I’m not normally very big on comedy style novels. I’ve only ever read 5 in my life, including this book, and three of those are Ellen Degeneres’s flawless works of comedy (which you should all obviously go and read right this second). When Tina Fey’s Bossypants came out and everyone including my grandmother’s dog was reading it, I just sort of shrugged politely and said “I’m sure it’s wonderful, really. I’m sure it made you pee your pants with laughter. It just isn’t for me.”
I still don’t particularly understand the comedy/memoir/advice column/autobiography style of writing. I think it’s really hard to mash all those different things together and create a diamond. Part of the reason I believe this is because of the only other comedian’s novel I’ve read: Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please, which just recently came out. I thought I would love it; I really, really did. Parks and Recreation has been my favourite (half hour) TV show for the past several years. And with Parks coming to an end, I decided I should pick up Poehler’s novel and bask in her comedic genius one more time. But I didn’t really get comedic genius. I barely got comedy. I got a long, rambling list of names that she’s worked with, a lot of different anecdotes that seemed to skip back and forth and not really go anywhere. I wasn’t a fan. So when my partner suggested we read Kaling’s novel, I wasn’t holding my breath for anything special.
Maybe I just prefer Kaling’s comedy stylings. Maybe I just relate to her more. Maybe she just organized her book better and created more seamless transitions between parts. (It’s all of these things, in case you were wondering.) Her novel is split up into different sections, but was also organized chronologically – so you start with anecdotes from her childhood, her young adulthood, her career, the Office, and she caps it all off with a section on romance (more on this later), and within each of these periods of time she’s also limited herself to stories featuring certain themes. For example, her young adulthood section is mainly about New York and what it’s like living there as a semi-successful writer. I appreciated this progression through themes, as it all felt like it was leading to something.
Moreover, Mindy just gets me. Or I just get her. Either way, we’re two peas in a pod, even if she doesn’t know it yet. I feel like, even though our lives have never been similar as far as I can tell, we have a lot in common in our histories: both embarrassing younger siblings, both striving for friendship, both struggling with body-image and confidence in our abilities, both slightly androgynous in our youth…the list goes on. Mindy’s novel is very personal (something I felt was lacking in Poehler’s) and it made me want to keep reading. She just gets it.
There are also a lot of things she doesn’t get, though. One of the last sections was one on men/boys and romance. I could’ve lived without most of the material in this section. This last part was kind of rambling and not as well connected as the rest of her book, for a start. But it also rubbed me the wrong way – Kaling goes on a rant about real men having chest hair, and how she wants a man with that kind of burliness, and that men without it are just boys. I get the kind of liberalism she’s going for: guys don’t have to shave or wax to be sexy, just like women shouldn’t feel the need to do so. But at the end of the day, if a man wants to wax his chest and it makes him feel sexy, then I say ‘You go, guy!’. It all sounded a little too “real women have curves” to me. This entire section was probably her least politically correct, since she’s also got a letter to Jewish men asking them to stop doing certain things, and a couple of really classist remarks about people who can’t afford to buy certain things. My understanding is that Mindy is aware most of the time when she’s saying somewhat sketch things (anyone who’s watched her TV series The Mindy Project will know that when Mindy Lahiri says something racist or ableist or whatever, likely Mindy Kaling is behind that line saying ‘do you see how this is a kind of not okay thing to say?’) but I don’t know whether or not that excuses it. Overall, the section just seemed out of place in the novel as a whole.
If you’re considering picking up this novel, and are really on the fence about it, I suggest watching 10 episodes of The Mindy Project before making any decisions. If you’re finding yourself laughing at that, you will be very pleased with this book. If not, well, maybe you should try Bossypants.
Until next time; Happy Reading!