“This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink. If you’re reading this book every night for months, something is not right.” -Mindy Kaling
I hate most autobiographies and/or memoirs – I’m Irish, and thus believe that family dirt should be at least thinly veiled in the guise of fiction – but I reserve a special dislike for celebrity autobiographies. Most people don’t have the self-awareness to write honestly about themselves, and this goes quadruple for celebrities, who have somehow managed to evolve past the need for either self-awareness or honesty.
Comedians, however, may just be the one exception to this rule. For me, this realization started with Steve Martin’s autobiography, Standing Up. It’s an amazing, honest read, full of wit and introspection.
Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? isn’t quite at the level of Martin’s autobiography (a fact which I’m sure she’d happily admit herself, given that she has the man’s picture hanging in the hallways of her home). But it’s full or the kind of humor and warmth that makes it a hell of a lot of fun to read. Everything you need to know about the book you can find on the cover; from the girly front with a gorgeous if slightly perplexed adult Kaling, to the back cover, with her chubbily adorable, thick-glassed childhood self. This picture is what convinced me to pick up her book, and that instinct turned out to be correct; the whole book is a blast, but Kaling is at her best when she’s talking about her childhood. She approaches it with wit and integrity, and a refreshing lack of melodrama. About her family, Kaling writes:
“I liked hanging out with my family! Later, when you’re grown up, you realize you never get to hang out with your family. You pretty much have only eighteen years to spend with them full time, and that’s it.”
Because her familial relationships show a profound lack of the kind of drama that runs rampant in most memoirs, Kaling spends a lot of time writing about her friends. Her sections about young female friendship were my favorite to read – the strange need for accessorizing friendship in elementary school (best friend necklaces and matching T-shirts), and what it’s like to grow out of these friendships purely based on social context and into real friendships based on mutual likes and interests rang true to me, as I’m sure it will be to many American girls.
Some of her adult life was slightly less relatable to me – Kaling likes shopping and wants to get married and have a family, whereas I am afraid of commitment in any form, whether it be a spouse, children, or a new couch – but even in those sections, the levity of her writing kept me reading. I laughed aloud at least once a chapter, and usually much more.
Inevitably, this kind of book is going to get compared to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which I suppose is fair. Both are written by comedians that write for NBC shows, and both include a career turning point that involves Amy Poehler. Kaling even presupposes this connection in her introduction, assuming she’ll come off the worse for the comparison. On the whole, though, I liked Kaling’s better. The same thing that consistently bothers me about 30 Rock bugged me about Bossypants - both feel like they’re written at a sardonic emotional remove, which makes it difficult to get close enough to truly enjoy it. I laughed, but I felt mildly used afterwards (except, notably, during the scene where Amy Poehler outsasses her male coworkers). Kaling’s, on the other hand, is written a lot more like the Office – offbeat but relatable, wry, but with a beating heart clearly visible just underneath the surface. Now if only Amy Poehler would write a memoir, we would have the peak of the NBC lady-trifecta.
Recommended for: Anyone who either watches the Office, likes Mindy Kaling, or at one point was a female child.
Read When: You’re in between long, super depressing books.
Listen With: the mix CD specifically created by Samantha Ronson for this book.