Mindy Kaling’s ‘concerns’ only partly finished

The Book: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

The Author: Mindy Kaling (Crown Publishing Group, November 2011)

By Shannon Culver

The title of Mindy Kaling’s memoir speaks to a (sometimes) playful paranoia that plagues teenage girls: Is there an awesome party going on tonight that I don’t know about? Are all of my best gal pals playing Girl Talk and eating Cheetos at a secret sleepover that I wasn’t invited to? The question provides an apt frame for the book; it’s a light, breezy work that allows Kaling to poke fun at her own neuroses, and create her own bildungsroman. She casts herself as a chubby, geeky Indian kid who works hard, embarrasses herself publicly on a regular basis, and eventually makes it to the quasi-Big Time. She lives out the fantasy of every kid, or former kid, that has ever been bullied: publicly outing the childhood nemesis who called her fat. She even uses his real name: Duante Diallo. In classic fairytale fashion, Duante falls from grace when a slip during basketball practice ends his reign as high school Jock King, and Mindy ends up a famous actress, so it’s clear who came out on top in the end.

It was inevitable, that Kaling, who does double duty as a writer and actor on The Office, would worry that her book would be measured against the other recently released memoir by a female phenom who writes and acts on a hit sitcom. She tackles the Bossypants comparison head on, using her introduction to imagine a reader who picks up her memoir and asks, “Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?” Kaling broaches the issue with a humble tone, bowing at the altar of Fey, and then putting the issue to rest and moving on to her story.

The personal narrative centers on her career, her relationship with her parents, and her female friendships. She fondly recollects the childhood friend whom she first geeked out about comedy with, and the girlfriends with whom she shared a railroad flat in Brooklyn when she moved to New York. There aren’t any sordid details of Kaling’s personal life to be had; she actually makes it sound like there aren’t any sordid details of her life at all. She’s only 32, though, and likely has plenty more years in Hollywood ahead of her, so maybe her next book will be about a botched boob job or prescription drug addiction. In many ways Kaling is open and honest about her life; there is a candid – and frankly, not very flattering – photo of her propped up in bed, decked out in sweats with a laptop open in front of her, but there is very little mention of her romantic pursuits. This is a book that Kaling’s parents, who she characterizes as hard-working immigrant professionals, could read without cringing.

But, the book lacks an overriding structure; the first half follows a chronological narrative from Kaling’s childhood through her college days, but the second half becomes more anecdotal, and scattered. In an effort to endear herself to the reader, Kaling is candid about personal issues like her weight and appearance, but there are sections of the book that verge on indulgent; a chapter towards the end is devoted to self-portraits captured by the camera on her Blackberry. For the most part, though, Kaling is sassy, articulate and self-deprecating, and the prevailing message of the book is that if you work hard, stay in school and embrace your goofy side, you too can be a medium-famous actor/writer. I’m loath to call this a “feminist” book, because the fact that it was written by a strong, female public figure shouldn’t automatically place it in the Women’s Studies aisle, but as far as role models for teenaged girls go, you could do a lot worse than Mindy Kaling.

I tend to gauge whether or not a “funny” book is actually funny by whether or not it makes me laugh out loud (and thus, look like a crazy person) on public transit, and Kaling’s book passed that test. If you’re a fan of Kaling, or Kelly Kapoor, or The Office in general, you’ll dig this little book. If you’ve never heard of her, you should probably just read Bossypants.

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One Comment on “Mindy Kaling’s ‘concerns’ only partly finished”

  1. Adele
    February 29, 2012 at 4:24 PM #

    Great review!! Love it.

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