about body acceptance in chubby women’, because that’s all they seem to hear about it. And my show is about so much more than that! It’s about the struggles of a delusional Indian thirty-something trying to scam on white dudes!

My deep dark secret is that I absolutely try to conform to normal standards of beauty. I am just not remotely successful at it.”

This is a very different book from your first, and I’ll put it out there that I enjoyed this one even more. You’ve had more time in the industry, and you have figured out what you want, and more importantly, what you aren’t prepared to accept. I know from conversations with other readers that this may seem like you are being a little tough at times, but I don’t read it that way. Instead, I read it that you’ve paid your dues and you’ve carved out your own place, and you are unapologetic about that. Hard work is key to confidence, as you explain to that girl from the panel:

“Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.”

Oh, one final note: this book trailer is one of the best parodies of the rom/com trope that I’ve every seen – and it’s a perfect fit for your style and humour. Thanks for the talk, Mindy. You always know what to say.

Why Not Me? is published by Crown Archetype, and a copy was provided by Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from your favourite big box, online or independent bookseller. ISBN: 9780804138147, 240 pages. 

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