Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

The Plot: The book is structured as a series of essays, and being non-fiction, doesn’t include a plot per se, but it generally traces Mindy’s life chronologically. She begins as a daughter of immigrant professionals growing up in Boston, attends college, works a variety of jobs in New York, and eventually comes to rest in LA, working as a comedy writer and actress (and now, author).

The Author: MindyKaling an actress, comedian, writer, and producer. She writes for and acts in the TV show The Office, as well as the upcoming show The Mindy Kaling Project.

Why It’s Awesome: I picked this one up just expecting a funny read from a writer on one of my favorite TV shows.  But Kaling’s book isn’t a typical Hollywood bio — just as she isn’t a typical Hollywood actress.  She’s a former Good Kid: a Latin whiz and ivy leaguer who admits to getting along with her parents and spending contented weekends watching Comedy Central marathons.  As a former Good Kid and aspiring writer myself, I felt sort of reassured to know that not everyone in Hollywood enjoys huge parties, feels glamorous all the time, or began evincing precocious talent at roughly age 14.  In fact, Kaling’s best advice for Hollywood success is to work hard and go to college (the other option, of course, being “learn a provocative dance and put it on YouTube”).

Kaling is also refreshingly honest about her missteps and failings.  She recounts an abysmal two weeks as a guest writer for Saturday Night Live, during which she fails to produce anything worth televising, and admits to a fight with her co-writers so enormous it gets her kicked off the set.  But that makes her human; no one wants to read an autobiography that’s a pure list of successes. Kaling’s willingness to be self-effacing makes us like her even more.

And, of course, the book is funny.  I laughed out loud at some of the essays; I saw myself in others — especially the ones focused on Kaling’s high school experience.  Her rambling discourse touches on growing up Indian, cupcake shops, how to leave a party on the sly, terrible New York apartments, accidentally punching your best friend, and living in the transvestite capital of LA, among many other things.

Why It’s Not Awesome: Kaling’s writing is at its best and most original when she is simply riffing on topics of interest to her.  The sections which recount her post-college life sometimes lapse into the “then I did this, then I did this” pattern that makes me shy away from autobiographies.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but we’ve seen them before.

Toward the end of the book Kaling’s mini-essays sometimes veer into the oddly preachy.  She includes, for example, a detailed list of all the hygiene products a man “should” use, which read more as annoying than funny to me.  I was willing to forgive these moments, though, because the rest of the writing was so consistently good.

The Final Judgment: A well-written, very funny collection from a non-traditional TV star.

 

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